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The new arithmetic

Posted on May 10, 2017 by

Most of the papers today are full of stories screaming hysterically about a (real, but somewhat exaggerated) decline in Scottish educational standards. But if the contents of those papers are anything to go by, Scotland’s schools have been disgorging idiots into the general population for a lot longer than the last 10 years.

The Scotsman’s front-page lead appears in almost every other paper:

And to give the Scotsman some credit, it at least handles the story a bit better than the others. The Mail and Express, for example, both have headlines announcing the Greens will stand exactly 10 candidates, before immediately saying in the article text that it’ll be fewer than 10.

But while all of them refer to the letter that the Greens sent to STV about election broadcast eligibility, only the Scotsman actually tells readers what that means.

Now, it’s a long time since we were at school and a lot of stuff has changed since then, but unless we’ve missed a pretty big announcement somewhere along the line a tenth of 59 is still exactly 5.9. And since you can’t stand in 0.9 of a Parliamentary seat, then what the Greens have in fact just announced is that they’ll be contesting a maximum of five seats at the election.

And while it’s technically true that five is both “less than 10” and “no more than nine”, those are awfully strange ways to say it. It’s like going into Farmfoods and finding a box marked “Fewer Than Ten Eggs”.

The articles above are shockingly poor displays of both literacy and numeracy. But they’re not the only weird thing that’s happened in arithmetic in the past few days.

The most striking aspect of the media coverage of last week’s council elections has been the BBC’s dogged determination to stick to the line that the SNP lost seats rather than gaining them, based on one man’s personal estimation of the outcome of a completely imaginary election five years ago.

This site casts absolutely no aspersions on either the expertise or the motivations of Prof. David Denver of Lancaster University. He’s been producing “notional” alternative election results for comparison purposes for years, and we haven’t got the slightest suspicion that he’s doing it with any sort of agenda. His figures are honest and he’s completely open about their limitations.

(An alert reader pointed out another potentially significant one, below.)

But the BBC – pretty much now alone in the media – is sticking like glue to presenting what Prof. Denver himself describes as “rough and ready guesstimates” as the OFFICIAL election result. It insists that the SNP now has seven fewer councillors than it got in 2012, even though it has (slightly) more both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of the total.

Notional councillors propose no policies and they don’t vote on anything. They have no impact of any kind on anyone in Scotland, because they don’t exist. It’s perfectly reasonable to include Prof Denver’s figures as a footnote in any coverage, but clinging to the idea that they’re in some way the “real” outcome is insane.

(Incidentally, we asked the Prof if he could suggest any explanation as to why several newspapers – including the Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Record – had interpreted the notional results as indicating a gain of 31 seats for the SNP, or why the Guardian had also called it a loss of 31 seats. He replied “Not a clue, I’m afraid. Maybe they did their own calculations. Or do they just pinch from the BBC?”)

The efforts of one particularly stubborn Unionist have seen the BBC’s fake result – based on the flawed calculations of a single person doing it for fun, rather than in any professional capacity – embedded in historical record as the “official” count. Wikipedia now baldly states on its 2012 results page that the SNP won 425 seats, but its 2017 results page contradicts that by saying they won 431, but that this is a decrease of 7, using the BBC’s reporting as the sole justification.

History, as well as arithmetic, has been altered before our very eyes, with the result that the state broadcaster has once again taken a blunderbuss and fired it straight into the feet of its own credibility among half the population of Scotland.

But what seems bewildering is that the Corporation would do itself such damage over something so petty. Ultimately nobody really much cares whether the SNP’s councillor numbers are up by 1% or down 1%. To any normal person the outcome of the election was simply “Tories up, Labour down, SNP about the same”.

The only point to such behaviour would be if there was some sort of deliberate attempt going on to produce a misleading narrative of SNP decline, which could then be weaponised by Unionist politicians tweeting BBC graphics.


The reality, obviously, is that you can’t compare apples with combine harvesters. First Past The Post elections (Westminster) produce different results to AMS elections (Holyrood), and different results to STV elections (councils). The SNP’s comparable vote shares in the last three sets of elections in Scotland look like this:

But of course, perhaps that’s just paranoia. Because in a world where you can ask the entire Scottish media to divide 59 by 10 and uniformly get the result “Um, we think it’s around sort of nine-ish”, basic incompetence and sheer brain-mangling stupidity is always an equally plausible explanation.

