The Nicholas Cases: Casualties of Justice by Bob Woffinden
The Nicholas Cases
In 2006 I was the editor of a tiny astrological magazine and one of my regular contributors sent in an article about the Lady in The Lake murder. Briefly: teacher Gordon Park was convicted of the murder of his wife Carol; she had disappeared in 1976 and her body was found in Coniston Water in 1997. The writer was clearly in favour of Park’s innocence and had put a link to the family’s campaign to have his conviction overturned.
I read it and thought “Well, she’s entitled to an opnion, but he’s guilty, isn’t he? The police investigated thoroughly, the jury found him guilty. So he’s guilty!” Back then I actually believed that British justice couldn’t get things wrong (except of course in really exceptional cases like the Birmingham 6 or Stefan Kiszko.I printed the article, leaving off the campaign link. The writer rang me up, very upset; I gave her some stuff about editorial impartiality.
Today, sixteen years later, I’ve written to her to apologise.

So yesterday, I had one of my cataracts fixed – a novel experience. B had his cataracts done a couple of years ago and assured me it was a cakewalk – just a minute or two and it would be all over.
Er no, for me it wasn’t.
Three or four years ago, I had humoungeous problems with rotting teeth and gum infections, needing lots of sessions of extractions and fillings. The first session ended abruptly when I had a panic atttack and bolted; not wanting to live with my teeth problems any longer I went to Doc G and explained, he prescribed some Valium. I took one before each trip to the dentist and sailed through everything she could throw at me – in fact, before the final session I forgot to take the pill, but sailed serenely though nevertheless. I kept the remaining pills just in case of another trip to dental hell.

Despite B’s reassurances, I was nervous about this op, sleeping very badly the night before. So, belt and braces, I took a valium on the way to the hospital. Good foresight, it turned out.
Sitting in the waiting room, B pointed out the Mission Statement on the wall – the usual three paragraphs of corporate bafflegab. “Wonder how much they paid for that?” he murmered. “If you actually need a mission statement WE WILL DO WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO DO surely covers everything.”

Then it was prepping, with the usual three-times-repeated safety check of name, date of birth, organ/body part to be operated on (just to be absolutely and totally sure, a big mark was inked above my right eye). Then onto the the operating table. A sterile mask went over my face (with a cheery “Don’t worry, we’re piping in oxygen to you.”) and an eyehole was cut out. Then came the bombshell.
The surgeon addressed me. “I’m afraid this will take some time – twenty minutes, perhaps thirty…”
WUT?????
He explained; I have a problem eyeball – it’s small, a little misshapen, and left nearly immobile by the operation I’d had as a child to correct severe astigmatism. Plus the lens was unusually thick. So I could forget about the quick ‘pop the old lens out, pop in the new one’ routine that B had gone through. Inserting my new lens would involve extremely careful slicing and stitching.
Oh well, only thirty minutes at most, I can do that….
There came the familiar scratching of Anxiety at the cellar door and the mask suddenly felt claustrophobic. Valium quickly stepped in; Anxiety was menaced into silence, I relaxed a little. And the op began.
The first few minutes were fine. I didn’t feel worried. At all. Until the lens was lifted out. Without a lens to concentrate the image, there was nothing for the retina and optic nerves to make sense of. It was just a flood of photons. With the overhead light pouring in, everything went a sort of indigo-gray interspersed with sharp-edged, flickering irregular black shapes. Like lightning flashes in negative. This must have been the surgeon, working with his instruments. Abruptly, I felt unreasoning terror – I was blind! That eye had never been much cop before, but at least it had bought me colours and shapes, however fuzzy and indistinct. Anxiety was pushing through the door, with Panic screeching right behind.
Then Valium stepped in again, fulfilling its Mission Statement quite magnificently. Both Anxiety and Panic were efficiently cudgelled into silence, kicked back down the cellar steps and the door firmly bolted. I could still make out a faint whimpering from the depths, but I felt safe again.
The operation went on, with lots of prodding, poking and, eventually, beautiful flares of colour as the lens was slid on and painstakingly stitched into place. I was relieved to (literally) see the end of the greyness – the shapes of the surgeon and nurses came into view behind explosions of pink, blue, yellow and white. Then it was finally over.
Faint and shaky, I had to be helped off the table. My years as a life model meant that I can stay rock-still for any length of time; but art classes don’t have people poking sharp pointy things into your eye! So it had been quite a strain.
When I stumbled/floated back into the waiting room, high on relief and my eye taped up, the next patient was already waiting. She had been chatting with B. and he had been reassuring her, as he had reassured me. “Yes!” I told her brightly. “It’s easy-peasy! No problemo! Just so long as you don’t have a bollixed-up eye like mine!”

