The SNP today confirmed that it would again be using the 'Alex Salmond for First Minister' description on the regional list ballot paper, although in accordance with the changed rules it will follow the words 'Scottish National Party'. This is an eminently sensible step given that the SNP are much more reliant than Labour on list seats, and in 1999 and 2003 lost many of their natural voters following widespread confusion over the function of the list vote - due in no small part to grossly misleading campaigns on behalf of smaller parties such as '2nd Vote Green', which deliberately gave the impression that the list vote was some kind of second preference. 'AS 4 FM' neatly emphasises the fact - and it is a fact - that it's the list vote that essentially determines who forms the government.
Naturally, the Greens in particular aren't best pleased about this development, as it makes it somewhat tougher for them to enjoy a repeat of 2003, when they won seven list seats partly on the back of the confusion their slogan had helped to sow. Given this track record, though, you'd think they wouldn't be foolish enough to brazenly criticise the SNP for using a 'slogan' that 'misleads voters'. You'd be wrong. See this tweet from James Mackenzie of Better Nation fame (that's "Mackenzie without a capitalised 'K'" - why does that chide remind me so much of Big Brother's Chantelle Houghton?) -
Shame on the @thesnp for putting Salmond on ballots he's not contesting. Gould report associated that with 75% of spoilt 2007 ballots.
I then entered into a brief exchange with him on the subject. As ever, it confirmed my belief that it's utterly impossible to make serious points within 140 characters, but neverthless the obfuscation and evasion from James is clear enough. Spot just how many times he tries to change the subject from the issue of the Greens' double-standard. (My favourite bit is when he falls back on the distraction technique of demanding to know why I'm being so "confrontational" - somewhat ironic for a man who opened with the words "Shame on the SNP"!) Generally speaking, people who have a convincing answer to a straight question will simply give it...
Me : Oh, come off it, James. Are you worried people will be reminded their list vote isn't some kind of second preference?
James Mackenzie : Have you read the Gould report? 75% of the problems were associated with sloganisation, and Salmond promised no repeats.
Me : Yes, I have read the Gould Report, and the 'sloganisation' bit was utter garbage.
Me : You need have no worry of Salmond causing a repeat, because 'AS 4 FM' was never a factor - it was the single ballot paper.
James Mackenzie : US election observers agreed. Misleading, meant people elected who shouldn't have been and vice versa.
Me : And the '2nd Vote Green' campaign in 1999 and 2003 wasn't misleading? Didn't lead to people being elected on false assumption?
Me : That was the misunderstanding that 'AS 4 FM' sought to correct, and it did so very successfully.
James Mackenzie : I'm afraid I'm with Gould on this.
Me : Now, why doesn't that surprise me? No comment on the question I asked about the grossly misleading 2nd Vote Green wheeze?
Me : Without such jiggery-pokery there wouldn't have been the need to clear up the confusion about importance of list vote.
James Mackenzie : You have to count the first vote first, to elect constituencies before you go AMS. It wasn't us who dubbed it the second vote.
Me : James, simple question - were Greens elected in 03 who wouldn't have been had 2nd vote not been misinterpreted as 2nd pref?
James Mackenzie : We said second vote. Your premise is flawed. Why so confrontational?
Me : James, why so evasive?
Me : And 'confrontational'? This is just a tad rich from the man who went into apoplexy over the tax powers non-issue!
James Mackenzie : That's a policy concern. We were the only party talking about using it. Still no idea why SNP let powers lapse.
Me : James, this is a total double-standard. Your party had no responsibility for the confusion it caused in 03?
Me : In fact, I suspect you know it's a double-standard, otherwise you wouldn't be evading the question like crazy.
James Mackenzie : We described the 2nd vote the same way the media did, as the 2nd vote.
Me : So you play a straight bat. It was OK because it was in the rules, even though it caused confusion.
Me : That's fine, but it does mean you're on incredibly weak ground attacking the SNP on 'AS 4 FM'.
James Mackenzie : Thanks for your views, but that's enough back-and-forth for now. I've got an election campaign to get on with.
Me : I would say thankyou for your answers, but...well, thanks for the virtuoso display of spin anyway!
So, to the very limited extent that James was interested in providing an answer, it seems his defence is that it wasn't the Greens' responsibility if their sloganising was misleading, because they were using terminology that others were using. In other words, they acted within the rules to frame a slogan that would maximise their vote and garner seats that would otherwise have been beyond their reach, putting party interest ahead of clarity for voters. And it worked - brilliantly. I have no complaint about that, but it's going to be a tad difficult for the Greens to now sanctimoniously talk about the "shameful irresponsibility" of another party's perfectly legitimate "sloganising", when their own adherence to the bottom line of self-interest in previous elections has been plain for all to see.