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  1. 10 05 17 12:57

    The new arithmetic | speymouth

66 to “The new arithmetic”

  1. Proud Cybernat says:

    BBC through the looking glass. Best ignored.

  2. geeo says:

    Thanks for the graph Rev.

    I did a like for like comparison to challenge the ‘declining’ vote pish, but without a graph,to share around facebook, but adding the graph will put a clearer focus on the numbers.


  3. Macart says:

    Y’know, some folk might think such presentation by the meeja and assorted political types may be a tad dishonest.

  4. Ken500 says:

    The Tories get away with electoral fraud, Buying elections. Just a disgrace. Firms getting HSBC loans and channeling them to the Tory Party.

    Why do the Press keep on comparing different electoral systems, with no qualification.

    The Tory on 20%+ in Scotland claim a victory. Share up 1%?

    Cuts to education budgets in England/Wales. Class sizes 36. They want to reduce them to 31.

  5. HandandShrimp says:

    The BBC have zero credibility. Their fluffing of May last May being a prime example of how anodyne and stage managed UK politics has become.

    No real surprise regarding the CPS, there were already signs that they were rolling over to the Tories prior to this announcement.

    Scotland’s only hope is to ensure we have a good majority of Scottish seats and keep the Tories at barge pole length.

  6. Robert J. Sutherland says:

    Proud Cybernat @ 11:13,

    No, best shamed.

    Where Scotland is concerned, it has become a provider of make-believe and not a provider of facts.

  7. David Mills says:

    I don’t hear the Liberal being attacked for focusing there campaign on seat they have better change of winning

    So incurage tactical voting is OK but running a tactical campaign is not me thinks the MMSS have their bias on their sleave now.

  8. bobajock says:

    doh! Former Home Sec as PM?

    Corruption in UK politics rife.

    Time to go.

  9. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    Don’t make me repeat the rules about off-topic comments at the start of a post, readers.

  10. HandandShrimp says:

    One thing about this election, it is so short and has caught all parties, including the Tory one, by surprise that they will all be hard pushed to spend a lot of money on it.

    I know our branch is not expecting to go mad on funds because there just isn’t time to get a lot of stuff printed and out there. The set 5 year thing gave all the parties bags of time to ramp up and plan.

  11. Proud Cybernat says:

    “No, best shamed.”

    Agreed. Alas, however, they have no shame.

  12. Iain says:

    Of course, Stu. Given that the SNP got some 20% more first preference votes than in 2012, and gained a greater lead over the second party in terms of percentage of first preference votes, and a far, far greater lead in terms of seats, why has the BBC made such a strained effort to search out and, on being challenged, try to justify a basis on which to report some kind of an SNP decline?

  13. Stoker says:

    Rev wrote:

    “Most of the papers today are full of stories screaming hysterically about a (real, but somewhat exaggerated) decline in Scottish educational standards. But if the contents of those papers are anything to go by, Scotland’s schools have been disgorging idiots into the general population for a lot longer than the last 10 years.”

    Don’t think we’ll come across a better quote all day long. 😀

  14. heedtracker says:

    The only point to such behaviour would be if there was some sort of deliberate attempt going on to produce a misleading narrative of SNP decline, which could then be weaponised by Unionist politicians tweeting BBC graphics.”

    Sums it all up. Can BBC Scotland and tory corruption of Scottish politics actually get any worse? Ofcourse.

    It is interesting watching BBC corruption at work though, trying to maintain BBC backing for red and blue tories and probably not knowing why so many SLab voters are now tory but then they can’t seem to make any dent in SNP vote, so far.

    June 8 is a really big deal for beeb liggers in Scotland right enough. They cant keep on losing to er, the Scottish voter.

  15. Muscleguy says:

    As a working scientist I did stuff like this and far more complicated maths in my head standing at the bench holding a pippetter.

    Anyone who has been around a lab for any amount of time will know that if someone is standing with instrument in hand looking distracted it is best to wait until they have finished their mental maths before interrupting them.

    So I can absolutely confirm from a Science PhD person that 10% of 59 is indeed 5.9, which is significantly less than 9, or 10 even. I will stake my scientific reputation on it.

