OTS Readers, we're working hard to make this website a permanent fixture in the independence debate.  We're currently running a fundraiser to help cover costs. You can read our full breakdown on our GoFundMe page. If you can't donate, please share this link or contribute to the discussions. Thanks!
Help Keep OTS Going


Making 'spoiled' votes count for Scotland.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024
5 mins

'Unity Chops Elephants'

by Les Bertrand

In the United States, today is ‘Super Tuesday’, when the greatest number of states hold ‘primary’ ballots for voters to choose their presidential candidates.

Some states have already held primaries. One of them is Michigan, where a protest vote aimed at Joe Biden’s stance on Gaza resulted in over 100,000 voters selecting ‘uncommitted’ as their preference.

The population of Michigan is over 10 million. We don’t know precisely how many are eligible to vote (or how many are registered) but it seems that the protest worked insofar as it drew the attention of global media. (Please see the Al Jazeera links at foot.)

Biden’s Democrats are playing down the protest but it sends a powerful signal. Not all states offer the ‘uncommitted’ option on the ballot, but results in those that do will be scrutinised carefully by party strategists keen to keep the agenda away from ‘middle east’ turbulence. 

Al Jazeera (English) broadcasts to over 150 countries and territories around the world, potentially reaching over 430 million households https://www.aljazeera.com/about-us and its various digital platforms, including website and social media channels, recently achieved a record of 1.4 billion viewers in a 90-day period http://elearning.aljazeera.net/en/courses/digital-media. These are very big numbers and regardless of one’s opinion of the channel, it’s owners and editorial stances there is no doubt that Al Jazeera has become the central hub for unfiltered news about what’s happening, largely because it continues to have staff reporting live from the ground despite having lost over 100 of its journalists and associated crew.

So, what does all this have to do with Scottish independence?

There has long been discussion about the most effective way of ‘spoiling’ ballot papers as a protest in the forthcoming general elections. The UK election could be as soon as May. We’re not aware of any polling which asks people whether or not they intend to abstain/spoil ballots but we know from watching social media and an array of blogpost commentary that the issue has been debated for some time and a significant number of Scots will be ‘voting’ by writing some form of protest message across their ballot paper rather than ticking a specific box. ‘None of the above’ is not offered as an option and neither is ‘Other: please specify’. We are presented with a list of names and expected to mark a cross to indicate our preference.

The reasons why so many citizens no longer feel that they have a meaningful choice have been examined elsewhere and we won’t revisit them here. But the fact remains that there will be a substantial number of votes ‘spoiled’.

‘Spoiled’ has negative connotations, as if something has been wasted, lost. But, as evidenced in Michigan, the simple act of declining to choose what’s on offer can be powerful.

For those of us who have already decided to ‘vote’ for an abstentionist party then, what is the best message to send via the ‘spoiled’ ballot? There are many options. Let’s assume that all slogans are prefixed with a hashtag (what isn’t these days?) - would you use one of the following, or something else?:







Everyone involved in the push for Scotland’s independence agrees that unity is vital. Achieving it is no easy matter (see our previous post, by Cath Ferguson) when it comes to establishing precisely which party stands on this or that issue. But on the issue of how best to maximise the impact of an inevitable protest ‘vote’ which can be physically counted and acknowledged, it makes sense for a common message to be established as far in advance of the vote as possible, allowing time for vital ‘branding’/awareness-raising.

FWIW, we would endorse Peter Bell’s #EndTheUnion but, as Peter states in his tweet responding to our call for suggestions, consistency is paramount - even the precise spelling and capitalisation of hashtagged slogans is important in order to maximise the impact of social media campaigning.

Some will prefer #WomenWontWheesht because, as has become clear in the ongoing Alba stushie, that specific issue is of huge importance to many and they will want that message heard.

Others will prefer the traditional #FuckTheTories but that is unlikely to receive much mainstream media coverage and, in any case, there must be a considerable cohort of genuinely Scottish conservatives who yearn to be out of this rotten union just as much as the rest of us.

There is an African proverb, once quoted by James Kelman in one of his essays: ‘Unity chops elephants’. It’s perhaps as well that Scotland is not home to such creatures because we seem to have huge difficulty in reaching agreement on pretty-much anything. (It would probably be easier to herd large numbers of cats, or track down Peter Murrell.) But if agreement can be reached on this relatively simple matter then, like the people of Michigan who wanted to make a point and did so effectively - their efforts reaching the notice of a global audience numbering tens of millions in the process - we have an opportunity to make the next UK general election work in our favour.  

Suggestions and feedback very welcome, in comments below or in response to our original tweet:

(20) Off-Topic Scotland on X: "If you're intending to 'spoil' your ballot paper at the next GE, what (if anything) do you plan to write on it? (We've seen different hashtags/slogans and are trying to find out which are most popular.)" / X (twitter.com)

Off-Topic Scotland


If you're intending to 'spoil' your ballot paper at the next GE, what (if anything) do you plan to write on it? (We've seen different hashtags/slogans and are trying to find out which are most popular.)

David Heriot


#EndTheUnion because it sends a message about the union. “Not my parliament” is ok but someone from Cornwall or Yorkshire could also write that which would just dilute the protest from Scotland. More at https://repurposeyourvote.scot

Peter A Bell - #EndTheUnion #ScottishUDI


#EndTheUnion was the original suggestion. I have seen nothing that betters it. What is important, however, is that there is consistency. #EndTheUnion #ScottishUDI #RepurposeYourVote

Some Michigan primary voters are ‘uncommitted.’ Here’s what that means. - The Washington Post

Michigan 2024 results: 13% of Democrats ‘uncommitted.’ Will it matter to Biden? | Bridge Michigan

Biden's Gaza war support: Michigan arab americans to vote 'Uncommitted' in democratic primary (youtube.com)

Biden wins Michigan primary, but faces backlash over Israel’s war on Gaza (youtube.com)

Off-Topic Newsletter
No spam. Just the latest releases and tips, interesting articles, and exclusive interviews in your inbox every week.
Read about our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Download Aesop's Fables!
Download Now!
Get The Off-Topic Scotland Newsletter

Get Off-Topic Scotland in Your Inbox

No spam or ads, just the latest posts and updates from Scotland's newest pro-independence blog.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.