Apr 252011

I’ve had it with the AV campaign. The claims of the no camp are, largely, spurious inventions – it won’t lead to more coalitions than First Past The Post, benefit the BNP, kill babies and soldiers or mean some people get more than one vote. The claims of the Yes camp are also, largely, spurious inventions – it won’t abolish safe seats (just move them around), MPs by and large aren’t lazy lackadaisical scum who need to be whipped like recalcitrant mules and it won’t mean a more collegiate, intellectual politics.

AV has some admitted advantages over First Past The Post – preference voting is simply a better way of expressing nuanced political choices. “I’d like this person, but if not then this person, that person and this other person and, quite frankly, the local independent crack pot to a Tory” is a good thing to have in a country where around a 3rd of voters don’t vote for one of the two main parties. It also has disadvantages – electoral landslides are likely to be bigger under AV than they would under FPTP for instance and 2nd parties are likely to be further under represented when overall opposition size remains the same.

First Past The Post isn’t great, but it suffices. AV is only marginally better than FPTP on most criteria. Yes or No, we will have largely the same results of largely the same campaigns. The one major change this referendum has had is to block any move towards PR for a decade or more.

If No wins, then there’s a tacit endorsement of FPTP. If Yes wins, we’ll have just changed the system. The Great British Public would, quite rightly, ask “but weren’t you saying just a few years ago AV was what we should move to?”. The constitution is not something to be trifled with lightly. We can’t put ourselves in a situation where we alter the voting system again after it’s only been used a handful of times.

The only hope for PR, therefore, is to call the legitimacy of the referendum itself into question. I had hoped that the threshold amendment would pass, and there’d be a majority for Yes but not enough of one to force a change. That way there’d be a case to be made that we  should have a more open referendum, one run on AV which offered a number of options – STV, AV+, List PR, AV and FPTP. Sadly, that was knocked down by the Tories with Lib Dem help, as was Caroline Lucas’ motion to just add STV as an option.

I can’t bring myself to vote No – on the question asked, I’m in favour of AV. But it’s not what I want. So I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to spoil my ballot. I’m going to add an STV option and rank that 1. I’ll rank AV 2. If sufficient people do this to make the noticeable, and AV loses like it looks likely to, maybe we can call the legitimacy of the referendum into question.

There’s precedent for looking at spoilt ballots in detail, after the 2007 Scottish election the Gould inquiry did this. It’s a bit gesture politics, but AV is only a gesture towards meaningful reform and, even if the spoilt ballots would have swung it in favour of AV otherwise, its loss on that basis is not a great hardship. Reform for reforms sake is meaningless, it won’t provide momentum for PR and is perhaps likely to delay any move to PR.

Apr 172011

After last weeks self-indulgent Nat-bashing Tory scaremongering post, the Scotland on Sunday published a poll putting the SNP a few points ahead on both the constituency and regional votes and a likely SNP-Tory deal on the basis that people “voted for Alex Salmond for First Minister” (they won’t have, unless they’re MSPs). Jeff can hardly contain his glee over at Better Nation and Kenny Farquharson makes the point that the SNP are doing the “hopey changey thing” quite well.

Labours stubborn negativity about Thatcherite bogeyman doesn’t seem to be working, and is a bloody hard sell. It’s also not necessary. The Labour manifesto has plenty of positive things we should be out talking about. Things like:

  • Scottish Living Wage
  • Apprenticeships and work placements to fight youth unempoyment
  • Leaving Scottish Enterpise the hell alone and letting it get on with its job
  • Serious investment in the infrastructure necessary to support microgeneration of renewables and in charging points for electric vehicles which would help address one of the biggest contributors to CO2 emissions.
  • Co-ops, community enterprises and similar non-traditional business models could be a genuinely transformational change in the way we do business, how people relate to their work and how we manage and utilise our environmental and educational resources.
  • Speaking of which, we’re going to look at public ownership for Scotrail when it comes up for renewal. Without crippling Treasury “private sector” bonus multipliers that should be a non-brainer ranationalisation. Imagine that, a Labour government nationalising the railways.
  • Big focus on early years support for children which has been shown to be incredibly affective at improving outcomes for children from the less well off and on literacy, science, technology, engineering and maths. Precisely the sort of skills Scotland needs in the future so we can take advantage of the future.
  • The National Care Service is a distinctively Labour solution which, if we do it, could help deliver a properly integrated, holistic, patient centered health system. That would be good for the patients, good for their families, good their staff and probably a lot cheaper in the medium term too. There’s similarly good stuff on Mental and Public Health.
  • Equalty’s another strong area, we’ll look at genuine equality for same-sex marriage and on clearing people who were prosecuted for consensual sex under now-scrapped homophobic laws.