B hustled me out rather quickly.

Last Friday was a bit of an adventure. It started off at 7:30am with one of my usual tachycardia attacks. After an hour it was clearly not going away, so me & B abandoned our plan to spend the day doing our monthly shop, and I necked a couple of betablockers and settled into bed for the duration.
By 3pm, I was very bored indeed with reading and tweeting; my fast heart-rate seemed to be slowing down, so I reckoned it was safe to get out of bed and get onto the sofa instead. I get very dizzy when I’m on my feet during one of these attacks, but I’m usually all right if I go carefully and cling to the wall and other supports. I got to the living-room sofa and sat for a while, but,unusually, continued feeling light-headed. Not having eaten anything all day, I thought it might be low blood sugar; not wanting to bother B, who was on the computer in the office, I staggered carefully into the kitchen to find something to eat. There my dizziness got worse. Hanging onto the kitchen counter and realising that I’d made a bad mistake, I shouted for B to come and help.
With that, I abruptly found myself in a darkened concert hall listening to Mozart (or was it Handel?), with glowing half-recognised faces swimming in and out of the shadows; this dream/hallucination seemed to last for several bars of music before I came to in B’s arms – he was desperately trying to lower my twelve stones to the floor without putting his already fragile back out. I’d fainted and he’d caught me in the nick of time.
Lying on the floor, I felt better, but didn’t dare get up. A panicky B called our GP, who called an ambulance, which took me to hospital. The drive into Dumfries was long and rough – our local roads are never in the best repair and lying flat on my back, I felt every pothole and bump. Once in the ED I was attended to very quickly, by a doctor who insisted on being called Joe. He was utterly charming, easy-going, attractive in a hunky sort of way. And – I had to tell myself with some regret – he was probably younger than my son.
He checked the cardiac and blood-pressure readings that the paramedics had taken, then took a history. He was concerned that I had these lengthy attacks quite regularly for years but had never had any emergency medical attention for them before. He gently scolded me “It doesn’t matter if you think you can cope by yourself, it’s not good for your heart in the long run – every attack causes a little more damage.” That was the first time any medic had given me such a warning – not even my GP who has treated me for it for years. I’d been quite proud of how I was dealing with my condition, always shrugging it off as no big deal, nothing to bother the docs about. Maybe I should be more complaining?
Dr Joe then told me that he’d be giving me something to bring my heart-rate back to normal; a cannula went into my arm and an IV line attached. “This might be quite unpleasant…” he warned.
I waited.
Two seconds.
Then something punched me in the chest, hard, with a feather cushion. There was a mildly disturbing prickling in my head. Then somebody poured a whole bucket of gloriously fuzzy warm sparkles into my brain and my world lit up. That’s the best way I can describe it – it was like like walking into sunshine after a week of grey, cold rain. Everything looked fresh and new.
“How do you feel now?” smiled Dr Joe. He was now glowing slightly. “Wonderful!” I breathed, just stopping myself from adding and I’m in love with you!
“Always nice when that works!” he twinkled back. He took my pulse and blood pressure again.
“You’re down to 53 BPM, no wonder you’re feeling better.”
“What on earth was it you gave me?”
“Adenosine, and you’ve just had a cardioversion – never had one before? No? It probably won’t be your last – you have to come in the next time you have an long attack. Sorry, but you can’t take it at home – it has to be done under medical supervision.”
“OK, doc, I promise.” Especially if you’re on duty, you luffley man…

And so me & B shook his hand goodby and the Amazing Dr Joe went off to save a life elsewhere. And we drove back through the warm sunny evening. And everything still looked glorious.
And I suppose I will be seeing more of Dr Joe…..

