NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
Friday, May 7 at 6pm in Dumbarton
I was astonished to see a string of bunting made up of Saltire flags strung from the ceiling above the polling booths in Braehead Primary School overlooking the Common in Dumbarton.
There were no red Labour or red flags or Tory white and blue Tory flags in the classroom cum polling station at Braehead.
Although I am reliably informed by the SNP’s Graeme McCormick that the polling station at Dumfork in Helensburgh, in the middle of Churchill, the main community for Naval families is “is festooned with Union flags”.
What happened then? Perhaps the highly paid Returning Officer, Joyce White, and her polling station staff took their eye off the ball.
Even to the extent that candidates from other parties might have grounds for appeal if the voting doesn’t go their way.
No less than 90 Democrat readers reacted to my social media post about this, and Carolynn Bowman was first on to the keyboard – “that’s dreadful. surely not allowed,” she posted.
Fiona Kyle added: “How dare they? This is illegal. Inform the police and prosecute now!”
But she handed him off: “There is a time and a place. Polling stations should be unbiased.”
The ladies were right though. The official guide book to election staff says displaying anything which favours any political party is not permitted.
People urged me to report the matter to the officials responsible for the count and Harry Carey commented: “The Saltire belongs to all of Scotland don’t let the SNP steal it.”
Vale poet, author and all-round good guy, Billy Scobie, commented: “The SNP and ALBA have not stolen the Saltire. They are proud to fly it.
“If Labour and Tories shun it for the Union Jack those of us who believe in Independence can hardly be blamed.”
Billy Scobie The difference is the SNP does, and has for decades, used a weird saltire/thistle mash-up as their party logo – Labour and the Lib Dems do not. But I see the Tories have a sort of a saltire in their logo these days, so….”
Man of the cloth, Kenny Macaulay, said: “Shame on Tory voters giving their X to your lot (Labour), as that seems the only way that Baillie will win this one. I voted Jackie to keep SNP out as have a lot of people.”
Carolynn Bowman hit back: “Well shame on you. Vote for your own party, although I admit that Baillie is a committed Tory in disguise. Try to be true to yourself next time.
Kenny Macaulay replied: “To be honest I didn’t want to vote for any of them.”
Willie Cochrane told the Episcopal Church priest: “Kenny Macaulay shame on you for telling people which way they can or can’t vote.”
Kenny Macaulay replied: “I wasn’t particularly doing that. I would respect anyone who voted Tory, and that’s the truth, but cannot get my head around people who vote for a party they don’t support. I can understand that if you’re not in favour of independence. The Unionist candidates are not the best. I wasn’t particularly doing that. I would respect anyone who voted Tory, and that’s the truth, but cannot get my head around people who vote for a party they don’t support.
James Cormack commented: “They are pretty awful, although the SNP have had Derek Mackay and Patrick Grady.”
At this point I was asked again if I had raised this officially, but I said: “Bottom of Form
No, I thought Jackie Baillie and her team would do that. I think it’s grounds for an appeal, especially if the result is close. One reason I didn’t [raise it] is that the Returning Officer refuses to speak with me. Her hubris is almost tangible.”
Billy Scobie told me: “With sincere respect, Bill – The Saltire is not the flag of any particular political party. It is the flag of Scotland. The Unionist parties – including Labour – are perfectly free to use it. Significantly, they choose not to.”
Bill Heaney replied: “The Saltire I know is a Scottish flag. No one can deny however that it is widely and frequently used by the SNP as a campaigning tool. This was not a flag per se but a row of bunting with saltires strung across the ceiling.”
Robert Kyle said: “The saltire they have uses a washed out blue just like the party.”
Last word from me, your columnist, then: “The official handbook instructs the polling station staff very clearly that no material which can be construed as supportive of any party should be displayed in the polling booth. Voters at Braehead School were confronted with a whole string of bunting made up of flags which could be construed as supportive of the SNP.”
What are you going to do about that then Joyce White, Returning Officer and Chief Executive of West Dunbartonshire Council?
It’s now 6pm on Friday. My forecast of the outcome of this election will be that the SNP will not get the super majority they seek but Labour will be the second largest party at Holyrood come Sunday. We will have to wait for that result until tomorrow.
It’s now 11.30 pm on Friday and Jackie Baillie has won Dumbarton by a distance from the SNP, increasing her majority and attracting more punters than ever to go to the polls in a Scottish Parliament election.