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Angels on pins – those voting methods for the Scottish referendum

Controversy raged in Holyrood last week over the method for counting the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin. Labour erupted with undisguised fury at Alex Salmond’s suggestions the Single Transferable Alternative Preference Vote was the only sensible way to count the angels.

Wendy Alexander accused him of blatant “gerrymandering” and demanded that it would be outrageous if a minority of angels were allowed to decide the fate of the pin issue on second preference votes. “This is an attempt to leave Heaven by the backdoor and totally unacceptable”.

However, if the First Past the Pin method were used – as in elections to Westminster – there would still be a chance of a minority of angels having the final say, since a vote could theoretically be carried by a third of the angels plus one. Other theologians have argued that there should be not one but two counts of the angels, to ensure that any final decision on the pin’s destiny would not be resolved by less than a fifty percent majority.

For their part, the Scottish Liberal Democrats insist that way forward is to set up another constitutional convention to examine the full implications of the various options open to the angels. Once complex issues were decided – including separation of powers, fiscal relations and a bill of rights – the angels would then be in a position to make an informed judgement on the extent of their pinhead autonomy – but not on whether to leave the pin entirely.

Only then, could the method of counting the angels be considered in accordance with the principles of proportional representation. AV, STV, AMS, TLC and SFA should all be examined on their merits. Though some scholars questioned whether the angels would be registered to vote.

A group of angels interviewed at random outside St Peter’s Gate, expressed ignorance about the whole question. “I’m totally bored” said one, “This just isn’t an issue on Heaven’s doorstep”. “It’s pure Purgatory, man”, said another, “It’s about time theologians started looking at the real issues – such as whether Alex Salmond truly is the Son of God.”

But others said that the angels had a right to have a say in any decisions about the fate of the pin. “This is too important a matter to be left to the same old ya-boo, theological bickering. We haven’t even got agreement on the need for a pin referendum and already people are arguing about how to do the count.“

A spokesman for St Thomas Aquinas said that “angels are pure intelligences, not material, but limited, so that they have location in space but not extension. But Wendy’s totally out to lunch on this one.”

Next burning issues before the Holyrood college of metaphysical speculation include: “Was Christ hermaphrodite?” and “Will there be there mince in Paradise”. Ms Alexander is 10.

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


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