Mr Poe

Mr Poe

As you may know, we have had a raven residing in our garden for the last couple of years. To be accurate, he resides in a beech tree just across the road; from there he is lord of all he surveys, which is a large swathe of fields and hillside along with our third of an acre. Two or three times a day he comes to our garden; we always leave out some choice scraps – cake, bread, crusts, a little meat – for our neighbour, in the so far vain hope of making some closer acquaintance with him. We have of course given him a name; to us he is, inevitably, Mr Poe.
This morning, however, a challenger to his crown arrived, boldly setting up a roosting station in one of the beech trees in our garden, directly facing Mr Poe’s perch. Naturally, Mr P has been challenging him right back, screaming imprecations whilst flying full claws out at the invader. The other bird has rereated but always returned, sometimes even chasing Mr P back to his own tree. Their fight has so far lasted the best part of four hours and seems to have reached stalemate. Both birds seem to be now resting up in their respective trees and are silent – for the time being.
It’s possible that the interloper may stay, there’s plenty of room. If he does, I’ve already decided on a name for him: Griswold. And if he is staying, he’ll get first go at our scraps, simply by dint of being closest. Seeing how Mr Poe copes with this will be interesting!

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Ever since I read May’s Lewis Trilogy I have looked out for more of his books, hoping to find more gritty, absorbing mystery thrillers. But I always seem to end up a little disappointed; they’re good books all right but just not up to the standard I was expecting. Entry Island invoked the supernatural way too much for my liking; Runaway would have been much better split into a memoir and a novel.
‘Coffin Road’ looks like being yet another disappointment – I’m only about a third of the way through it and already I don’t think I’ll bother to read any further. It’s starts off very promisingly:

The first thing I am aware of is the taste of salt. It fills my mouth. Invasive. Pervasive. It dominates my being, smothering all other senses. Until the cold takes me. Sweeps me up and cradles me in its arms. Holding me so tightly I can’t seem to move. Except for the shivering. A raging, uncontrollable shivering. And somewhere in my mind I know this is a good thing. My body trying to generate heat. If I wasn’t shivering I would be dead.

A man comes to washed up on a wide, empty sandy beach with no idea of where he is, what has happened to him, or who he is. He cannot remember even his name. He meets an old lady who evidently knows him and helps him to his house – conveniently for him, it’s just a short way up the road. Inside the house, he finds almost nothing to help him remember who he is. His wallet is almost empty; there’s some cash, but no driving license (although he has a car) or bank cards. There’s a utility bill on the table, so he knows his name is Neal Maclean and that this house is in a hamlet called Luskentyre, on the west coast of Harris in the Hebrides. Like all of May’s locations, it’s a real place – you can see it for yourself on Google Street view – and its every bit as astonishingly scenic as he describes. May’s descriptive writing is terrific – the Scottish tourist board must throw a party to celebrate every time he brings out a book set in Scotland – and this doesn’t disappoint on that score. If you don’t want to immediately travel to the Western Isles to experience the georgeous landscapes for yourself, then you have no soul.
What does disappoint me is his sloppy plotting. He’s managed to construct a pretty good and intriguing storyline – Maclean can’t throw off a feeling that he’s committed some terrible crime, he sees somebody keeping watch on him, somebody tries to kill him, he finds he’s made considerable efforts to hide his past and that he’s having an affair with a married neighbour; there’s a laptop with an internet connection, but it’s been cleaned of everything that might help him find his identity. All very intriguing.
But May’s irritatingly careless over details. For example, take the aforementioned utility bill. That’s what May actually calls it, a “utility bill”, not an electricity bill or an oil bill or telephone bill. When did you ever hear somebody IRL talk about having a “utility bill”?
Then there’s the old lady who comes to his aid at the beginning of the book; he’s just staggered up off the beach, wet, disoriented and with an obvious head injury – yet she never asks him what happened, or even offers to call a doctor. And though she lives nearby, knows his name and where he lives, and regularly walks her dog past his house, she doesn’t ever call on him to find out if he’s OK; her usefulness over, we never hear from her again.
Thete are other irritations as well. May tends to dump huge gobbets of information into the text; a visit to a nearby cathedral turns MacLean into a tour guide, telling the reader all about the building’s history and architecture for about a page and a half; the unexpected find of a beehive prompts a long speech that reads like the Wikipedia entry on bees and beekeeping. And so on. It all feels like attempts to pad out the wordcount.
And then thete’s the time he finds a folder of newspaper cuttings that finally give him some clues to who he really is. He finally has a name, an address in Edinburgh, and a few biographical details. So he rushes to his laptop and…. googles himself to find more? No, actually. He goes to BT’s online telephone directory and checks that he’s listed at that address. Then he looks up maps and timetables. And that’s all the checking he does before excitedly setting off for Edinburgh.
Earlier in the story, we’re told that he has no trouble operating the laptop and that it all feels so comfortable and natural that he is sure he was an expert IT user in his previous life. Mays also writes him (very well) as constantly feeling angry and despairing that he can’t remember who he really is.
Yet, with a fully functioning laptop with an internet connection in the house, at no time does he ever attempt to look for clues on the internet! Obviously his name is common enough to generate thousands of hits, but he has no shortage of time to look through them. He does use the internet for looking things up – timetables, local history and so on, but it never occurs to him to search on his name. His married girlfriend, who is almost certainly not what she seems, also never suggests this. Finally, he never thinks that there might be something odd about being still currently listed as renting a telephone line at an address he left two years ago (there again, he’s never wondered how his car’s tax, insurance and MOT have been kept updated here for the last two years). Either this is another example of bad plotting or it’s an authorial signal that something sinister, perhaps connected to his memory loss, is going on.
I carried on a little further but it soon became obvious where the plot was heading, and reading the spoilers in the Amazon reviews confirmed my fears that it was turning into an anti-GMO polemic. I already read enough of those on Facebook and I spend far too much time refuting and correcting them (no, Monsanto doesn’t sell ‘terminator seeds’, GMO food won’t give you cancer, Roundup doesn’t kill bees…. etc bloody etc). I don’t want to read the same badly-informed propaganda when I’m relaxing with a thriller. So I’m not bothering to read any further.

