This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

It’s a bumper time for by-elections. Voters in Rochdale head to the polls on Thursday for what must be one of the most chaotic in decades.

Both Labour and the Greens have ditched their candidates, meanwhile, the Tory spent a fair chunk of the campaign on a long-planned family holiday. 

Those who have turned up to take part include Simon Danczuk, the town’s former Labour MP. He's standing for Reform UK. You may remember he was suspended by his old party for sexting a 17-year-old girl.

And then there’s George Galloway. 

After ducking the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, despite crowd-funding a small fortune, the veteran of byelection campaigns is by some considerable distance the bookie's favourite. 

But while the Manchester town may be where the chaos and attention is, it’s Galloway's old stomping ground that I’m more interested in. 

Next week, voters in Glasgow’s West End go to the polls to elect a new councillor for the Hillhead ward following the death of Labour’s Hanzala Malik.

The contest looks set to be close. 

Allan Faulds, from Ballot Box Scotland, believes the Greens, who had the biggest share of the vote in the three-member ward in 2022, should scrape to victory here. 

“It's quite messy and unpredictable though,” he adds. 

One of the messiest elements is the impact of Independent Green Voice (IGV).

You might not have heard of them, though you might have seen them on the ballot paper.

Ahead of the 2021 Holyrood election, despite having no campaign and no real online presence, bar a weird-looking webpage that hadn’t been updated since 2007, they won 2,210 votes in Glasgow and 1,690 in the South of Scotland. 

Parties that did campaign, that did leaflet, that did have some form of media profile, did far worse. 

Reform UK, for example, managed just 543 votes in Glasgow. 

It is not too far-fetched to suggest that some of those who ended up voting for IGV probably meant to vote for the Scottish Greens. 

The Herald: Independent Green Voice received more votes than parties like Reform UK despite no campaign or online presenceIndependent Green Voice received more votes than parties like Reform UK despite no campaign or online presence (Image: PA)
IGV’s logo was an image of a leaf, with the word Green in large letters. Their tagline read “Independent Green Voice – Organic, Local, Democratic”. 

With ballot papers listing parties in alphabetical order, IGV were ahead of the Scottish Greens. That matters more than you might think. 

It was, as the Greens described at the time, “blatant electoral deceit”.

Had Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater’s party won 115 extra votes in the South of Scotland and a little more than 900 in Glasgow, they’d have been returned to Holyrood with 10 MSPs instead of eight. 

Despite that, the Electoral Commission said there was nothing to investigate. IGV had, they said, met the legal criteria: “We are satisfied that there are clear and sufficient differences between the two parties' registered names, descriptions and emblems to avoid confusion.” 

What makes this all the more insidious is who IGV is. They are a front for a far-right group run by a holocaust denier, with links to the BNP. 

And they are back. 

Alistair McConnachie, thrown out of Ukip for claiming that gas chambers were not used by Nazis to murder millions of Jews during World War Two, is standing in the Hillhead by-election.

He’s not trying to win. He’s trying to stop the Greens. 

Faulds doubts IGV will have the same impact at the council by-election as they did at Holyrood in 2019, where you only get one vote on the list. 

The single transferable vote means you get to rank your candidates. That should mean any genuinely confused voters can do IGV 1, SGP 2.

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“And since IGV will drop out very early on that is to all intents and purposes as good as an SGP 1,” Faulds adds.

“It does seem to me to be a very transparent attempt by IGV to cause confusion, however, since they haven't been seen at any other vote since 2021 until this one where the Greens might win.”

Their re-appearance is a “good reminder that we need to regulate party registration and ballot access slightly better than we currently do,” Faulds says. 

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He points to countries like Denmark and Spain where the parties needed to have a certain number of signatures, or Australia where they have to have a certain amount of members.

Something like this “rather than either totally open access for locals or £500 deposits for Parliament that are too small to deter frivolous candidates but too big and eat into resources of real parties.”

He’s got a point.

If the Greens do end up losing by a handful of votes next week, then they’ll have a right to feel aggrieved.