Who do we trust?

So, Patrick Harvie thinks it’s a good idea for the Scottish Government to trust the British Electoral Commission. But Patrick Harvie also thinks it a wizard wheeze to stand candidates in constituencies such as Perth & North Perthshire where the SNP’s Pete Wishart is defending a majority of less than two dozen votes. All things considered, I’m not inclined to put much faith in Mr Harvie’s judgement.

That is not to say that the British Electoral Commission is untrustworthy. It is only to say that it may not be entirely wise to take Patrick Harvie’s word for it. We should make our own assessment based on what we know, or can learn, about the British Electoral Commission and how it operates.

On paper, the British Electoral Commission looks to be sound. The organisation, which was set up in 2000, describes itself as

“The independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. We work to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity.”

A trawl through the British Electoral Commission’s website is very reassuring. If one takes everything at face value. The way commissioners are appointed, the decision-making processes, the expertise all appear totally satisfactory. One might be impressed by the fact that there is a dedicated commissioner for Scotland (and Wales) and, as the third largest party in the House of Commons, the SNP gets to nominate a commissioner. On the face of it, there seems no reason to disagree with Patrick Harvie’s assessment.

But there’s another organisation which, on paper, looks every bit as independent, fair and impartial – the BBC. And we all know how different the reality is from slick presentation.

But it’s not actually about trust. Whether or not the Scottish electorate can have confidence in the British Electoral Commission is not the point. It is a question of appropriateness. Regardless of whether or not we consider the British Electoral Commission trustworthy, we have to ask whether it is appropriate for an agency of the British state to have oversight of a referendum in which the people of Scotland exercise their right of self-determination. We have to wonder about the propriety of an agency of the British state having significant authority over a referendum in which the British state itself has a massive stake.

Much fuss is made about ensuring that the new independence referendum is ‘legal and constitutional’ in order that there should be no impediment to Scotland gaining international recognition once the nation’s independence is restored. We hear rather less about the fact that what the international community is most concerned about is that the process by which independence is restored should be impeccably democratic. Nor do we hear very much about how important it is that the people of Scotland have total confidence in the process.

We are entitled to question whether the democratic validity of Scotland’s referendum – actual and perceived – is served by the involvement of the British Electoral Commission. Or whether this is likely to be regarded as external interference such as would tend to undermine the democratic legitimacy of the referendum in the eyes of the international community and the Scottish electorate.

Ask yourself this, would you trust the BBC with a formal role in the referendum process? Would you think it appropriate?

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5 thoughts on “Who do we trust?

  1. The series of short videos here: https://www.facebook.com/X2-113742180011217

    They were all shot back in mid-September, each deal with differing issues over the rules and procedures we use in voting – the involvement of the Electoral Commission was one such, and it’s raised persona now, was only too predictable much earlier on.

    The raised persona of Russian involvement (the hidden report) is also predicted in one of the videos – as is the reliance Scotland has on another British body, GCHG over any issues of cyber security.

    Yesterday saw the Stage 1 passing of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill – the next video (again short) to be posted to the above page examines a major flaw in that proposed legislation, an error of magnitude not dealt with in the Committee Report on te Bill, nor in debate yesterday.

    I invite your interest.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with your view on this subject: the Electoral Commission is a British institution and ought automatically to be disqualified from involvement in Scotland’s constitutional affairs and decision-making processes.

    However, regardless of my opinion, the British Electoral Commission’s own document’s confirm that, when requested and consulted, their role is to offer advice. The Scottish Government can take this into account in the proposal that they- the Scottish Government – put to Scottish Parliament for the latter to decide. Check the Legal Framework under section 1.7 page 6 of the BES’ own document on this matter which states clearly:

    “The wording of the question is for the Scottish Government to introduce in its Referendum Bill and for the Scottish Parliament to decide, taking into account the Electoral Commission’s report and recommendations.”

    The link is here: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf_file/Referendum-on-independence-for-Scotland-our-advice-on-referendum-question.pdf.

    Mike Russell is clearly aware of this, as he should be given that he is the Scottish Government’s constitutional affairs minister. So I think this one is covered, although it is annoying that there is any interference at all as the Scottish Government are clearly minded not to ‘request’ input from the BES. (The British parties are clearly also aware and were hoping presumably to de-rail the Referendums Bill using this. They are spitting feathers because they have failed using this tactic to de-rail Russell).

    I think Harvie’s decision to stand candidates in SNP/Tory marginals speaks to his own lack of judgment and poorly ordered priorities. The fact that he has simply accepted that the BES is indictive of his own laziness and complacency: if I can easily establish the roles of the protagonists – Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament and British Electoral Commission – via a simple internet search then why does he not, as co-leader of an apparently Independence party, not have this information at his fingertips?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I don’t trust either of the “B’s”. The BEC or the BBC.


    This would help. I hope you signed it (closed now).


    And if Mr Harvie’s actions lead to Unionists taking seats, from the SNP, across Scotland especially at such a critical time in our history he’ll never be forgiven. Never ever.


  4. “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” is the style of this one, Peter, except it’s “damn” instead of “praise”, heh heh. But you are quite right, the EC is attempting to intrude itself where it doesn’t belong, and over an issue that doesn’t exist. Mike Russell may be right in saying that a referendum question does have an inherent shelf life that has to be taken into account, but who exactly thinks it’s this one at this time? Maybe as a politician he wants to appear reasonable, but there are dangers in giving openings to deliberate stalling tactics, so I would have just told the EC to take a hike. I thought that was in effect what the proposed legislation itself said, since in this case The Question is already reviewed, agreed and well-established.

    (Unless that is, he agrees with you, and prefers a question that is even more neutrally framed but still with “yes” as The Answer! Those wishing to revisit the issue for their own malign purposes may then come to regret their wish being granted.)

    Liked by 1 person

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