Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Fighting, losing, but still winning an election

This year I attempted to get elected to local government on behalf of the SNP ( for the North Ayrshire based ward of Stevenston. Despite putting absolutely everything into it, and essentially suspending my self-employed day job activities for four months along the way, I was unfortunately unable to get past the hurdles imposed by the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system used for the election, and narrowly failed to get elected.

In the STV system, voters are asked to list their preferences in order for as many or as few candidates as they wish, with the idea of producing a more proportionate election result than the 'first past the post' system used in the General Election. In this, candidates have to be elected by reaching a 'quota' of votes, decided on by the number of votes cast divided by the number of seats available plus one. If you reach the quota at the first stage, you are automatically elected; if not, subsequent preferences are then taken into account, and low polling candidates eliminated in stages, until the quota is reached and all the available seats are won.

For those standing on behalf of a political party, this provides something of a headache if more than one party candidate is standing in the ward, in that the alphabetical order of the candidate listing on the ballot paper provides a disadvantage to those listed further down the slip. If asked to vote for your party of choice, the natural inclination is to go down the list and give preferences in the order in which you find the two candidates (unless you perhaps happen to know one of the candidates). In this case my colleague's surname began with the letter M, placing her third on the ballot of eight candidates, whilst I was placed sixth with the surname of Paton. The disadvantage can be overcome partially by canvassing and asking folk in parts of the ward to vote the other way, 2 and 1 (i.e. with my colleague second, and myself first), instead of 1 and 2 – something I spent several months doing, speaking to almost 1500 people on their doorsteps along the way. This worked to a degree in that we ended up with a difference of only 180 votes between us in the first preferences as decided on by the electorate, and with both of us in the top three places, which would have guaranteed election in a first past the post scenario. Neither of us reached the quota, however, with the first preference.

This was also not a normal election. Half way through the campaign, the UK's Prime Minister suddenly called a snap general election, to take place just a month after the local elections, which with its obsession on the issue of Brexit influenced the latter part of the campaign. The Scottish constitutional question on independence, tied in with what many of us see to be the only way to avoid the perils and obscenity of Brexit, was also at play, as it has been for the last five years, making it very difficult to stick to talking about local issues, such as sorting out schools, potholes on the roads, and getting the litter bins collected. As much as we tried to make it about local issues, the opposing parties wanted to make it about avoiding an independence referendum, which councillors actually cannot call.

Tactically, one of the other things that seemed to help my two Labour opponents (both of whom were subsequently elected) was the fact that a sitting Labour councillor had stood as an independent candidate in the campaign. Unfortunately, when he was eliminated in the fourth round, his transfers went almost exclusively to the Labour candidates, and their fellow unionist colleague in the Conservative Party, pushing me below one of the Labour men by just six votes, and the Conservative candidate by just one vote. This led to my own elimination from the contest at the fifth round, which ironically then allowed my SNP colleague to dramatically sail past the quota line – needing just 86 votes to reach the quota, I was able to secure her an additional 547 votes! But that was it for my campaign.

Whilst disappointed not to get in, I have no regrets about having participated. The campaign was a lot of fun, I met some wonderful people and had some great experiences throughout. I was part of a candidates team that worked brilliantly together, with a wonderful election agent, and I was gladdened to see so many colleagues elected on the day, though saddened for those who did not get in. On the day of the election itself, my main opponents were courteous. I had a good election campaign.

My overall thought though is that we live in a democracy, and I'm of the mind that whilst there are plenty of informed armchair commentators out there, ready to complain about the slightest thing, there are not enough political foot-soldiers seeking to make a change within the society in which they live. If you want to see change in your society, no matter what your political conviction is, you have to get off your backside and seek to be a part of that change. At the count, a candidate (I won't say from which party!) spoke to me and said that he was glad to see that even with the effort that he knew I had put in, it had not been enough, which made him feel better about not having done so much campaigning himself (he having not also been elected). Given the chance to run the same campaign, with the benefit of hindsight, I would do it all exactly the same way again. Being elected is not an entitlement, it is an honour to be worked for - and my most cherished memory from the last few months is of the many folk who told me that I was the first candidate they had seen on their doorsteps in decades, which they appreciated. As consolation, although not elected to the ward, I did help to push our vote up by 5% higher than it had been in 2012, and that effort will help my colleagues in future elections, not least the impending General Election. Oh, and nationally, we won the election! :)

So instead of sitting around and moping, I am already back on the horse, out canvassing to help get our local MP re-elected to Westminster. I'll continue to fight for the change I want to see in our country.

Why don't you also?! :)


UPDATE 11 MAY 2017: An interesting development in the Scottish Parliament. It turns out that 78% of those who were elected as councillors benefitted by being top in alphabetical order, with reform of the system being called for - see



If interested, the full results from Stevenston (Ward 4) are available at