Friday, May 04, 2007

Bottom of the class

Well, well. That cross says it all - wrong, wrong, wrong. Scotland's election is a shambles - missing postal ballot papers, fog-bound helicopters, electronic counting - and confused voters. It's the last of these I despair about. The radio this morning is full of people wondering why this confusion has arisen, people assuring us that while they personally have "a modicum of common sense" they nevertheless made "a pig's ear" of their ballot paper.

Sorry, chaps, but anyone who has worked in a state school for as many years as I have could have told them it'd be a disaster. Two papers? Colour-coded? We're well on the way. Crosses on one paper and numbers on the other - as many as you like up to six, but if you only want to put one please don't put a cross? Aye, right. We had a charming lady doing her best - and her best was pretty impressive - to make sure that all the punters passing her were at least asked if they knew what they were doing. Her explanation was clear - but actually quite complicated, in an irritating sort of way. We listened, asked a question, and went on our way. And yes, we did it right and our votes will be counted 'cos we didn't fold the paper.

But here's the rub. Most people don't listen. They glaze over after the first sentence. I know - I spent 30 years of my life watching them, and their children. They don't listen and they can't really read. Single words, yes. Whole sentences, with alternatives? Forget it. Lost already. And then stick them in a wee cubicle where they canny ask their neighbour? Think of the exams which are about to suck in our huddled masses of first-time voters next time round. The poorer pupils will finish a two-hour exam in half an hour and then stretch and scratch their bellies (male) or fiddle with their hair (female, usually). Not because they're so bright they've scooshed through the paper, but because they've switched off in despair/boredom/dawning awareness.

In every class of 30 pupils, there would be up to five of them who would mess up any form you gave them - whether it was the title page for their English folio or a plan of the classroom in which to put their name at the correct desk symbol. There would be three who forgot to use block capitals and two who put the current date for their date of birth. And they'd do it in ink, and there was never the right colour of tippex to do an invisible correction. These people are the ones who spoiled their ballot papers unwittingly. We shouldn't be spending a fortune on an enquiry, or worrying about the system of allocation of parliamentary seats. We should spend it on smaller classes and more effective teaching.

But hey! George W. was elected by what sounded like spoiled ballot papers - and look how much he managed to achieve.

Bitter laughter is allowed.

Update: Shortly after writing the above, I learned that a friend of mine drove all the way from Inverness to vote, arriving triumphantly at the polling station in Dunoon at 9.55pm. "Sorry, you're too late" he was told. Apparently the polling agents had set their clock "a few minutes early" - and they were sticking to it. Democracy in Argyll is obviously in A Bad Way.


  1. Anonymous12:14 PM

    "we did it right and our votes will be counted" - although the press reported that Argyll & Bute suspended counting at 3am, and will return to it later today with a view to publishing the result by 20:10. Good old Argyll, eh? Why keep going whenn you can stop for a break? It's only the election after all!

  2. Anonymous3:51 PM

    Are you sure you aren't in Florida?

  3. Anonymous12:36 AM

    Firstly, I voted by post, being congenitally lazy. My papers arrived timeously; the instructions were clear; and the process was simplicity itself. It takes a rare kind of moron to fail to understand what to do. The demise of the moron is not something that the WWF should fret about: it is alive and proliferating.
    Secondly, the result presages much fun & games. Promises will be bent, great aspirations will be converted into polite wheezes and tergiversation will be the order of the day. The omens were there for all to see. Admittedly, the heavens themselves did not blaze forth the near-death experience of Scottish Labour, and nary a comet was seen; but in Wisconsin, USA, a man had his car stolen twice in the same day, while, in Nebraska, a calf has been born with six legs: it also has the sex organs of both sexes and has been fitted with an artificial rectum. If I had the wit, I'm sure I could derive from this analogies both for the voting process and its result.
    Two cheers for democracy.

  4. Anonymous4:09 PM

    Hear Hear Chris! I couldn't agree more. As you say, anyone who has taught recently will tell you that the skills people normally use in these circumstances -prior knowledge, deduction, analysis and 'the guid scots tongue in your heid'- are not in evidence amongst many of our pupils. These skills are genuinely life skills as this election indicates.

  5. And did the President's horses go wild and eat each other? Or am I in the wrong play? At least I've learned a new word out of this fracas. Tergiversion, indeed.

  6. Anonymous12:25 AM

    Tergiversation, indeed. While the loss of two letters might not be the most unkindest cut of all, the latter remark should point to the play. (I don't know about the horses.) And - please - don't let slip the dogs of war. (I had to learn that speech for Higher English, back in the day when Meedja weren't studied - just literature.)

  7. It's not so much the spelling as the tying - sorry: typing! And I'd moved in my head from Julius to Macbeth - there are very similar reactions to the imminent death of high heijins in both plays.

  8. down here we just had the local elections -- in my ward no choice just a Labour and a Conservative candidate -- result a forgone conclusion anyway. My choices were to vote for someone I didn't care for or make a meaningless protest by proferring a spoilt paper.

  9. I'm not really surprised the SNP did so well... we had 3 SNP candidates as opposed to 1 Lab, 1 Con, 1 LibDem, 1 Free The Norwegian Tree-Huggers...

    I almost sense a complete lack of interest from the other parties!