There’s some not-so-great things in the manifesto too (I’m.. unconvinced.. about the council tax freeze and minimum sentencing for carrying a knife) and our alcohol and drug policy remains somewhat unenlightened – we should be supporting minimum pricing and treating drug use primarily as a health problem, not a criminal one. But that’s the nature of political parties, there’s a certain amount of rubbing along that’s required. A certain amount of rubbing along is also required between parties. The SNP aren’t evil crypto-Tories (though they are quite likely to end up in power with them if they win) , the Greens are surprisingly clear headed on things like the Land Value Tax which I’d hope we’d adopt in coalition with them and the Scottish Lib Dem rump is unlikely to be irredeemable. The Tories are wrong headed on many things, but have at least grasped the idea of consensual politics pretty well.

So, there’s a positive case to be made for voting Labour. I think we have a qualitatively better set of ideas and policies than the opposition as a whole and I want to see Labour win, and win on our many merits. We can and should be energising our voters and getting them out to vote Labour because they want a Labour government.

 Posted by at 15:44

Tartan Tories?

 General  Comments Off
Apr 112011

There was a bit of a debate on twitter last night about whether the Tories were more likely to vote with the SNP. So I whipped up a python script to parse the data and do some quick and dirty analysis.

2011 is missing from this analysis as http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/ is kaput presumed in need of love.

Methodology: Count all the votes. If more than 10 government MSPs and 10 Tory MSPS and less than 5 of the main opposition MSPs voted the same way, count it as Tory collusion. This eliminates motherhood and rhubarb pie votes where everyone agrees and times when an MSPs finger pressed the wrong button or something.


1999 Tories voted with govt 23 times of 103 or 22%
2000 Tories voted with govt 88 times of 277 or 31%
2001 Tories voted with govt 74 times of 329 or 22%
2002 Tories voted with govt 117 times of 369 or 31%
2003 Tories voted with govt 67 times of 374 or 17%
2004 Tories voted with govt 115 times of 383 or 30%
2005 Tories voted with govt 68 times of 334 or 20%
2006 Tories voted with govt 110 times of 379 or 29%
2007 Tories voted with govt 77 times of 256 or 30%
2008 Tories voted with govt 84 times of 217 or 38%
2009 Tories voted with govt 77 times of 212 or 36%
2010 Tories voted with govt 28 times of 71 or 39%
As a quick and dirty metric, I think this shows that the Tories have found much more common ground with this SNP government than they did with either of the previous two Labour-LibDem governments.
ETA: this is just a bit of fun, the SNP these days are a centre-left social democratic party, though they have been dragged to the right a bit by the necessity of working with the Tories. Life in Scotland would be a lot better if my tribe and their tribe could put aside their differences after May and work constructively together against the vicious Tory-LibDem government in Westminster.

[1] You can find the source code and all the data for this at https://aidan@github.com/aidan/vote-parser.git patches welcome

Mar 172011

Labour generally does extremely well in Glasgow region constituencies - it took all of them in 1999 and 2003, and lost only one to the SNP in 2007 by a few hundred votes. It also does very well in the number of 2nd preferences, 23,000 ahead of the SNP in 2007 and polling nearly double the SNP in the first two elections.

Because of the way that the list seats are awarded in Scotland Labour is unlikely to get a list seat here. It would need to lose both Kelvin and Cathcart and gain another 10,000 or so list votes to qualify for a list seat.

However, Labours avowed Scottish rivals the SNP and our über-rivals the Tories pick up quite a few. The Liberal Democrats also tend to pick up 1 though given that somebody suggested they be hung an extremely unusual part of their anatomy at Mark Steel’s gig last night I suspect they may find that difficult.

If Labour is going to regain power at the election the best course is too elect as many Labour MSPs as possible. The flip side, of course, is to make sure that as few SNP MSPs get elected as possible – ideally by transferring their seats to a party we could conceivably form a coalition with. Working the SNP or the Tories is right out, and while I wouldn’t rule out working with the Lib Dems – it worked pretty well for the first two parliaments – I do think it would be quite difficult to do so this time round. The Socialists and Solidarity are still dealing with the fall out from their split and are unlikely to get any MSPs. The Greens are also likely to pull a Labour government in a more radical, progressive left direction – something I think a lot of Labour voters would like to see.

