bookmark_borderI don’t like the Single Transferable Vote

In Scotland we use different voting systems for every single election – First-past-the-post for Westminster, AMS for the Scottish Parliament, STV for Scottish council elections, and d’Hondt for the elections for the European Parliament.

I personally prefer d’Hondt and don’t mind AMS, but I really don’t like STV (the Single Transferable Vote).

On paper it’s a beautiful system. As Wikipedia puts it, “under STV, an elector’s vote is initially allocated to his or her most preferred candidate, and then, after candidates have been either elected or eliminated, any surplus or unused votes are transferred according to the voter’s stated preferences. The system minimizes “wasted” votes, provides approximately proportional representation, and enables votes to be explicitly cast for individual candidates rather than for closed party lists. It achieves this by using multi-seat constituencies (voting districts) and by transferring votes to other eligible candidates that would otherwise be wasted on sure losers or sure winners.”

However, this only really works well if voters remember to vote for all the candidates they would like to get elected. In practice, many voters will only vote for one or perhaps two candidates, which leads to a lot of wasted votes.

Even worse, because the political parties anticipate this flaw, they don’t put up more candidates than they expect they can get elected. This is because they fear that if there are two candidates from party X but only votes enough for one candidate to be elected, the two candidates will share the votes so evenly that none of them get through.

An example of this was the elections to Glasgow City Council in 2007: The SNP put up 22 candidates and got them all elected; however, in many wards they got so many votes that it’s likely they could have got more people elected if they had tried. Labour didn’t seem to suffer much from putting up a very large number of candidates, but if their share of the vote had been a bit lower, it’s quite possible they would’ve ended up with fewer councillors than if they had put up fewer candidates.

This way of second-guessing the number of candidates you can get elected is to my mind quite undemocratic and requires a solution. If STV cannot be abolished, I think it should be obligatory to rank all the candidates (but that would probably lead to a very large number of spoilt ballot papers).

However, to me the best solution would be to replace STV with either AMS or d’Hondt.

bookmark_borderThe impossibility of saying “neuf œufs” in French

Day 34: Nine eggs
Originally uploaded by aaocarroll

In an essay by Jurgen Klausenburger called “The morphologization and grammaticalization of French liason”, he quotes Pierre Swiggers (“How to Order Eggs in French” in Folia Linguistica 1985) for the following data:

les œufs [le-zø] “the eggs”
des œufs [de-zø] “(some) eggs”
un œuf [??-nœf] “an, one egg”
deux œufs [dø-zø] “two eggs”
trois œufs [trwa-zø] “three eggs”
quatre œufs [katr-œf] “four eggs”
cinq œufs [s??k-œf] “five eggs”
six œufs [si-zø] “six eggs”
sept œufs [s?t-œf] “seven eggs”
huit œufs [?it-œf] “eight eggs”
*neuf œufs [avoided!] “nine eggs”
dix œufs [di-zø] “ten eggs”

On the same topic, this blog posting states the following:

I had a professor when I was in college — a linguist from Normandy whose native language was French — who was very interested in and amused by such language quirks. He would come to France in the summer and go to outdoor markets to try to get people the say neuf œufs because he thought it was funny.

Almost always, when he asked for nine eggs, the person replying would stick an adjective in between neuf and œufs — neuf beaux œufs, or neuf petits œufs, or neuf gros œufs. He said French people hesitated over the pronunciation of “nine eggs” otherwise.

The blogger who wrote this seems to think the pronunciation of *neuf œufs ought to be [nœv-ø]. This seems also to be the opinion of my beloved wife, who thinks it’s avoided because this would sound very similar to the French word for “nephew”, neveu.

So I’m a little confused. Is the missing pronunciation [nœv-ø] or [nœv-œf]? And why is it avoided?

Also, are Klausenburger and Swigger right in claiming that œufs is pronounced as [œf] after a numeral ending in a consonant other than [-z]? Do French native speakers even agree?

bookmark_borderArc of Prosperity

I’ve decided to make a blog dedicated to Scottish Independence. It’s called the Arc of Prosperity, and you can find it at

To quote from the About page:

On the 11th of August 2006, Alex Salmond said:

Scotland can change to a better future and be part of northern Europe’s arc of prosperity. We have three countries ­ Ireland to our west, Iceland to our north and Norway to our east – all in the top six wealthiest countries in the world. In contrast devolved Scotland is in 18th place. We can join that arc of prosperity.

I spent the first 30 years of my life in Denmark, but ten years ago I moved to Scotland, and I often wonder about the differences between Scotland and Denmark. I strongly felt that Salmond was absolutely right in making that comparison, although I don’t really understand why he didn’t include Denmark in the arc.

