Some Scottish councils chose to release local breakdowns of the vote in their area on 18th September 2014 in the Scottish Independence Referendum.
Amongst those who did were:
During its counting process, Argyll and Bute Council took local mini counts as did those councils above. These local breakdown results were made known on the spot to some of those present; but have not been published.
To prevent the manipulation of the resulting public ignorance by self-serving political parties – with some said to be telling a variety of individual local areas in Argyll and Bute that they voted a majority for independence and were ‘let down’ by the rest of Argyll.
Since Argyll voted ‘No’ to independence by a majority above the national average [58.47% to 41.4%], the ‘letting down’ was clearly the other way around – but the key issue here is the recording of fact. The publication of those facts is a separate issue 0- but a related one since publication is only possible if the records exist – and if they continue to exist.
Andrew Vennard, a solicitor in an Oban practice, has represented the Scottish Conservatives in the last three by-elections for Argyll and Bute Council [Ward 4 in May 2014; Ward 5 in July 2014; and Ward 5 again in October 2014].
He asked Argyll and Bute Council for the local vote breakdown data in the referendum in Argyll and Bute. What he found is uncomfortable in a range of ways. Here is the correspondence chain that resulted.
First response, Charles Reppke, 17th October at 10.33
I have been passed your request for a breakdown of the referendum results for the Oban area and would advise that is my understanding thta the Counting officer does not intend to provide a breakdown .the reason for this is that consideration was given to this very issue prior to the referendum by the Chief Counting Officer .The outcome of that deliberation was that she reiterated that there should be one result for each Council area and that she would not direct any local counting officer to depart from their normal method of dealing with such matters.
Thereafter the Chief Counting Officer gave advice on 15th July 2014 in the following terms:-
Totals are to be declared and published only at the level of the whole local authority, not by Ward or Constituency
In view of this guidance and the terms of SIRA which requires a declaration for the whole Council area only that is the basis upon which results will be provided.
Depute Counting Officer
Andrew Vennard’s reply, 17th October at 13.26
Subject: Re: [OFFICIAL]
I thank you for your email. I had thought that it was probably the case that the council would only publish the result for the whole council area, as this is what is it obliged to publish, which is more than satisfactory to me. For the avoidance of doubt, however, if any for reasons there was a policy decision change by the council, I would be grateful if you could confirm if any data exists that would allow a breakdown to be prepared, or whether it is the case that no such data exists (which appears to be the case).
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Candidate for the Oban North and Lorn by election 17 July 2014
Charles Reppke’s response, 21st October at 14.21
The answer is that if there was a change of policy we would not be able to provide definitive information at any sub set level for the Council area
From what we know – that mini-counts were taken and made known at the count on the night of 18th-19th November and that, from the correspondence above, no such data now exists, the only inference is that this data has been destroyed.
Such data, once created, is a matter of historic public record, whether or not it is published at a given time.
The Chief Counting Officer’s guidance did not forbid the creating – or even, arguably, the publication – of such breakdown data. Her guidance is quoted above by Mr Reppke to Mr Vennary as being that: ‘she would not direct [Ed: our emphasis] any local counting officer to depart from their normal method of dealing with such matters’. Directing the creation and/or publication of local voting breakdown figures is one thing. Forbidding it is quite another.
The Chief Counting Officer’s further guidance on 15th July, also quote above by Mr Reppke to Mr Vennard, was:
‘Totals are to be declared and published only [Ed: our emphasis] at the level of the whole local authority, not by Ward or Constituency’.
This departs from her earlier guidance by adding an apparent proscription on publication, although its association with the declaration would seem to confine it to the data published at each count at the end of the night; and not necessarily to publication at a later date.
Were this not the case, the Chief Counting Officer would by now have taken action to reprimand or penalise the local authorities who chose afterwards to publish their mini-count data.
At no point, by any interpretation, did the Chief Counting Officer proscribe the creation and retention of local voting breakdown data.
That Argyll and Bute Council created such data on the night, shared it with those [or with some of those] present at the count is known. That they later destroyed this data was an act of culpable vandalism in terms of evidence central to a historic and unprecedented event.
This action was also discriminatory and damaging.
Firstly, it wrongly advantaged those who were present at the count and disadvantaged the population at large.
Secondly, it made that discriminatory situation irredeemable by destroying the data.
The 2014 formal referendum on Scottish Independence was an unprecedented and historic event.
The United Kingdom may never see such a referendum again – which means that the detailed records of that vote on 18th September 2014 are of unparallelled historic significance.
On the other hand, the United Kingdom may well see another Scottish Independence Referendum as soon as May 2016 – one that is as likely as not to return a different result. This would mean the break up of a 300 year old Union – on which momentous occasion comparisons of data between the two referenda would be of immense historic import.
Argyll and Bute would appear not just to be governed by complacent mediocrities – but by barbarians, unaware of the weight of the epoch making times in which they have been in charge of material they were not capable of handling with due responsibility.
It matters far less that such data might not be published at present than that it no longer exists for future understanding of an event that shook all our lives and sees a United Kingdom whose foundations may have been fatally undermined by it.