Before I get to the papers, a word about the BBC. What master programme planner decides that we all put our brains into neutral on a bank holiday, and demand, instead of regular news and current affairs programmes, a fractured schedule comprising truncated news broadcasts with the time filled with trivial re-runs and repeat entertainments programming?
Are we supposed to lose our interest in current affairs, politics and major events so that we may frolic in the garden or on the beach, occasionally watching the crap that has replaced the news on a portable?
Back to the papers and that strange species called Scottish journalists and political commentators. (I won’t list my usual exceptions, those whom I recognise as fine examples of the honourable Scottish journalistic tradition, because some have fallen off the plinths I erected for them in the last week or so, destabilised from their bases by the terrifying spectre of imminent Scottish independence, a wraith visible to everyone except the SNP, nationalists supporters, and apparently the majority of the electorate, who have more practical concerns.)
I ask three baseline things of a journalist, accurate facts, a reasonable command of English, and a little sensitivity. The Scotsman, in an otherwise excellent Election 2011 supplement today, manage to fall at the first two hurdles on page 5.
Andrew Whitaker fails the English test on this paragraph -
You can count on a close-run election race (para 10)
Should Ms Boyack, an ever-present in the Scottish Parliament since 1999, be defeated and the swing against her is repeated across Scotland, then we may be set for a fairly comfortable SNP win.
I’m sure you can see what’s wrong here, Andrew. If not, things are worse than I thought …
Eddie Barnes fails the factual accuracy test on his 3rd paragraph here, on the arithmetical process applied to the constituency vote -
How the voting system works
The constituency votes are counted first. Once these results are in, election officers tally up the votes in each region and then divide that sum by the number of seats each party has won within that region. The party with the largest figure gets a regional seat. That seat is added to their tally and the process is repeated until a total of seven regional MSPs are elected. The effect is to give more seats to parties which have failed to win constituency seats, but have secured a significant chunk of votes.
The method adopted for proportional representation in the Scottish Parliament is the d’Hondt method, Eddie, not the Barnes method. The votes in each region are divided by 1 + number of seat won, not by the number of seat won as you say.
An example should suffice to demonstrate what would happen if the Barnes method were used rather than the d’Hondt method.
Party gets 100,000 votes and wins one seat - 100,000 divided by 1 + 100,000. Party’s vote unchanged.
Party gets 100,00 votes and wins one seat - 100,000 divided by 1+1 = 2. Party’s vote is now 50,000, and it is re-ranked on the list.
At a time when there is, inconveniently, a UK-wide ballot on a different method, and the Scottish system may not be at all clear to many voters in the Holyrood election on Thursday, this is not a trivial error for one of Scotland’s two main newspapers to make.
I think in the interest of democracy and accuracy, an immediate correction and apology should be published prominently tomorrow in The Scotsman.
N.B. If I have got this wrong, Eddie, I will immediately apologise and retract my error.
THE SENSITIVITY CRITERION
On page 33 of the main paper, Hugh Reilly, in a piece entitled Cross purposes over how to cast a vote, has the following sentence in a paragraph (para 6, second column) -
Having hurdled the constituency vote with as much grace as a one-legged amputee, …
I cannot believe I’ve just read that in a quality newspaper, Hugh.
Many ‘one-legged amputees’ compete with considerable grace in sports of all kinds, and the main factor that has produced ‘one-legged amputees’ in recent years has been the tide of horrific injuries sustained by servicemen and women serving their regiment and the country in two wars.
Their grace is of a kind that few can display - it is the grace of loyalty to comrades and to their profession, and it is all the greater because it has been displayed in misconceived conflicts that have been entered into by politicians who are not in harm’s way, almost never place their adult children in harm’s way, and who totally lack anything that resembles grace.
I think Hugh Reilly owes an apology to Scotsman readers and to those he treats so casually in his cheap, throwaway remark.