“Accept who you are. Unless you’re a serial killer.”
~ Ellen DeGeneres

I’ve recently discovered Markdown and it looks quite handy – a simple markup language that produces formatted text that can be exported to HTML and PDF without further conversion. It’s an attractive idea but I couldn’t see any way I needed to use it, since I’ve already got at least a dozen fully-featured text editors for producing both web pages and PDFs. Just possibly I could use it to write an extremely simple web page, but that was about it.
However, my search for a note-taking application (see last post) turned up WriteMonkey.This is an extremely simple, barebones writing program, and you can use Markdown in it. (You don’t have to, you can write in plain text if you want to, but then why use WM in the first place?) According to the testimonials, many writers use it; the main point of using Markdown for writing lengthy text that needs some formatting – novels, stories etc – is that you can format text as you write instead of breaking off to highlight a word or sentence, search the task bar for the right button, and click on the button. In other words, your writing flow isn’t interrupted.
I’ve had Scrivener for a couple of years, attempting to write a book. In many ways it’s a good program for writing, with lots of useful features. However, for me there are just too many features, with a hard-to-navigate interface. Lots of professional writers swear by it and it’s clearly hugely useful for them, but it’s just too cumbersome for me and I simply can’t get the hang of it – I’m forever stopping to try to find some bit of text or information that I put on the corkboard somewhere. And of course, there’s the formatting faff. So WriteMonkey’s “zenware” approach has me hooked.
My initial experience with it wasn’t positive – it opened with a full-screen blank splash page that had a grey background that appeared on my screen as an eye-aching flicker. The task bar was almost empty, with things like Preferences, Save and so on nowhere to be seen. After a lot of fruitless searching, I’d almost decided to give up on it, when an accidental right-click on the page bought up a long list of options. All part of WM’s minimalist approach, but it would have been helpful to have been told about it somewhere in the documentation! However once I’d found that, I quickly customised things (getting rid of that migraine-inducing splash screen was first) and started playing.
The basic program is free and is perfectly adequate for a writing project. If you want more flexibility, there are a number of plugins – all available for a single one-time donation – that add a spellchecker, search, thesaurus, extra export options and several Scrivener-like features, particularly a ‘board’ where where you can store odd bits of text, graphics or information to be used in your project. The difference with Scrivener is that you can choose which features to install, and they don’t complicate the interface – you can just get on with writing your brilliant prose! If you want, you can go full-screen and have a page completely clear of visual distraction; if your preferred writing style is the ‘straight-from-the-brain-to-the-keyboard’ sort, you can disable the Delete, Backspace, Copy and Paste commands; you can minimise, or even do away with, using the mouse with a huge number of keyboard shortcuts; the story files are saved as .txt format so that they can be opened in any text editor. Finally, it’s very small and can be installed on a USB key.
All that means that WriteMonkey gets the thumbs-up from me.
PS – it’s a Windows-only program. Sorry all you Macheads and Linuxers!