    Mrs Muscleguy has a degree in Pure Maths, I could double check with her if it will do any good.

  16. Proud Cybernat says:

    WIKI editor twits trying to argue their rationale for presenting the BBC notional result on the Council Election Wiki ‘Talk’ page (see under ‘Boundary Changes’):,_2017

    To quote one of them:

    “Just because some Scottish nationalists are vocal about there political views doesn’t mean we break with exemplar rules to display these kinds of things. [PS Sky News backs the BBC data]”

  17. Dan Huil says:

    The bbc lies. It lies in order to do down Scotland and the Scottish government. Don’t pay the bbc tax.

    Credit to the Greens in Scotland. Last week Tory leaflets ignored the local eletions and concentrated solely on the referendum. The bbc and britnat politicians espouse tactical voting against the SNP and referendum. From now on all elections are referendums.

  18. Mungo says:

    Does anyone know if the BBC have been challenged on this, and if so, do you have a link? Thanks.

  19. Robert Graham says:

    welcome to la la land , or soon to be named What’s the f/kn point.

    Channel four presented viewers and the CPS with well researched evidence of wrongdoing ,are we to conclude the people on this channel are or were telling lies , making it all up just to get at the tories , and give 17 police forces something to keep them occupied , A total bloody disgrace , that just about sums up this country , banana republics all over can now rejoice and hold their heads high as a beacon of honesty & fairness compared to this lot .

  20. Juteman says:

    I don’t know why folk are that bothered about a ‘notional’ figure.
    ‘Notionaly’ it is my birthday today and I think I will have forty 12 pints to celebrate.

  21. donald anderson says:

    Scottish education has been on the decline since the 60”s, when rote learning was abolished and phonetic spelling, etc was introduced. Children were leaving primary school unable to recite the alphabet or or their times tables.

    To blame the long term decline on the current Scottish Government is like saying the EBC is objective and impartial, or right wing ignorant bigot followers are “apolitical”.

  22. Robert J. Sutherland says:

    Rude Gal certainly knows how to trumpet a victory out of a defeat, while carefully avoiding another political reality: STV doesn’t register core support for any party in anything but the 1st. preference votes. The final outcome registers the degree of cross-party support.

    In an election in which the parties are locked into a binary constitutional divide that the outcome can’t even have any direct influence upon anyway, the spoils on one side (Unionist) go to the protagonist with the loudest megaphone and the shoutiest voice. The spoils on the other side (indy), which is behaving with grown-up mutual respect for each other, stay much as they were.

    The real truth of the local elections is that the Unionist side is being subject to a Tory takeover, the Labour part having sacrificed iself pointlessly over their supposed common cause. That’s the story that history will tell when we eventually look back on all this.

    That’s the real news that the BBC either doesn’t realise is happening (because England only knows how to conduct 18th-century style elections, not modern ones) or actively doesn’t want you to know is happening.

    Some news provider that actually knows less than the people it is supposed to be informing!

    Some political party (Lab) that keeps on siding with another (Con) that is actively trying to kill it off while pretending that it’s aiming in another direction!

  23. Camz says:

    Wikipedia – The place where the editor with the least sleep wins.

  24. heedtracker says:

    BBC 2 Lunchtime Politics show, presenters Ligger Neil and Dr Nuttall, and tory gloves off now. Le Pen going down and EU safe from UK tory BBC creep show, has certainly fired up tories and their beeb gimps.

  25. Sinky says:

    Edinburgh South MP / MSP trying to derail SNP / Labour coalition on Edinburgh City Council to save Ian Murray’s skin from Tory backlash.

    The coalition worked well last time but Ian Murray’s career is more important than Edinburgh’s citizens.

  26. Ken500 says:

    UKIP on BBC again. No MP’s. Etc. Being promoted again.

    Andrew Neil. ‘Education money sent to Scotland’. Money sent back to Scotland from taxes raised in Scotland. Scotland is the only part of the UK to balance the books. Tory taxes on Oil sector 40%, when the price had fallen. Losing Scotland £Billions and 120,000 jobs.

    Westminster borrowing and spending £Billions on Hinkley by the sea, HS2, Heathrow and Trident. All a total waste of money with more credible alternatives.

