Archive for May, 2007

The Lives of Others

We forget our recent history all too quickly.   This film takes us back to 1984 in East Germany where the feared secret police, the Stasi had a policy of knowing everything about everybody, and cracking down hard on anything that smacked of dissidence.      East Germany had about 16m population, and there were 90,000 Stasi – an incredible ratio when you think about it.

The film focusses on a high profile playwright who lives in an apartment with his girlfriend.    Despite his good relations with the authorities, the flat is bugged because a government official fancies the girlfriend, and the often shocking plot develops.    It is a really great film, and there are many twists in the story, and a couple of surprises.   The ending is brilliant.

The film is just a touch overlong, but is well worth going to see.   It is a sobering and haunting reminder about a hugely intrusive regime in recent history in a country that is now just a cheap flight away.   And, ultimately, it is about one man’s journey in particular … you’ll have to go and see it to find out the rest.

And please go and see it before the Americans make a Holywood version (sigh).

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The SNP have one more seat at Holyrood than Labour.    But, some Holyrood seat counts were very close, and there were a large number of spoilt papers.    Where small majorities had large numbers of spoilt papers, there may be cases for legal challenges.    Labour are looking at Cunningham North where there was a majority of 48 as Kenneth Gibson SNP ousted former Labour Minister Alan Wilson.   If this is allowed, it will open the floodgates.

Alex Salmond has said there will be an inquiry into the election fiasco.    But thinking about it, he must take a share of the blame.    The SNP called themselves “Alex Salmond for First Minister” in the list of parties.    This meant that they came top of the (alphabetical) party list.    Voters, seeing a person, not a party at the top of the list were very confused.   

The process might go like this:    the voter sees the voting paper, and then does a rough scan to see what is what.    A brief ‘first look’ gives two lists, both of which are headed up by people.    Instant confusion.     Yes, the process was simple enough once you read the thing properly, but we have to face the fact that 100,000 people did not get it right.

I am suggesting that if the SNP had appeared as the “Scottish National Party” in the list of parties, then the mistakes would have been significantly fewer.     Tommy Sheridan did the same.    It might not have altered the result, but at least a few more voters would have had their voices heard, rather than be consigned to the bin.

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Salmond has just arrived by helicopter at Prestonfield House Hotel and has given an address on the lawn.      He has announced an inquiry into the election, although he does not have that authority.   

He is already behaving like President Salmond.     Is this really what we are in for?

Interesting choice of location.    Prestonfield House was where Lord Watson, then Minister for Tourism, drunk as a skunk and refused access to more drink, set fire to the curtains in protest.    It was captured on CCTV, and he is still doing time for it.    Guilty.

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Someone might like to suggest to Perth and Kinross Council that an election count is an Event.     Perhaps they want to discourage political activists going along, because it certainly seemed like it.   They could and should have done it so much better.

There was no catering.   And a coffee machine is not catering.    There were lots of people there for hours, and of course a whole army of staff.     Put it this way …… someone selling coffee/tea and bacon rolls would have done extremely well.

There was ONE very inadequate TV stuck in the corner of a very small room.      There should have been a big screen TV in a bigger room, or 2 big screen TVs.    It is not complicated to do.

And we were simply not informed about the progress of the vote.   The 2 electronic displays were meaningless (and one went off-line for a good chunk of the evening) , and half the software was not working.   

Interestingly, Perth and Kinross Council produced ‘Election 2007’ T-shirts for all the staff to wear.     It really makes you wonder about priorities.

Yesterday 100,000 people took the time and trouble to go and vote in Scotland and have not had their voice heard.    

I have had very little sleep in the last 24 hours, and have not been this upset for a while.   

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The amount of spoilt papers could be as many as 100,000 in Scotland.       This will certainly give rise to seats where the majority is less than the number of spoilt papers.    It is a major concern.     I hope that there will be a far reaching inquiry into this.

There has also been problems with late postal votes in some areas, effectively disenfranchising some electors.

The whole reason for bringing in postal votes was to increase the turnout, but it has failed to do this.    I still think that people should go to the polling station unless they can’t get there (holiday, work away etc.).

There will be a massive fuss, that’s for certain.

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I have been to counts before.    The normal thing is to watch the ballot papers being unloaded, sorted and counted by hand.    The bundles grow for each candidate, and as the night wears on, the size of the bundles indicates the progress of each candidate.   It can be pretty exciting.

What we had here was a series of electronic scanners (10) scanning in papers, and the results being handled electronically.    It took ages.    On the other side of the hall, council staff were dealing with spoilt papers.    Images came up onto the computer, and the staff were able to correct most of these, and referred any difficult ones to a higher level decision.    These computers had screens facing in and out, so we could see what was going on.

Many of the mistakes could actually be corrected there and then – 1 that look like 7, crosses just straying into another box, numbers with circles round them etc.

But watching the papers coming past, it was very clear that there was a high level of people putting numbers where crosses should be, and crosses where numbers should be.    Some could be sorted, but others could not – even where voting intention it was apparent.

It was a shambles.    The night drew on, and it looked like we were getting near the first declaration.    But it had still not happened by 4.30am, and I had to leave.   It was as exciting as watching paint dry.

It is now 9.30 on Friday morning.    The result has not been declared yet – BBC website says ‘counting delayed’.     It is appalling.

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Out bright and early to be outside the local polling station for 7am.   Foggy and cold.    I am first to vote.    All the officials come over and see my demonstration of how to put a ballot paper into a box.

Actually, it is complicated.    A cross for your Holyrood candidate (and there is a huge list of micky mouse parties), a cross for your party.    That is on one sheet, and goes in one box.    The Council election is on a separate sheet, and you have to rank the candidates 1, 2, 3, etc.    The single transferable vote system.    I knew what was coming, but still had to think about it.

Spent 2 hours outside polling station.    I enjoy talking to people, and it became pretty clear that busy people on their way to work were having problems understanding things.     Very slow vote.

I check back later in the morning – still slow.    Speak to the other politicos on the stump.    We all get on pretty well, and we see each other every election.    People coming in to vote express surprise that anyone wearing a ribbon of one colour can actually be seen speaking to (and indeed cracking jokes with)  a person wearing another colour.

Spend 4 hours early evening phoning pledged voters to check they have voted.

Have a few hours off, and go into the count at 12.30 am.    It is predicted that the Holyrood vote will be between 2 and 3am.

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How Low Can You Sing?

I really want to go and hear this Choir from Estonia singing the Rachmaninov All Night Vigil.    The basses have to get down to a bottom Bb.   That’s really low – more of a growl, but is an absolutely stunning effect.   Lunchtime concert in Perth on the 7th May.


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