Back in 2001, I acquired the beta version of a handy little piece of software called Jot+ Notes and I’ve been using it ever since for, well, notes. All kinds of notes – to-do lists, text copied off web pages, a personal journal, lists, random jottings etc etc. It’s really useful; it has nested subpages so that you can keep notes neatly categorised into trees and taxonomies, extensive text formatting, and password encryption for anything you want to keep private. I depend on it to keep my work-life in order.
On the other hand, it’s getting seriously out of date; it hasn’t been updated for five years and appears to be no longer supported. It runs in my 64-bit Win7 environment and it’s reportedly stable in Win8.1 (it’s windows-only software). But I plan to switch to the new Win10 later this year and I have no idea if Jot will run in that – there’s nothing on the website about it. Also, its proprietary software – you can’t access it with any other program.*

So I’m looking around for a replacement. Here’s four that I’ve looked at.
First up is One Note, from Microsoft. This looked promising. The glossy web page doesn’t actually tell you much, no list of features or anything. But hey, I thought, it’s free, let’s try it. So I downloaded the installer. As soon as I hit ‘install’, up popped an orange square reading ‘Office’ with a rapidly spinning download counter. The bloody thing was apparently downloading some version of bloody Office without even asking! So I quickly killed the process. I never use Office, there are plenty of free/cheap alternatives and I do not want it on my computer. I was not pleased – not only was One Note advertised as a standalone program but it’s the height of IT rudeness to download stuff onto your machine without permission. What’s worse, on googling, I discovered that it apparently requires a Live account to function. if the attempted Office downloading hadn’t already put me off, that certainly would have.
So, next up was Scribbleton. This is a ‘desktop wiki’ (ie, it sits on your machine, can be used offline and has no cloud storage); it’s currently in Beta, so it’s very basic and lacks lots of features. However, it runs on all platforms, has page-linking, can be used from a thumb drive and exports both individual pages and whole wiki files to either HTML or text. It’s perfectly adequate for simple note-taking and list-making, but was a bit too short on things like like nested pages for my liking.
Evernote. I already use the free version of this, but only when I’m on my tablet and want to clip web pages or save text/notes for later use on my desktop PC. Looking at it for desktop note-keeping, I fairly rapidly decided against it. The interface is crowded and confusing, and even the free version is overloaded with features I’ll never use.
I then looked briefly at Silvernote. That looked nice – note-taking, lists, the ability to draw straight onto the page, a simple word-processor type interface, the ability to import doc, pdf and other text files into notes, the ability to save notes in a wide variety of text formats…
However, I’ve yet to try it out because I had already downloaded and installed Zim. This is another desktop wiki, but with pretty much all the features that I want, particularly the unlimited page-nesting. It’s multi-platform and everything is saved as wiki-formatted text; thus you can open and edit the files with any text editor. Usefully, you can import plain-text files into it. And did I mention that its free and open-source? I’ve been playing with it for an afternoon and very pleased with it. So this is what I’ll be using for notes from now on.

*Don’t let me put you off Jot+ Notes, btw. It’s good software and very cheap (buy it from kingstairs.com). If you’re not bothered about updating to the very latest Windows, you’ll find it very useful.

Vetinari: “You know, it has often crossed my mind that those men deserve a proper memorial of some sort.”
Vimes: “Oh yes? In one of the main squares, perhaps?”
Vetinari: “Yes, that would be a good idea.”
Vimes: “Perhaps a tableau in bronze? All seven of them raising the flag, perhaps?”
Vetinari: “Bronze, yes.”
Vimes: “Really? And some sort of inspiring slogan?”
Vetinari: “Yes, indeed. Something like, perhaps, ‘They Did The Job They Had To Do’?”
Vimes: “No. How dare you? How dare you! At this time! In this place! They did the job they didn’t have to do, and they died doing it, and you can’t give them anything. Do you understand? They fought for those who’d been abandoned, they fought for one another, and they were betrayed. Men like them always are. What good would a statue be? It’d just inspire new fools to believe they’re going to be heroes. They wouldn’t want that. Just let them be. For ever.”
– Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett

So here we go, another conspiracy theory to add to the hundreds already floating around on the internet. There’s been any number of academic treatises written about how and why people latch onto conspiracy theories; there’s at least one website examining the psychology of conspiracy theories. So I’m not going to go into that here; this article is just debunking the wilder claims.
A No victory in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum was announced at 6.08am on September 19th; the first rigging claims cam less than 24 hours later. In no time at all, videos, photos and claims were being circulated on Facebook.