  27. heedtracker says:

    BBC 2 Lunchtime Politics show, presenters Ligger Neil, Dr Nuttall and Michael Gove now. Why have one psycho tory, with a silly hair do when you can have three? That’s probably enough vote tory BBC corruption for one lunch.

  28. Ken500 says:

    Michael Gove got entirely free privilege education. Supports education funding cuts. Total hypocrite.

  29. Jim Mitchell says:

    But Rev, that would mean that,(gulp)unionists or at least some of them tell lies, surely not?

  30. call me dave says:

    Whot …not enough greens, that’a bad for us. 🙁

    Greens compliment the main course and all these 3 unionist sauces disguise and ruin the flavour along with the BBC salt in the meal.

    But at least no Kippers on the menu in Scotland I hope.

    Good on the Greens.

    No CPS prosecutions for tories news about 11:00hrs and all the FTSEs 100, 250 and 350 take off like a rocket. 🙂

    Shurley schome coincidence?

  31. Capella says:

    The Honeymoon is Over. We’ve reached Peak SNP. We Said No and We Mean No. etc etc etc.

    Even the Tories and their acolytes must be getting fed up of trotting out those mantras day in day out.

    Well done the Greens. They will get a mountain of flak from outraged Unionists for taking a principled stand. But it certainly guarantees the headlines.

  32. WP says:

    If the papers and TV channels are getting on your nerves with their lies just remember the bookies are seldom wrong.
    Yes for independence is 2/5 just now and the campaign hasn’t even started.

  33. Effijy says:

    The BBC has Zero credibility!

    No in actual fact you will find that a Professor In Basingstoke North has calculated that as over 92,000 Scots have signed a Petition against BBC Bias, and as over 50,000 Scots have cancelled their TV Propaganda Tax, and because 10,000 Scots have registered complaints directly to the BBC about blatant bias, they actually have a credibility factor of Minus – 5.5 Million Divide by Pi, subject to boundary changes and political allegiances of course.

    Bottom line is the BBC is rotten to the core and you couldn’t even trust them to tell you the time.

    OK Adam on Shortbread this morning taking the trouble to explain
    that being Biased isn’t really being biased as taking anything out of context from an SNP Official is perfectly fine & dandy.

  34. Swami Backverandah says:

    Tories in regions didn’t knowingly spend above their budgets because Con Central gave them a letter saying they weren’t?

    The latest from billionaire backers Tory playbook of How to Exploit a Legal Loophole.

  35. jake says:

    So what the political analysts at the BBC are saying is that there has been a swing from the Scottish National Party to the Scottish Notional Party and that the Scottish Conservatives have benefited from tactical votes won at the expense of the Notional Front and the United Kingdom Imaginary Party. NOW it makes sense!

  36. Phil Robertson says:

    “Most of the papers today are full of stories … about a … decline in Scottish educational standards.”

    Which might suggest it would be a valid topic for a discussion. But no, off you go on a rambling distraction about a couple of subjects that, to most of the electorate, have nothing to do with the price of mince.

    Education, however, is something much more central to the lives of most of the voters. The response of the Scottish Government was fascinating. They have cancelled any future surveys!

  37. Tobex says:

    I made a quick like-for-like graph, with trends separately for local, Scottish and UK general elections. PM’ed Rev – yours if you want it. Obviously the trends all point in one direction, and it’s not the one in Ruth’s tweet.

  38. Ken MacColl says:

    May be just my imagination but is it not true that the ONLY party that is not totally obsessed with the constitution in the approaching election is the SNP?

  39. call me dave says:

    A link for later radio 5. Politics in Edinburgh for Darn Sarf!

    Didn’t hear much live but caught a bit of Ruthie being thoroughly probed about her views as I was driving home.
    Missed the Libs and Labour

    Aye Ruthie. She was saying (and repeated this often) she was saying but not answering any questions. Very awkward on the R=pe Clause as I was saying….I’ll answer another question if that’s all right… As I was saying SNP bad and No Indi 2. 🙂

    I’ll give it a full listen when it’s up.

  40. Big Jock says:

    and they know it…..

    James Kelly was on telly the other night claiming the SNP went from 50% to 32% in 2 years. Two different elections and systems. No point in telling them the facts they just make them up to suit their agenda. Thing is in 4 weeks time if the SNP get 45%, are they going to compare the council and GE stats.

