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FactCheck: Scottish election blame game

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 24 October 2007

David Cameron and Gordon Brown went head to head today on the findings of a report into the Scottish 3 May elections.

The claims

"The independent report on the Scottish elections found that the Labour Government put party interest before voters' interest in conducting those elections. Will the PM now offer his own personal apology for the unacceptable conduct of ministers?"
David Cameron, Prime Minister's Questions, 24 October 2007

"I don't accept that at all... The Gould report does not put the blame on any individual or any institution. What it says is that all political parties must take their share of responsibility for what happened."
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister's Questions, 24 October 2007

The background

PMQs saw an unusually bad-tempered exchange between David Cameron and Gordon Brown on the findings of a report into the Scottish elections, which were held on 3 May.

The independent report, conducted by Ron Gould and published yesterday, examined the reasons for the problems in the election, where votes for both national and local government took place at the same time.

A new voting system was used and a large number of ballot papers were rejected.

Responsibility for the elections was split between several bodies, including the Scottish Executive - the Labour-Lib Dem coalition government in Scotland prior to the election - and the Scotland Office.

The latter - based in Westminster - has powers to make legislation relating to the elections for the Scottish Parliament, and was then headed by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Douglas Alexander.

As Cameron and Brown quoted bits of the report back and forth, the Prime Minister accused his opponent of "misleading the people" - an accusation which caused the speaker Michael Martin to caution Brown to use temperate language.

Temperate or not, FactCheck compared the claims in Cameron and Brown's conversation with the details in Gould's report.

The analysis

Cameron's opening hit draws on the report to accuse the Labour Government of putting party interest before voters' interest in conducting the elections.

He later points at a specific parts of the report for back-up: "Ministers in the Scotland office, and I quote, 'Frequently focused on partisan political interests overlooking voter interests.'"

Over to the report.

On page 30, it does indeed say that "both the Scotland Office and the Scottish Executive were frequently focused on partisan political interests in carrying out their responsibilities, overlooking voter interests and operational realities within the electoral administration timetable".

Sounds like one-nil to Cameron.

In a democracy, the Tory leader reckons, this is a "complete scandal" - especially as the minister involved, Douglas Alexander, is now responsible for the (British) government's own election campaign.

However, Brown quotes a different bit of the report: "Throughout the review we have had no intention and have scrupulously sought to avoid assigning blame to individual and institutions or questioning the legitimacy [of the 3 May 2007 election results]."

Which is true, but doesn't mean that Cameron is wrong.

In fact, as he later defends himself against the charge, there is further evidence on page 17 of the report of "a notable level of party self-interest evident in ministerial decision-making".

The PM chooses instead to mention the "interesting conclusion", where the report talks about the good intentions of those involved in assembling and conducting the elections.

This is also true - but it's not the whole picture. As the report says, the central conclusion is that: "Almost without exception, the voter was treated as an afterthought by virtually all the other stakeholders."

The verdict

You could almost be forgiven for thinking the leaders were quoting from different reports, but both Cameron and Brown cite extracts from Gould's findings accurately.

Brown attempted to bat off Cameron's criticism of ministers by pointing to the conclusions of the report, that said no single individual or party was to blame.

However, this appears to be a result of the remit of the report, and the number of different bodies involved in the Scottish election processes.

Brown also quoted Gould's acknowledgement in a press conference that party self-interest wasn't just shown by Labour: "I don't think I would absolve any party or suggest that any party would not be interested in any decision related to an election that would not be in their interests."

To say that everyone's a bit to blame doesn't mean that Labour isn't to blame, and doesn't show that Cameron is misleading people, either.

FactCheck rating: 2 (to Cameron); 3 (to Brown)

How ratings work

Every time a FactCheck article is published we'll give it a rating from zero to five.

The lower end of the scale indicates that the claim in question largerly checks out, while the upper end of the scale suggests misrepresentation, exaggeration, a massaging of statistics and/or language.

In the unlikely event that we award a 5 out of 5, our factcheckers have concluded that the claim under examination has absolutely no basis in fact.


Prime Minister's Questions
Scottish Elections Review
Hansard statement
BBC News, Wednesday, 24 October 2007, Alexander makes election apology
Douglas Alexander in dock over election fiasco, Telegraph

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