State-of-the-art system fails to win any MSP votes

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CONTRACTORS have been unable to mend the Scottish Parliament’s new £280,000 electronic voting system after it crashed last week.

Officials blamed a software glitch but warned it would take at least two weeks to carry out permanent repairs.

Meanwhile, a temporary fix has been put in place and MSPs have been issued with special instructions on where they must sit and how to operate the system for today’s business.

Only yesterday the parliament said it was confident it would be “business as usual” today. One MSP branded the new system “not fit for purpose” and called for the cross-party Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to explain why it had spent so much money on it.

Last week’s crash became obvious when a Labour motion appeared to win against the SNP, despite the Nationalists having a clear majority in Parliament.

The traditional technological advice of turning the machines off and on again did not appear to work, prompting Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick to cancel the session.

Contractors were called in but have not yet been able to sort the problem properly, forcing today’s makeshift arrangements.

Normally, MSPs are free to choose any seat in the debating chamber, but because of the software problem they were today being issued with seating plans and allocated a specific desk. Duplicates of each MSP’s electronic ID and voting card were already inserted into the consoles. And they were warned they must not remove the cards and must sit in their allocated seat when it comes to voting time.

The new touchscreen voting system was installed during the summer recess after the parliament said the previous consoles and microphones had reached the end of their useful life.

In an e-mail to MSPs, clerk team leader Susan Duffy said the problem with the voting system had been caused by a glitch in the system’s software.

She said: “The software contractor will install a modified version of the software at their own cost to ensure there is no repeat of this incident. 

“In the meantime we have put in place a ‘work-around’ to ensure the electronic voting system will be operational this week. For the next couple of weeks, until the software has been modified, members are being asked to sit in a designated seat.

“A seating plan will be issued through business managers, members’ names will be shown on each desk in the chamber and duplicate cards will be inserted into each console.”

The e-mail added: “Please note it is very important that you do not remove these cards.

“All members must sit in their designated seats at decision time.”

One MSP, who asked not to be named, said: “This was meant to be a state-of-the-art system specially tailored to our needs.

“The corporate body has to say why they decided to spend over a quarter of a million pounds on a system that clearly is not fit for purpose.”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com