  41. Swami Backverandah says:

    Nice pic of Nicola Sturgeon showing how to handle generous sized wood rolling pin.

  42. orri says:

    The really tragic thing about the insistence on the “notional” results is that they’re being reported as being absolutely accurate without any margin of error.

    If it wasn’t for the fact that only the SNP had nearly the same percentage of votes we’d have a far clearer picture of the accuracy of the method being used.

    Unless the same kind of notional prediction has been used in the past and proven accurate then all the BBC are doing is insisting that a theoretical method of predicting the results of boundary changes and seat changes in an STV is infallible despite evidence to the opposite. Note even something the originator of the method seems to be claiming.

    I’d be surprised if it weren’t for the fact that the insistence on the Thatcher and Reagan governments in following their disastrous Monetarist experiments wasn’t ended when there were obvious warning signs of it failing. Same logic being insisted on here.

  43. Robert Graham says:

    Official –

    Great Britain now at top on the Banana Republic league.

    Despite fierce competition the last minute capitulation by the CPS nailed the top place , mugabe went home in the huff .

    Now revenge is on the agenda for the tory party – first will be the Electoral commision then the CPS – and the biggest prize will be the management of channel four , three with one bullet what a jolly days hunting for mayhem hip hip .

  44. HandShrimp says:

    Big Jock

    To be fair, James Kelly and Co are exactly why Labour are in the mess they are in. They just repeat the same old drivel hoping that this time it will work. A triumph of hope over experience (that or they have the memory of a goldfish)

  45. heedtracker says:

    Robert Graham says:
    10 May, 2017 at 1:37 pm
    Official –

    Great Britain now at top on the Banana Republic league.”

    But today’s news now means that you can now pump as much money as you like in to your campaigns though. You might get a fine but results will not be changed. Any C4 news style query on massive over spending of election spend limit rules, can now be answered with, its was HQ that said it was OK.

    This NOT a fraud should probably NOT be tested by the SNP. If it had been any SNP, they’d be now behind bars with by-elections and BBC Scotland fury at 11, on the beed SNP bad rage scale.

    Such is shyster tory UK now, from their BBC to their CPS, one law for the tories etc…

  46. Auld Rock says:

    Why don’t you all do what I’ve done – complain about these and other EBC shenanigans to the new regulator at:

    Auld Rock

  47. Dal Riata says:

    Imagine a country where its own national broadcaster does not rubbish, belittle, disparage, run down and lie about it day after day after day, while promoting its many positive aspects…

    Imagine a country where its national press does not print, disinformation, distortions, mendacity, deceit and lies about it, while promoting its many positive aspects…

    Now imagine an independent Scotland…

  48. CameronB Brodie says:

    The BBC is charged, by royal charter, to promote British unity. In order to do so, the BBC needs to generate a ‘false consciousness’ of Britain as ‘One Nation’. This is classic “symbolic violence” aimed at marginalising opposition to the status quo, IMHO.

    Down with this sort of thing!

  49. orri says:


    Results might be changed if caught. All that clearing the agent, who the Beeb were pointing the finger at, does is relieve them of liability. The same holds for the MPs themselves. If an election is rigged sufficiently enough to favour the winner then it’s void regardless of whether they were responsible or not. The only argument here was whether the MPs would be eligible to stand again.

  50. Dorothy Devine says:

    Abject apologies Rev – I won’t do it again.

  51. heedtracker says:

    orri says:
    10 May, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Its what the CPS say really, as in, It is clear that the agents investigated were told by tory HQ that the buses were part of the national tory campaign not local,

    and the CPS say they can’t prove the agents acted knowingly or dishonestly.

    Complete and utter bullshit basically. The notion that the tories did not know the difference between local and national electioneering spend difference and limits, is a fraud on us all.

    Ignorance of the Law, is not an excuse in Law.

    There’s a very famous case that’s used in Scottish Law teaching about a bloke just outside Aberdeen who got nicked growing marijuana. His excuse was that he did not know what it was.

    He still went down though. But then he’s not a shyster tory. If the CPS were not you know…prosecutions now of any tories would have been a massive hit to getting their Dear Leader back in to No.10, so it was never going to happen.

    What does stick out though, BBC collusion in hushing it all up. Its probably not going to get this bad again, until indy ref2.

    Ultimately, we’re watching mass tory corruption of UK public institutions.