I’ve been blogging for years at The Widmann Blog, but when Alex Salmond announced that the Independence referendum would take place in the autumn of 2014, I decided to create a new blog dedicated to Scottish Independence, and when I was looking for a name, I decided on the Arc of Prosperity to show that I’m approaching Scottish Independence from a Danish perspective.

At the moment, it only contains copies of postings from this blog, but that might change it the future, so please bookmark it, too!

bookmark_borderHow much will England pay for access to Coulport?

Originally uploaded by rojabro

The Telegraph are reporting today that the Westminster government after a Yes vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum will be willing to pay any price to keep Coulport, the navy base where the submarines are loaded with nuclear missiles:

MoD insiders believe that, after an independence vote, ministers in London would have no choice but to strike a deal with Scottish leaders allowing the Navy to go on using Coulport and Faslane until an alternative was ready.

That would give Scotland’s new government bargaining power over other issues like their share of the UK national debt and other financial liabilities.

“Maintaining the deterrent is the first priority for any UK government, so ministers in London would have to pay Salmond any price to ensure we kept access to [the Clyde bases],” said a source. “It would be an unbelievable nightmare.”

I’ve no doubt that an independent Scotland will want to get rid of the nuclear warheads eventually, but even just delaying the move by ten years might be worth quite a lot when the Scottish and RUK negotiation teams are discussing North Sea oil, the maritime border, ownership of the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland, and other contentious issues.

bookmark_borderAfter the referendum

The Scottish Government today launched its consultation on the Independence referendendum. (The Westminster crowd have also started one [PDF], but I have a feeling the former will be more important to participate in.) You don’t need to live in Scotland to participate, so do tell them what you think!

The consultation document has this to say about what happens after a Yes vote:

4.1 Following a vote for independence, the Scottish Parliament and Government would carry forward the people’s will. This would involve negotiations with the UK Government. These negotiations would deal with the terms of independence as well as with the arrangements for the transition. The terms of independence would include agreement on the scope and arrangements for future cross-border bodies and cross-border co-operation, both transitional and ongoing.

4.2 Formal negotiations would also be opened on Scotland’s international responsibilities, in the European Union and more widely. Other bodies such as relevant international partners would be involved in such discussions as needed.

4.3 Agreement on the arrangements for transition would allow Scotland to move forward to independence. There would be a transitional period to allow for necessary legal and practical preparations. These preparations would ensure that systems and arrangements were in place to allow an independent Scottish Parliament and Government to fulfil the full range of their responsibilities from the moment of independence.

4.4 The final requirement for independence to have effect would be for both the Scottish and UK Parliaments to pass and bring into force independence legislation which would enact the negotiated settlement. In particular, the legislation would effect the transfer of the power to legislate for Scotland from the UK Parliament to the Scottish Parliament and would define the effective date of Scotland’s re-establishment as an independent, sovereign state.

4.5 May 2016 will see the election of the next Scottish Parliament which would become the Parliament of an independent Scotland. This election will give the people of Scotland the chance to decide the future policy direction of Scotland.

Frustratingly, but predictably, there are no time scales. I guess such negotiations can’t be rushed too much, and some of them will be hard.

However, to provide some kind of idea about the timescale we’re talking about here, I’ve tried to find some information on the dissolution of Czechoslovakia:

The Slovak parliament adopts the Declaration of independence of the Slovak nation.
The Federal Assembly passes an act that dissolves Czechoslovakia on 31 December 1992.
Czechoslovakia is dissolved.
The Czech and Slovak Republics are admitted to the UN as new and separate states.
Separate currencies are introduced, at first at par.
.cz and .sk are introduced to replace .cs. (I’m not sure this was the exact date, as various sources disagree; however, it definitely happened in early 1993.)

The telephone country code +42 is replaced by two separate codes: +420 for the Czech Republic and +421 for Slovakia.

It should be clear from the above that the process can be quite fast if both sides work together constructively on the task.

bookmark_borderScotland in the EU

Originally uploaded by itmpa

Although some nationalists have at times hand-waved the problem away, I have for a long time been convinced that an independent Scotland might find it hard to be allowed membership of the EU (even though refusing it would be ludicrous, given that Scotland has been part of the EU for my entire life), simply because Spain is afraid that Catalonia and Euskadi might leave, and they want to make the independence option seem as unattractive as possible.

I was therefore extremely relieved to see this article in EUbusiness that states that majority voting will be sufficient to give Scotland a seat at the European table:

Lawyers for the EU said an independent Scotland could be treated as one of two successor states, and that a separate seat for Edinburgh would require only a majority vote among member states.

At the European Council, where leaders stage decisive summits, a deal could be “done by the Council, using qualified majority voting and with the required say-so of the European Parliament,” said one of those lawyers.


Standard procedure for external accession candidates such as Croatia, which enters in 2013, involves the unanimous backing of all EU governments.

I don’t see any reason why Scotland should fail to get a qualified majority backing its membership application, so this is excellent news!