Patrick Harvie has done some good work in Holyrood, particularly on transport and climate change but also recently on the wider Tory-LibDem-SNP lead cuts agenda with constructive, costed counter proposals. If a reasonable fraction of Labour voters used their list votes this way then the Greens could conceivably take a seat off the SNP, something which if it had happened in 2007 would have left both parties level and possibly keeping the SNP in opposition. So there’s both high politics and low politics reasons for suggesting this, although I will admit to a certain amount of self-interest in this.

On a related note, the Greens are currently going to be excluded from the TV debates – something which esteemed Nat blogger Lallands Peat Worrier wrote about recently – and there’s a petition to right this injustice.

Addendum, 2011-04-27: The poll situation has changed somewhat, as has the d’hondt calculation as described in this Better Nation post. Tactically voting Green to deprive the SNP of a seat doesn’t make sense anymore.

Feb 162011

The last parliament ended in scandal, dishonor and disillusionment. The Liberal Democrats, long time champions of electoral reform, achieved a degree of power after the election and their leader got the Electoral Reform brief.

The proposals, however, will make Parliament weaker and likely to be less representative than the existing system. They’ll increase the power of the executive and make it even easier for vanguard cliques (eg. New Labour, the Notting Hill set, the Orange Bookers) to use patronage to force through agendas unpopular with the wider party, let alone the country.

There’s two parts to the bill, the first is the reduction in the number of MPs, but not a reduction in the number of ministers, parliamentary private secretaries etc. which who are obliged to vote with the leadership or face losing their paid government jobs (the “payroll vote”). That’s a pretty clear strengthening of the power of government. Backbenchers get less power, the government gets more.

The second part is the Alternative Vote. While I’m convinced First Past The Post (the current system for elections to Westminster) is unrepresentative, unfair and unfit for the 20th century – let alone the 21st – the Alternative Vote will increase 3rd party representation beyond it’s current low levels at the expense of the already-under-represented second party.

First Past The Post can lead to the “wrong” result such as the 1951 UK general election where the Conservatives won a majority with fewer votes than the Labour party, I’ve yet to come across a more egregious election result than the 1948 Alberta General Election where one party one 51 of 57 seats on 55% of first preferences, up from the 51 of 57 on 50.46% of first preferences. The 2004 Queensland state elections provide a more recent, if slightly less extreme, example where the Australian Labor Party took 63 of 89 seats on 47% of first preferences.

This is because “AV will tend to exaggerate landslides even more than FPTP because a strong tide towards a party reflected in first preferences will tend (at least according to a reasonable hypothesis) to also affect second preferences – basically, a party that is popular will tend to move up in voters’ esteem across the board”, according to a report produced for the Electoral Reform Society.

That was also the conclusion reached by the Jenkins report in 1998, and by Professor John Curtice when he modelled past Britsh election results with 2nd preference distribution based on actual polling data.

It’s pretty easy to see why that might be the case, given a three party system with A polling 42% nationally, B polling 35% and C 23% for first prefrences on the following distribution which roughly matches what happens in the UK:

Seat Party A Party B Party C
1 50 30 20
2 50 30 20
3 40 35 25
4 40 35 25
5 40 36 24
6 36 34 30
7 36 34 30
8 36 40 24
9 25 45 30
10 25 35 40
First Prefs 37.8 35.4 26.8
Seats 7 2 1

Under AV, assuming that each party split its second preferences 50/50 then the following would happen:

Seat Party A Party B Party C
1 60 40 Eliminated
2 60 40 Eliminated
3 55 45 Eliminated
4 55 45 Eliminated
5 52 48 Eliminated
6 51 49 Eliminated
7 51 49 Eliminated
8 48 52 Eliminated
9 Eliminated 57.5 42.5
10 Eliminated 47.5 52.5
Seats 7 2 1

AV wouldn’t result in a net change.

If, however, the voters from Party C showed a slight preference in line with the rest of the country and split 60/40 for party A then the result would be as follows:

Seat Party A Party B Party C
1 62 38 Eliminated
2 62 38 Eliminated
3 58 42 Eliminated
4 58 42 Eliminated
5 54.4 45.6 Eliminated
6 54 46 Eliminated
7 54 46 Eliminated
8 50.4 49.6 Eliminated
9 Eliminated 55 45
10 Eliminated 45 55
Seats 8 1 1

With an increased landslide for Party A.

