Tag Archives: problems with e-petitions

Our constitution, July 2012: public scrutiny of legislation

“Public scrutiny of legislation; right of committees to conduct hearings, pre-legislative consultation; active petition system; guaranteed rights of opposition.”

You may ask, why do we need to make such a point of this? This is what we already do in Scotland. Why would we stop?

“There are two things in the world you never want to let people see how you make ’em: laws and sausages.” – Leo McGarry, The West Wing, “Five Votes Down”.

I haven’t heard from Better Together voters who don’t like the idea of a constitution for Scotland.

But Yes Scotland voters who don’t like the idea of drafting a constitution for Scotland prior to the referendum or eve independence day, usually say something along the lines of: “Don’t you trust the SNP?” and when I say no, suggest that this is partisan. (Examples in comments at Our constitution: beyond yes and no and A New Claim of Right for Scotland.)

But I don’t trust any political party that far. Or any government. There is nothing special about the air of Scotland that makes politicians more anxious to have legislative work completely open to scrutiny: it’s just that the law requires it. The law that was passed at Westminster: the Scotland Act.

Public scrutiny of legislation

In the Scottish Parliament, this is a three-stage one-chamber process, described in Chapter 9 of the Parliament’s Standing Orders:

The introduction of a Bill in the Scottish Parliament (SP) is roughly equivalent to the First Reading stage of a Bill in the UK Parliament, but more is required of the member in charge of the Bill in the Scottish Parliament, in the sense of accompanying documents. This is in order to give the members of the committee more information.

Stage 1: After the committee has prepared the legislation, the Parliament will debate and vote on it and if agreed, it will proceed to Stage 2. The latter part of Stage 1 is equivalent to the Second Reading in the UK Parliament.
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Filed under Elections, Epetitions, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics

Those bogus signatures on Scotland for Marriage’s petition

At least 27 of the names that were listed on the “Scotland for Marriage” petition were falsely added. This was discovered when the SfM campaign emailed all of their “supporters” to invite them to an event on Thursday against equal marriage. An array of students from Edinburgh and Glasgow university, many of them outspoken supporters of equal marriage, got the invite thanking them for their support. (Stuart Tooley, responding to the invite, wrote a model email to tell them they’d got it wrong.)

There is absolutely no reason to suppose that the Scotland for Marriage campaign coalition was deliberately adding fake signatures to bulk up their numbers. For one thing, in this particular instance all 27 of the names were added from the same computer and were all Edinburgh and Glasgow students, mostly NUS activists: if their university e-mail address were used, it’s very easy to work out what someone’s e-mail address must be, based on their name. The person who did it was probably pranking the 27 students, thinking it would be amusing to add pro-equal marriage names to an anti-equal marriage petition.

What this does demonstrate is that “Scotland for Marriage” weren’t checking to make sure all of the signatures attached to their petition were real. A stringent petition site will not let you add a signature with an email address not under your control – your signature should not appear until you have clicked on a link in an email sent to your address. Some sites also try to avoid multiple entries from the same IP address or from the same computer, though an unscrupulous person can work around them by clearing the cache between each entry or using multiple browsers.

But for this prank to work so successfully with twenty-seven fake signatures, each with a valid email address, the “Scotland for Marriage” petition must not even be taking the elementary precaution of emailing the signatory to let them know their name has been added, with a link to remove the signature if it’s been added in error. They’ve removed the 27 signatures discovered to have been falsified, but unless they now send emails to everyone listed asking them to verify their signatures, their campaign cannot honestly say that they know all 9000 signatures represent real supporters.

The “Scotland for Marriage” campaign claims that the signatures have been posted to “undermine” the group. Their own reluctance to verify each signature has undermined them. I don’t suppose anyone directly involved with the campaign was silly enough to think of bulking up the petition by adding false names. But the campaign against equal marriage is a silly campaign for hate, and it’s unsurprising that it leads people to do – and say – hateful, silly things.

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Filed under Epetitions, LGBT Equality, Politics, Religion, Scottish Politics