Dodginess at the Polling Station

Looking at these claims, it’s obvious that most come from people with no experience or knowledge of the polling and counting process. Now me, I’ve never taken part in any polling or vote-counting activities but I’ve voted in all but four or five local and national elections since 1969. So I’m very familiar with how it all goes.

You walk into the polling station, give your name and address to the staff, watch as they cross you off their Big List of registered voters, you take a ballot paper, go into the booth, make a cross, fold your ballot paper into two or four so that it can’t be read by anybody nearby and pop it into the ballot box.

But the Referendum was different from all other elections, in that hundreds of thousands of people who had never voted, never taken much interest in the voting process, got to vote for the first time in their lives. To these people, things that would be obvious to somebody like me were not at all obvious.

One example of that was learning that they would be using a pencil to make their mark on the ballot paper. For them, pencils are only used when you want to make temporary marks that then get rubbed out; so, with no experience of polling booths equipped with the type of fat, heavy pencils that make an indelible wax mark, they were immediately suspicious.

Dodginess on the Counting Floor

With a national election, you can sit up late watching the results come in on TV. There are always live cameras in several of the counting places (they were in every one of the counting places in the case of the Referendum) and you can see that there are a considerable number of people – including all the candidates – walking around amongst the tables, having a good look at the voting slips being sorted and counted. You can also see members of the public, up in the galleries or outside the ropes, watching the counting. Even knowing nothing about the counting process, you can see for yourself that there’s zero chance of anybody on the counting floor deliberately doing any funny stuff with the papers without it getting noticed by somebody. But of course, many Referendum voters were unfamiliar with the quite complex procedures of counting votes (if you’re interested, here’s a detailed explanation by somebody who officiated at a count); it probably didn’t occur to quite a few of these newbie voters that every one of those millions of voting slips had to be checked and counted multiple times, by multiple people, to eliminate the possibly of human error. Hence the outrage at the video of Yes votes apparently dumped into a pile of No votes (in reality, they were all unsorted votes that had been counted into bundles at the beginning of the count; if the people were actually cheating, would they really leave the bundles face up so that anybody could see the Yes and No marks?) and the video of a young man apparently writing on ballot papers (he was simply marking numbers on bundles of counted papers).

Another video shows a counter sorting votes into Yes and No trays and stopping to switch two or three of them from the Yes tray into the No tray. The actual clip is only a few seconds long but looped over and over so as to stretch to about a minute and you can’t see what’s written on the ballots. She’s only just started filling the trays, so the most likely explanation is that she made a sorting mistake with the first few votes she handled and is correcting it. In any case, this video doesn’t look like anything from the Referendum count – nobody’s wearing identifying tabards, it takes place in a small meeting room with no space for scrutineers to walk behind the tables, and none of the Scottish counts had that setup of Yes/No trays in front of each counter. I’ve not managed to positively identify where it came from, but my trawls of Youtube have convinced me that it’s one of the small-town US “Proposition” referendums.

These videos are the only bits of photographic evidence for vote-rigging that have so far been produced. Considering the numbers of votes that would have to have been tampered with (384,000 – the winning margin – would have taken an average of about 12,000 falsified votes per count) plus the numbers of cameras at every counting venue – why the heck aren’t there many more photos and videos?

There’s also allegations of skullduggery concerning the ballot boxes – claims that they were switched, or stuffed with fake votes. This probably originates from shots of neat bundles of votes being shaken out of boxes onto sorting tables. There are two explanations for this. Firstly, they could have been postal votes, which are opened and counted into bundles – but not sorted into Yes/No – before the main vote; this opening and sorting of postal votes took place under the close eye of scrutineers from sides. Secondly, they could have been counted – but again, not sorted – votes bundled and returned to their boxes to be taken for sorting; this blog comment explains it:

“The basic unit in counting votes is the polling district. There are about three in each councillor’s ward, and each one has issued a ballot box, a set of papers and a register, which is marked up as people are issued with a ballot paper and vote.