  52. CameronB Brodie says:

    As your wife is a mathematician, perhaps the way to changing her mind about independence, is by introducing her to “unbounded rationality”, a.k.a the “generalized rationality of connectedness”. Think of the ‘force’ which binds us as humans and enables empathy to work. According to post-modern critical social theory, this is the mechanism which unlocks the potential for love to act as a technology for progressive social change.

    Unbounded Rationality

    Unbounded Rationality & Its Consequences

  53. Jack Murphy says:

    Scotland out of Europe.
    TODAY. “Scotland could lose more than 220 GPs following Brexit, it has been warned.
    The Royal College of GPs is concerned that doctors from EU countries may not be allowed to stay in the UK.” 🙁

    BBC Scotland Archived:

  54. CameronB Brodie says:

    There’s me fluffing my lines again.

    …”generalized rationality of connectedness represented mathematically”……

  55. yesindyref2 says:

    only the Scotsman actually tells readers what that means

    Herald did too in the article I read.

    What’s interesting is that the Greens might have done the same thing anyway, regardless of the SNP. Concentrate resources on fewer than 10 seats, make more of an impact nationally rather than locally. It could be a tactic in the same way they stood 32 candidates in 59 constituencies last time – that leaves 27 without a candidate or local party exposure.

    Perhaps too the Greens concentrated their spending on the council elections where their chances were high, rather than the GE where their chances are low.

    But the MSM aren’t interested in that sort of discussion.

  56. Graeme McCormick says:

    If literacy levels have been declining over many years why do we have the highest proportion of young folk going on to higher education and graduating?

    Without trying to avoid the issue is it not the case that the definition of literacy has not kept pace with changes in how we communicate?

    Can the teachers out there tell us if many parents complain about their children’s education and in particular a literacy problem?

  57. Legerwood says:

    To summarise: over the last 3 election cycles, UK, Holyrood and local, the SNP share of the vote has been rising, or staying the same, whichever voting system is used.

    UK 18% 20% 50%
    Holyrood 33% 45% 47%
    Local 28% 32% 32%

    Its vote is not declining.

  58. gus1940 says:

    Does anybody have any idea how Facebook could be persuaded to set up a system to combat the Fake News perpetrated daily by our broadcasters and print media?

    Re The CPS caving in to the Tories over the Election Expenses fraud surely the implication is that all these police forces were totally incompetent by suggesting guilt in reporting these case to The CPS and that heads should roll in the higher echelons of said forces.

    It would appear that Boris has been locked away again and our old pal the Dog Food Salesman has vanished.

  59. gus1940 says:

    The Conservative Broadcasting Corporation has today reached an all time low.

    The main 6pm News made no mention whatsoever in the headlines of today’s announcement of the CPS Whitewash of the Tory Expenses Scandal.

    They waited until 6.11 before it was mentioned.

    I know that many Scots have opted out of paying the BBC Propaganda License but is it not now time to start a non-payment campaign south of the border?

    I look forward to tonight’s Ch4 News which promises to be interesting re said whitewash.

  60. Andy Anderson says:

    I personally drew your last graph table Stu. Had to in order to prove a neighbour was talking crap.
    The trouble is many people so do not understand our four voting systems. Or in fact hard sums like the nine times table.

  61. K1 says:

    Davidson’ Tweet! With the false graph and claims regarding SNP’s ‘decline’ in vote share:

    Tobex is this your counter graph?

    The truthful representation in context of like for like vote share comparisons across the three differing types of voting systems used in Scotland for UK, Holyrood and Local Council elections:

    If someone could somehow bring these two pieces of info. side by side on huge billboards. Davidson could be shown widely for the manipulating little person* that she is.

    * reserving the right to call her what she really is…inside ma ain heid. 🙂

  62. davidb says:

    There is a 5% vote threshold for Westminster. A party will lose its deposit ( £500) if it polls under that. The Greens have pockets of support. There is little point to them standing in any place where they know their money is likely to be lost. They polled 2.5% in my village last week.

  63. cynicalHighlander says:

    gus1940 says:

    and our old pal the Dog Food Salesman has vanished.

    Last I heard he was away with his poop bags to see what crap he could collect for his next media revelation.

  64. Iain says:

    The BBC.
    The truth.
    They never meet.

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