Politics is the loser if apathy should win the day

AS THE couples wheeled round the dance floor, enjoying the afternoon tea dance organised for them in Dundee, few realised the part they were playing in a massive nationwide campaign to drive up turnout in Scotland's elections.

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www.votescotland.comTea dances are just one of the unusual schemes VoteScotland has devised to raise voter awareness ahead of next month's elections and, crucially, to educate Scots on how to vote.

There have been political speed-dating nights - when voters get two minutes with each of a series of politicians before deciding who would win their vote.

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And last night the Zutons and X-Factor finalists the MacDonald Brothers came together for a concert in Glasgow as part of a campaign designed to encourage young people to vote.

It might seem an extraordinary effort, but the statistics on voting levels are stark. Turnout for the first Scottish election in 1999 was 58 per cent. By 2003 it had sunk to 49.8 per cent.

One of the underlying factors behind this slump has been the disengagement of young people.

According to pollsters MORI, only 39 per cent of people aged 18-24 vote, compared to 70 per cent of those aged 65 and over.

These figures only include those registered to vote, and most of those not registered are young.

If these trends continue, then there is a possibility that a generation of young people will grow up having failed to acquire the habit of voting, the knock-on effects of which could mean a mass disengagement with politics.

However, young people who do vote are unlikely to be fazed by new voting systems - because they have known nothing else.

Older people, who for decades have been putting a cross in a single box alongside the name of their favoured candidate, are more likely to vote but are also more likely to be confused by new systems.

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This is why VoteScotland, funded by the Scottish Executive and the Electoral Commission, is putting such an emphasis into its campaign this year.

There are about 320,000 Scots whose age makes them eligible to vote yet who have not registered. The aim is to get as many of these on the register as possible by the 18 April deadline, and then to get them into the polling booths knowing how to use their vote.

The campaign has started and, as in the Holyrood political race, the results will not be known until 3 May.


• EVERY voter will be given one ballot paper with two forms on it, one in off-yellow and one in purple.

• The first, off-yellow paper is for the regional vote and the second, purple, one is for the constituency vote.

• Voters should put one cross next to the name of the party or individual they want to support for the regional list and a cross in the box next to the name of their chosen constituency candidate.

• A total of 73 MSPs will be elected from the constituency ballot - one for every constituency - and 56 from the regional lists, seven from each of the eight regions. This is the Additional Member System (AMS) method of voting.

• When all the votes are in, each constituency returns a winner, in the traditional first-past-the-post style. If a winning first-past-the-post candidate is also standing on a party list, their name is taken off the list and everyone in their party below them moves up a place.

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• The number of votes cast in the list vote for each registered party or individual candidate is divided by the number of constituency seats that party or candidate has gained in each region, plus one.

• Then, the party with the highest figure after that calculation gains the first regional seat.

• The rest of the seats are allocated in the same way, but each time a seat is allocated, the calculation is redone to take account of the parties which have already won seats. By the end, the seat allocation should reflect the voting preferences of the electorate.


• FOR the first time, councillors will be elected by the single transferable vote (STV) system. The names of candidates will be listed in alphabetical order, with their party affiliation alongside.

• People should vote for as many or as few candidates as they like in order of preference, putting a 1 next to their first choice, a 2 in the box next to their second choice and so on. It is not necessary to rank all the candidates.

• When the votes have been totalled, the returning officer calculates the quota needed for election - that is, the smallest number of votes a candidate needs in order to be elected.

To calculate the quota, the returning officer divides the total number of valid votes (for example, 50) by one more than the number of members to be elected (in the case of a four-member ward 4+1 If any candidate has enough votes for the quota (10), he or she is elected. A mathematical formula is then used to transfer the second preferences from the winning candidates to the other contenders. If these second preferences are for other elected candidates, then the third and fourth preferences are used.

• The next stage sees the elimination of the candidate with the fewest votes. Their second preferences are then distributed to others, again using a formula.

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• The process is repeated, with preferences allocated, until the requisite number of candidates is elected.


• Remand prisoners and civil prisoners can vote, convicted offenders awaiting sentence and all other convicted criminals cannot vote.

• Patients in mental hospitals may register to vote but those detained or sectioned are not eligible.

• Homeless people can register to vote using a declaration of local connection - which means naming a place they visit regularly.

• Irish and Commonwealth citizens can vote, providing they are resident in Scotland and are entitled to live here.

• EU citizens living in Scotland can vote, including those from Malta and Cyprus.

• Some groups are not allowed to become MSPs, these include judges, civil servants, armed forces personnel, police officers and members of foreign legislatures.

• Scottish Parliament constituency candidates must each pay a deposit of 500 which is returned if the candidate achieves more than 5 per cent of the vote. Regional list candidates must put up a deposit of 500, per party, which is returned if their party registers more than 5 per cent of the vote.

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• Candidates are only allowed to spend 7,150 on election expenses plus 5p per elector, for each constituency. Parties standing on the regional lists may spend 7,150 for every constituency in the region.

• Council candidates are allowed to spend 600 per candidate plus 5p per elector.

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