At the count, the number of valid ballots issued is determined from the book(s) of ballot papers and, if necessary, the marked register. Each box is then opened and the number of ballots in each box counted to ensure it is the same as the number of ballots issued. Note that at this point there is no attempt to determine the result. The ballots are bundled up in 100s, with the “odds” having a slip of paper giving the number in that bundle……

….After the boxes have been verified, the bu[n]dles are jumbled up-this is so that you can’t identify the voting patterns in any area, put back in the boxes to keep the uncounted ballots separate, and then they are separated into Yes, No and Doubtful.”

For the next referendum, it might be a good idea to educate newbie voters about election and counting procedures. Just a suggestion.

Those Darn Blank Ballots

Then there’s the fuss over some ballot papers apparently being blank on the back, while others were barcoded on the back. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the back of any of my voting slips; I’ve always known that they each carried a unique ID number somewhere, but I’ve never been bothered enough to check for it. If any of these ‘blank ballot’ claims are true, then they do need investigation; Schedule 1 of the Scottish Independence Referendum Act specifies that an identifying number and a council area name has to be printed on the back. However, is it of any great importance? Since only the marks on the front of the voting slip matter when it comes to counting, just how could this have contributed to cheating?

Yes, Virginia, Electoral Fraud Does Exist

In any election there will be small amounts of electoral fraud. As of writing (September 2014), police are investigating 10 cases of voting fraud – they all concern personation (somebody turning up at a polling station and falsely voting using somebody else’s name and address) and all took place in different areas of Glasgow; claims of personation have come from other areas, but they don’t appear to be under investigation. In a UK election, any large-scale fraud is going to be attempted with the postal votes, as there’s no sensible way to check before the vote that every postal voter actually lives at the address they are registered at. With the Scottish vote, the high number of holiday and second homes makes postal vote fraud even more likely. Some 600,000 postal votes were returned; I can’t find a breakdown of Yes/No PVs, but with a No majority of 384,000, it’s entirely possible that PVs won it for No.

One rumour (apparently originating from a single FB post by a woman claiming that she had heard it from her postie!) alleged that all Referendum postal votes were being taken to London to be opened and counted (and, naturally, falsified). Total nonsense of course, but it’s hard to convince some people of that; for them, a single Facebook rumour will trump any amount of facts and common-sense.
Part of the fuel for the vote-rigging rumours was that on election night, it was clear from the party leaders’ behaviour that both sides had some knowledge of what the result was likely to be before any results were in. This was almost certainly because, having had experienced observers at the opening and sorting of the PVs, enough of the marked ballots had been glimpsed to make an educated guess at the percentage of No votes.

In any case, it had been predicted almost from the start that the majority of postal voters would vote No, so there wouldn’t have been much point in trying any large-scale fiddle there.

Agitators of the Fecal Matter

Outsiders – Russians and Americans – are sticking their oars in. There were Russian observers at the Edinburgh count who claimed that the counting hall – an aircraft hanger – was too big for scrutineers to properly oversee everything. They didn’t actually see anything dodgy, they just thought there might be something dodgy going on. Of course, reporting vote-rigging in a Western country would be a way of getting back at Western reports of vote-rigging in the Crimea. Meanwhile, the US conspiraloons and rightwing nutjobs are happily leaping upon it as more evidence for their America-centred worldview and belief that secret elites are controlling the world.

Home-grown hoaxers are also doing their bit. For instance, there’s the chap who received an anonymous phone call directing him to a specific rubbish bin in a layby; he went there and found a carrier bag full of – guess what? – dumped Yes votes. Don’t laugh, there’s a Youtube video to prove it, so it must be true!

There are others (not necessarily hoaxers) who are claiming that they have witnessed serious irregularities:

On Friday evening we were put in touch with a counting officer from Kilmarnock in East Ayrshire. She had been campaigning for Yes Scotland and had contacted us in an agitated state. Over the course of a lengthy telephone conversation she recounted what she had witnessed. She was not allowed to ensure the closure of the ballots boxes over which she had responsibility, they were moved and left unattended, eventually being transported in a van without security to the central counting station and she was not permitted to be present at their arrival to verify that these were indeed her boxes. Other election officers had contacted her to inform her of open bribery of caretakers and other security personnel at polling stations…..
…Every hour the list of witnesses is growing. It has now been arranged for each of these competent witnesses to meet with a legal team outside of Scotland and the United Kingdom to have all of these reports recorded as sworn statements. All of these statements will be posted first to the Butterfly Rebellion page before being sent to the Scottish government and all other relevant friendly authorities. We have made the decision to by-pass the police at the present time.

