Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Scottish islands and spoilt ballot papers

As a footnote to previous postings about the recent Scottish Parliament election, something interesting emerges.

There are three constituencies that comprise wholly of Scottish Islands; Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Although these aren't the biggest constituencies in Scotland, they registered by far the smallest number of spoilt ballots out of all constituencies, according to the list on BBC news:

  • Orkney   285  (3.2%)

  • Shetland   294  (2.9%)

  • Western Isles   446  (3.2%)

Though proportionally these aren't the lowest figures - Roxburgh & Berwickshire had only 2.3% and Stirling 1.9% spoilt - they are way below the national average of "almost 7%" (BBC figure) and the number and proportion in most other constituencies. Compare with some (this is a sample and may not be the worst) of the mainland constituencies:

  • Edinburgh East & Musselburgh   2,521  (7.8%)

  • Glasgow Pollok   2,106  (9.8%)

  • Glasgow Maryhill   1,877  (10.2%)

  • Glasgow Shettleston   2,035  (12.1%)

However, to befuddle it further, there isn't a clear link with class or deprivation. The argument that high proportion of neds and NEETS, or a central belt area of high deprivation, correlates to a high level of spoilt papers is refuted by Paisley North (667 or 2.8% spoilt) and Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (803 or 3.0% spoilt). Those are two of the lowest figures and proportions of spoilt papers in the country.

Why the relatively low number of spoilt papers in all three Scottish island constituencies? Dunno. Possible factors locals have mentioned:

  1. Polling stations tend to be less busy over the 15 hours here, so there's more time to consider your paper and read the instructions. 

  2. The voting instructions were better explained, both before and at the polling stations (here in Berneray Chrissie did an excellent job of answering any queries). It is maybe easier to ask someone you know than, in an inner city polling station, to ask a harassed total stranger.

  3. The social and relationship aspects of living here mean people tend to converse and discuss things a lot more.

  4. Island folk are more politically aware, so more people knew exactly who they would vote for on May 3rd. Proportionally, many more residents would have met, or know, one or more candidates before election day than in most mainland constituencies.

  5. (Controversial) There is generally a higher standard of education on the islands than there generally is on the mainland.

  6. There is a high standard of literacy here (more about this another day); there is an ingrained disposition to reading, finding out information and being informed.

Anybody have any more plausible reasons to add to that list?

Perhaps when the election comes to be investigated, as well as working out what went wrong in some places, it might be a good angle to find out what went right, i.e. why the number of spoilt papers was consistantly low, across the Scottish islands.


  1. Another plausible reason ? There is less to do the further west (~) you go in Scotland so the people are in a hurry on their way elsewhere.

  2. Paul: refute sweeping generalisation and strange "Busy in the east, not so in the west" point. There's plenty to do here, and I wish I had many more hours in the day. People here still earn a living. A higher proportion also have several part-time jobs, so if there are folk in a hurry it is them :-)

  3. Scottish Roundup » Blog Archive » Coalition talks, Presiding Officers and spoilt ballots (again)10 May 2007 at 00:13

    [...] Silversprite notes that the numbers of spoilt ballots was comparatively low on the island constituencies. He has a number of suggestions as to why — some of them are controversial! [...]

  4. Although I wasn't of voting age when I lived on Orkney I'd definitely agree with number 4, I'm sure I was more politically aware at the age of 9 than I am now! My mum told me she once spoilt her ballot paper when living there. She was listening to results on the radio with friends and they all tutted when they heard 'and one spoilt ballot paper'. I'm not sure neds and NEETs would affect figures that much. I have no evidence for this (other than I used to work in a very ned/NEET area in Leeds) but would imagine that these groups are the ones who don't even bother to vote.

  5. "A higher proportion also have several part-time jobs" .. means that there is not enough to do full time proving the point. Not to mention the hours wasted by us townies stuck in commute traffic which precludes being employed elsewhere.