If Party C split contrary to the “national mood” 60/40 in favour of Party B then it would result in a hung parliament:

Seat Party A Party B Party C
1 58 42 Eliminated
2 58 42 Eliminated
3 52 48 Eliminated
4 52 48 Eliminated
5 49.6 50.4 Eliminated
6 48 52 Eliminated
7 48 52 Eliminated
8 45.6 54.4 Eliminated
9 Eliminated 45 55
10 Eliminated 35 65
Seats 4 4 2

Which more accurately reflects the first preference results for A and B but is probably unlikely – what polling has been done on 2nd preferences for centrist 3rd parties seems to indicate they go with the “national mood”.

Supporters of the Alternative Vote will argue that this is ok because “each MP would have the support of half their constituents”. This is true, however it means that a party which could get roughly close to 50% of first preferences evenly spread across all constituencies and then pick up a minimal number of transfers could achieve massive majorities. I don’t think that’s fair, fairer than our current system or even acceptable. I’m more inclined to think that it’s potentially disastrous.

Jan 212011

Currently I’m listening to Andrew Lansley talking about the ill conceived top reorganisation the Tory government promised it wouldn’t do (but will anyway, despite it not being in their manifesto and them not winning a majority). His answer to just about any question, as Ben Goldacre points out , is “GPs know their patients”. Which may or may not be true, depending on the GP and the patients in question, but is a bit like saying it’ll all be fine because you have bought a lottery ticket and you’ve got a good feeling.

George Osborne (and Danny Alexander, when he’s allowed to answer questions and not just take punches) answer just about any question about Tory government economic policy is “there will be record private sector job creation”. This is more like saying it’ll all be fine because you’ve got a good feeling you’ll find a winning lottery ticket in the street.

There’s quite a lot that could be done in terms of NHS reform, and making health care more holistic (NPRs Fresh Air was talking about a different approach in New Jersey this week) but assuming that a wizard will come along and wave their wand it’ll all be fine is not sensible. Unless your goal is to allow private companies an opportunity to profit. Not that I’m saying that it is. Obviously. Because then rocks would fall and everybody would die.

Dec 112010

I am becoming increasingly concerned at the level of teaching at our great universities. Charlie Gilmour is studying history at Cambridge but “did not realise it was the Cenotaph”. I could understand the young whipper snapper not knowing about Michael Foot but, well, I’ve been there. It’s pretty bloody obvious. It’s a big granite thing with the words “the glorious dead” on it. Still, he’s only in 2nd year, maybe they’ll teach that bit later on.

More worryingly, our Chancellor also studied history (at Oxford). There they seem to have failed to teach the history of the Great Depression in the UK entirely. Which is odd, for a course in Modern History. I mean, I know he only got a 2:1 but still. You’d have thought some of it would have stuck.

No wonder the Tory – Lib Dem government feel the need to ensure the future of our education system by properly funding it. Oh, wait, the fees are just replacing the complete withdrawl of all funding for wishy-washy hand wringing useless courses like Modern History. Or Economics. Or Social Work. I guess they’re betting on nobody being able to remember who ruined the country because nobody’s teaching it and we’re too busy making sure our disabled friends can get out the house now and then to watch BBC4 (assuming it’s still going).

On this evidence, they’re probably right.

Conduit to LJ

 Hacking  Comments Off
May 302007

Since I’ve no longer been working at Novell I’ve been occasionally hacking on Conduit which is pretty damn sweet to work on. I’ve mostly been working on exporting to pics.livejournal.com from F-spot. Patch against SVN available here. It uses tags for the gallery names.

Could use a litte work to avoid uploading the same image each sync, but it works. :)

 Posted by at 02:13
Dec 162006

For the first time in ages I’m cooking kievs, and the question I have is: how the hell do you stop the garlic butter leaking from the bloody thing and not ending up in a burnt clump on the baking tray? Has anybody mastered this? Is it just my poor culinary skills coming to the fore?

 Posted by at 20:31


 General  Comments Off
Dec 122006

I finally got around to installing Gallery on this machine, which is viewable with the link at the top of the page thanks to the rather wonderful wpg2 plugin. Together with f-spot I’m finally caught up with this whole ‘sharing’ pictures thing, and it’s all clicky and nice too. I’ve uploaded pictures from my trips to Amsterdam and Wales from the spring. I’ll add ones from January’s Boston fun and Aprils trip to London tommorrow. I’ve also got a few from the start of the Great Ximian Exodus 2006 and Whitby 13.5 to upload, as soon as I find the bloody cable for the camera. Doh!