Er, why are these people not being encouraged to report these facts to Scottish police- oh right, because the police are in on The Conspiracy, as are hundreds of civil servants along with thousands of electoral workers and volunteers from all political parties involved. So naturally, it is imperative that these brave witnesses get taken to a place of safety where they can make sworn statements without The Men In Black coming for them.
(ETA: As of August 2015, there is still no update on this “investigation”. )

But exactly what use will those sworn statements be? A “sworn statement” sounds quite impressive to anybody outside the legal profession but it’s exactly what it says it is – you go to a qualified legal person and make your statement to them, furnish proof that you are who you say you are, and swear that it is indeed your own words; the qualified legal person then swears that you furnished proof of your identity and that you did indeed make that statement. (In some jurisdictions – I’m not sure about Scotland – a sworn statement can be entered into a court case as a witness statement and the person making it is subject to perjury laws.) And that’s all – it proves nothing about the truth or otherwise of the statement; that’s for investigators and courts to decide. I could go to a lawyer and make a sworn statement that I saw Alex Salmond running naked down Buchanan Street waving the severed head of Johann Lamont, and it would still be complete bollocks.

Seeing Is Not Always Believing

At least one report of fraud does seem genuine on first reading. This is from a count volunteer who is happy to identify himself (but I’m not naming him as he’s probably getting enough grief already) and makes very specific accusations:

“I would like to offer the following observation.
I was an enumerator at the referendum vote count on behalf of Renfrewshire Council. The Returning Officer was David Martin, Chief Executive of Renfrewshire Council.
The vote counting was finished at 2.30am. What then happened appeared to be a mystery to me. Mr. Martin and his assistants in suits seemed to be in a flap. This consisted of staring at laptops in front of those who were responsible for collating results and strong words were obviously exchanged. As time marched on Mr. Martin paced around the hall rather nervously.
Then there were more meetings, up a corridor, out of view.
There was one lady with a laptop who, it appeared, was responsible for collating all the votes, but something wasn’t going well. She was taken away by one of Mr. Martin’s assistants, out of view of the public, only to return and disconnect her laptop and leave the hall with it under her arm. Mr. Martin still paced the floor looking uneasy, talking to what looked like aides. As time passed from 2.30am until declaration time (4.52am), there were visible signs that those in charge weren’t happy with something.
During this process there were observers watching everything that the enumerators were doing but not what was being carried out by those recording [numbers] on the laptops.

Well now, this does sound suspicious. What was happening with the laptops? Why was the woman sent away? But, here’s a possible explanation:

I can’t figure out what’s sinister or even significant about that [redacted] story.
If it were simply a question of falsifying results on laptops, that could be done very quietly and in plain sight, without anyone noticing.
The only way (imho) this unexplained activity could be perceived as sinister is if the votes were being counted electronically (as has been trialled in some local elections, with none-too-spectacular results) and the laptoppers were engaged in manipulating the data. But checking Renfrewshire Council’s website, it appears the votes were counted manually.
The laptoppers were probably volunteers managing to produce discordant results or logging things in the wrong columns or whatever other errors one might produce and the woman in particular proved so unfit for purpose/unfamiliar with Excel spreadsheets that she was sent home early. Or perhaps her laptop was playing up. Who knows? Either way, Mr —- seems to have witnessed something the complete opposite of organisation, and that is perfectly usual for an election count!
All I can say is that in my experience, election night counts are very prone to technical mishaps and bureaucratic confusion and people get tired and tempers get frayed, and yes, there are often completely inexplicable delays. (I was once an observer at an election where things got so complicated the count took nearly 24 hours).

I could go on but I think this is enough. I did say that I wouldn’t be looking at the psychology of this, but it does remind me of The Great Disappointment, an earlier example of people investing everything in a life-changing event that didn’t come to pass, and unable to accept the truth. Maybe the next Yes campaign should take heed…..