Cllr Norma Hart has changed her name to Cllr Norma Austin-Hart. This means that in May she will appear higher on the ballot paper than meaning she will now appear above Labour running mate Cllr Bill Cook in the Liberton and Gilmerton Ward of Edinburgh City Council.
Even in a first past the post contest the alphabet can make a critical difference. Often voters don't realise they have more than one vote. So they look down the ballot paper and vote for the first candidate from their favoured Party they can see and then leave it at that.
But in the PR system used in Scottish council elections voters give an order of preference to candidates. So the alphabet plays an even more important part.
Cllr Hart said she changed her name because she had remarried. However she combined her maiden name of Austin with her current name instead of taking her new husband’s name. The Labour Group leader Cllr Andrew Burns accepts this but ominously Cllr Cook is unavailable for comment.
One Labour member said:
“This is deeply disappointing for a Labour councillor to do this for the purpose of advancing her position on the ballot paper. It doesn’t reflect well on councillor Hart or her respect for the party or the electoral process.”
However another Party member says:
“She won’t be doing herself any favours by standing as a Labour candidate with a double-barrelled name, especially in that part of the city.”
Whatever her motives I suspect that the name change will increase Cllr Austin-Hart's electoral chances. The alphabet will trump class prejudice. But doesn't this small episode reflect a wider issue of fear and loathing in the Scottish Labour Party? Will Cllr Austin-Hart and Cllr Cook go canvassing together as part of the same comradely campaign team?