By Steven Paterson former MP for Stirling
We’re all familiar with the great postal vote conspiracy, right? The industrial scale deception perpetrated by agents unknown to ensure the Yes side didn’t win the 2014 Independence Referendum?
After all, the evidence was overwhelming, and all over social media afterwards, so it must be true. All those piles of votes being shifted about: it was fixed!
Except there’s one wee problem with this particular conspiracy theory, which it shares with other whoppers such as the well-known faked moon landings: its complete and utter nonsense. There would have had to have been fleets of bin lorries transporting hundreds of thousands of ballot papers to be incinerated somewhere – at every count nationwide – and nobody talking about it afterwards, or else we would have to believe that the many experienced SNP counting agents witnessing the count somehow missed hundreds of thousands of votes being deliberately miscounted.
So what? Well, the perpetuation of the ridiculous independence referendum ballot paper conspiracy continues to have an unwelcome consequence for those of us who support the SNP and independence for Scotland. It’s this: due to mistrust of the system this fiction encourages, supporters of the SNP are far less likely to sign up for postal votes than supporters of other parties, and especially the Tories. And since postal voters are 96 percent likely to vote versus non-postal voters at 73 percent likely to vote in any given election, this gives a clear advantage to our opponents, and especially to our Tory opponents.
For example, at last year’s council elections in Stirling, the Tories had clearly been working hard signing up supporters to postal votes, and received a substantial reward for their efforts in seeing Tories elected in six out of seven council wards, including many areas that had never, ever had a Tory councillor before. It was a similar story across the country. And of course, it was the postal votes that swung the Stirling Westminster seat to the Tories, by just 148 votes out of 49,356 cast.
When the Beast from the East swooped down on us this week, bringing the biggest dump of snow I can remember, I thought the Tory postal advantage might come into play once more because there was a council by-election in Clackmannanshire North on Thursday. There is no provision in legislation to cancel an election once called due to the weather, so it went ahead even as the advice of the police was not to travel. In the event, the 25 percent turnout was higher than most people involved probably expected, especially considering the election day was at the peak of the adverse weather conditions and the first three hours of the poll were conducted under the Red ‘do not travel’ warning.
As it happens, the SNP’s Helen Lewis scored a fine win in what must have been a moral-sapping loss for the Tories who even had the weather on their side, but still finished a poor second.
Postal votes are here to stay though, and if the SNP is to avoid losing the tight contests, we must persuade more of our own supporters to make sure they always have their votes counted by signing up to a postal vote. Otherwise, when we face snow – or torrential rain as we did during the Westminster election last June – we will hand a significant advantage to the Tories.
Those who perpetuate the nonsense that we were cheated in the Independence Referendum hurt the cause they claim to support because they encourage an unwarranted distrust of the electoral process. And in the Stirling seat, like many others, that only helps the Tories.