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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 12, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 12 November 2020

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Rural Payments Strategy 2020-21, Environment Bill, Pre-release Access to Official Statistics (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, Point of Order, Decision Time, Correction


Point of Order

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I wish to raise a point of order arising under standing order 11.5, relating to the rights of members to vote on matters coming before the Parliament.

The issues that I wish to raise relate to the online voting process, in particular during yesterday’s voting at decision time. You will be aware that problems arose with the voting process almost immediately after the first vote was called. At crucial points, you could not be heard by members online. That was raised by members in the chat function and was acknowledged by either clerks or information technology support staff, who responded to concerns raised by members and admitted that there was, in their words, “a glitch”. I repeat that point: it was confirmed by clerks that there was “a glitch” in the process.

Despite that glitch and recurring connectivity problems, I was able to cast my vote on the first series of questions. However, when it came to the vote on the second substantive motion of the afternoon, the acknowledged glitch in the system returned. In addition to the fact that I was unable to hear you, Presiding Officer, the screen of my voting app abruptly closed. It returned to the “There is no vote currently open” screen and would not reopen. I immediately advised through the chat bar that I was unable to vote and that I wished to vote no. That was the protocol that I had understood that you advised us to follow to have our vote counted. I know that my request to have my vote recorded as a no vote was received by you, as you called me to confirm my point of order, albeit that I was unable to do so immediately, because of connectivity issues.

Despite repeated connectivity problems, I tried on at least three further occasions to raise my point of order. Eventually, my request was acknowledged by the clerks, who advised online that it would be taken after Joan McAlpine had raised her point of order. My point of order was not taken then, as you decided, exercising your legitimate discretion, to take a point of order from Jackie Baillie. I say “point of order”, but, as you acknowledged, it was not a point of order—rather, it was a puerile party-political jibe.

Members: Oh!

Eventually I was able to make my point of order. You responded that my point was noted and that my vote would be recorded.

The outcome was that, despite following the protocol that you advised, my vote has not been counted. I believe that that was a breach of my right, as guaranteed under standing order 11.5, to cast my vote on matters raised in the chamber.

I ask that my vote on the motion in question is not just recorded but counted. I am not seeking to change my vote. As I said, I was unable to cast it using the app. Neither did I make a mistake that I am now seeking to have rectified—unless, of course, I was mistaken to have followed exactly the procedure that you have laid down. The process would not allow me to vote. The point that you made yesterday—that such votes would not have changed the outcome—is, with all due respect, irrelevant to the rights of members of Parliament to cast a vote and have it counted. Not to do what I am asking would, I believe, further increase genuine, broad-based and cross-party concerns about the efficacy and integrity of the ability of members to exercise their democratic right to vote in Parliament.

I thank Mr Brown for that point of order, and for the various points that he made. I will try to address each of them, if I can.

First, I recognise the concern that Mr Brown raises. It must be very frustrating indeed for any member not to be able to vote in the Parliament. Our processes are there to protect the interests of members, individually and communally, and to ensure that voting is done in a way that is robust and in a way that can withstand scrutiny—legal scrutiny, if necessary.

To go through some of the points, yes, there was a glitch in the sound, but only one. After business closed, I took the opportunity to review that with our officials, and I was then sent a recording of the actual glitch itself, and I listened to it last night and again today. There was one glitch. Although seven seconds of my voice was missing, the result of the vote itself was clear—very clear—and, listening to it, there could be no mistake about what members were voting on. There was no repeat of that glitch so, although Mr Brown says that there was a repeat of the sound problem, it was not the same glitch—[Interruption.] Mr Brown, I am happy to discuss this with you later, but I am giving you my account of what happened.

Secondly, there were connectivity problems, which Mr Brown has experienced repeatedly. The difficulty there is that Parliament cannot be responsible for members’ individual connectivity problems. I recognise that it is an issue, but I am afraid that that is not something that I can take account of. Members have to ensure that they are on board, and it is members’ responsibility, not the Parliament’s, to ensure a broadband connection to their home, office or wherever.

In this particular case, Mr Brown notified me that he wished to make a point of order, and I repeatedly tried to bring him up—three times, maybe more. However, we were not able to resume that connection. Eventually—I agree that it happened after Mr Brown lost the opportunity to exercise his vote—I was at least able to give him the chance to ensure that he could put his vote on the record. I recognise that we were not able to address the connectivity issue during the vote itself, but I am afraid that the Parliament cannot take responsibility for that; that is the member’s responsibility.

Mr Brown mentioned that I offered the reassurance to members that, even if all the members who had indicated that they wished to vote the other way had been able to vote, it would not have affected the outcome of the vote. I want to say quite clearly that that was not the reason why I did not rerun the vote. I said that by way of reassurance to members because, at that stage, we were having repeated points of order and members were getting quite animated, and I thought that it might reassure some members. It was simply an observation that might have had that effect. I can assure members that that is not a factor that I weigh in my consideration of whether to rerun votes or not. Members can absolutely have my assurance that that was not the case. I was offering that information to try to address the political rumpus that was going on.

I think that I have addressed most of the points that were raised. I am more than happy to speak to Mr Brown about his personal circumstances last night. If there are any issues that I did not address, I am more than happy to do so. However, I can say quite clearly that I am confident that we gave Mr Brown every opportunity to exercise his vote correctly, that there was nothing wrong with the system last night and that all votes were recorded correctly.

I hope that Mr Brown will accept my assurance that that was the case. I take his interest in this matter very seriously indeed. I am here to try to defend the interests of all members and to ensure that their votes are exercised and recorded properly. I have checked the Official Report and, although I agree that the voter roll has not been changed, Mr Brown’s point of order is on the record and is a matter of official note because of that. I hope that Mr Brown will at least take some comfort in that fact.