Oh, and cause Siani keeps accusing my blog of being geeky, here’s a link to wpg2 packaged for Ubuntu.

 Posted by at 07:12
Dec 082006

1. Upgrade your Linode to the latest Ubuntu release. The hard way. Involving dist-upgrade and chroot.
2. Retrieve your wordpress password, install a new theme and generally mess about it with it. The new akismet plugin is pretty damn sweet.

In other news, my OpenSUSE brethren have release a rather fine 10.2 which, by all accounts, rocks the free world. Or sommit.

Now it is time for gin!

 Posted by at 04:14
Sep 042005

More fucked up going’s on in New Orleans, Haliburton gets 10%. Via the esteemable mr starchy.

I am ceasing to be surprised by anything that happens there from here on in, up to and including Pat Robertson and George Bush announcing on TV that Jesus Christ has arisen from mutating algae and that their plan is now complete, and Haliburton is to organise Judgement Day (towel heads, commies, faggots and poor people need not apply).

 Posted by at 02:30

God Has A Dream

 Books, Politics  Comments Off
May 302005

Last time I was in the US, I finished reading George Orwells Down And Out In Paris And London and wandered/got sucked into (delete as applicable) Borders. While there I picked up some Satre, a book of the teachings of Buddah, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s God Has A Dream (ignore the Oprah endorsement, it actually is quite good).

I finally got around to reading it on the train through to Edinburgh today, and finished it on the way back. And goddamn it’s good. It’s positive without being unrealistically optimistic, religious without being Religious, and very easy to read (120-odd pages which I read in a little over 90 minutes in total) while still being one of the deepest and most profound texts I’ve read in a while. I’ve always admired Tutu for obvious reasons, but his love and compassion resonate in every paragraph and every sentance.

Somebody needs to buy the audio book and play it at night under Bush and Blairs pillows. And your own.

 Posted by at 21:31

Non, merci beaucoup

 Politics  Comments Off
May 302005

<nelson> ha ha </nelson>

Now, I’m staunchly pro-European (ending centurys of internicine warfare can’t be bad, right?), but I’m really glad that the French have rejected the constitution, and I hope that the Dutch vote shortly will finish it off. Not because I think having a written constitution governing the EU would be bad, but because I think ~400 pages of intense legalise is not appropriate for a constitution. I think one of the strengths of the US constiution is that it’s reasonably short, easily understood by most people and, most importantly, contains not just the mechanisms for governance, but the principles upon which that government is to operate. I’m not saying that it’s perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than what we were being offered.

I think a (much) shorter document which enshrined democratic government as the only legitimate government, which recognised that our freedom is best protected through honest, fair and equitable partnership with other free peoples, that protected our basic rights against authoritarian government and was as much about the responsibilities of a government to it’s people as it was about it’s powers over them would easily find acceptance across all member states and would thus provide the necessary framework to take The Project forward with a legitimacy and commonality of purpouse which has been sadly lacking from the (corrupt, undemocratic) state which it is in today.

Certain points would, of course, prove trickier than others, particularly the necessary elevation of the European Parliament as the supreme decision making body and the associated removal of the Council of Cronys Ministers which would probably upset some people, but it would, should, must be doable.

 Posted by at 21:12
May 242005

Today I nipped out to Fopp at lunch to pick up the new Alabama 3 long player Outlaw.

It’s more bluesy perhaps than Exile, and more varied and overtly danceable than La Peste.

“Hello.. I’m Johnny Cash” isn’t the best song on it either, fucking great though it is, my favourite is “Have You Seen Bruce Richard Reynolds”.

 Posted by at 21:21

Darwin calling…

 MLP  Comments Off
May 242005

Two hurt in mock light sabre duel so wrong, so dumb, on so many levels. I mean, even assuming that the whole ‘glass rod of fire’ was safely acheived, surely they realised that when they made contact Only Bad Things could happen?

 Posted by at 09:49

Hello Bloggers!

 General  Comments Off
May 232005

So this is my new blog! I’ll be posting crap here that I’d normally post as public in my LJ, but this is just much more zeitgeisty.

 Posted by at 18:34