Tactical standing

Alison Johnstone MSP.

Alison, earlier

There’s been a moderate amount of mumping and moaning from the wilder fringes of Nat-dom online about the Greens’ candidacy in Edinburgh Central. Those were our 4,644 votes, they say, and we’d have held Central if the Greens hadn’t stood the wonderful Alison Johnstone. From the other side, we can point to the 751,770 SNP list votes that, as predicted, didn’t elect a single SNP MSP across six regions: Central, Glasgow, Lothian, Mid Scotland & Fife, the North East, and West. Those should have been our votes! Waaah! Where are our other MSPs?

Well, no. In both cases they’re the public’s votes, for one thing, and personally I’ve come round to the idea that as many people as possible should have the chance to vote Green on every ballot. Also, while some Green votes will have been begrudging SNP supporters who knew their list votes would be wasted, some of their votes will be Green supporters holding their nose at the SNP’s pro-oil and tax-cautious agenda. It’s impossible to say what the balance is, although Edinburgh Central (and Glasgow Kelvin) show a higher core Green vote in our strong areas than the rockets would like you to believe.

One thing the Labour, Lib Dem and Tory constituency victories in the capital did, though, was ensure the Lothian constituency results were a bit closer to proportional, especially the Labour and Tory wins. And that, in turn, ensured the Lothian list didn’t have to do more of the work needed to give Labour and the Tories the seats they, let’s admit it, deserved based on their votes. And so Andy Wightman got that final Lothian seat.

If Daniel Johnson hadn’t won Edinburgh South, with everything else the same, Labour would have picked up the last list seat. If Alex Cole-Hamilton hadn’t won Edinburgh West, the Lib Dems would have got it. And if Ruth Davidson hadn’t won Edinburgh Central, the Tories would have got it. The net effect on the numbers of Yoonyonishts of one of those seats going the other way would have been precisely zero.

But let’s accept the zoomers’ frame for a second. If Edinburgh Central had stayed SNP, Green voters wouldn’t have elected Andy Wightman. And that was pretty much my top objective for this election. So the correct tactical vote for a diehard Green in each seat was an anti-SNP one, especially as swapping a Green for a Nat can’t reduce the overall vote for independence-supporting parties at Holyrood.

And I have – confession time! – played this game before. In 1999, when the first Scottish Parliament election loomed, I lived in Edinburgh Pentland. And the maths were obvious even then. If David McLetchie won that seat, there would be just the same number of Tories in Parliament (so this would be guilt-free) but more space on the list to elect Robin Harper. So I held my nose and voted tactical Tory. It didn’t matter: Iain Gray won for Labour, and Robin still got in on the list. Those tactical decisions are the preserve of the complete anorak like me high-information voter, which is also pretty exclusionary.

This maths certainly doesn’t deter me from supporting Green constituency runs next time, though. Personally I strongly hope Holyrood picks a fully preferential and more proportional system next time: that way an argument that Greens shouldn’t stand can’t ever be made again. SNP voters for whom we are a second preference can just mark 2 against the Greens, knowing they’ll get as many SNP reps elected as possible, but that their vote may still tip later results towards the Greens rather than letting in one of the anti-independence parties in. And vice versa.

Or whatever your preferences are. Maybe you just want higher taxes on the rich. So you’d have been splitting your top preferences between the Greens and Labour. Or lower taxes on the rich: that would be Tory 1, SNP 2. Whatever. The people decide, rather than having to second-guess the vagaries of d’Hondt.

But if that doesn’t happen and we’re using AMS again in 2021, the tactically correct choice for the Greens in another election that looks like this would be to stand in a few key SNP marginals in each region. So how’s about we talk about how to switch to STV, SNP friends?

A category mistake

JamesMcEnaneyHeadshotThe Sunday Herald had a striking story yesterday about the Information Commissioner’s office declaring they would not make a decision during the election period. RISE candidate James McEnaney (left) had put in an FOI relating to the standardised tests agenda, and the response included this line:

Although it does not affect the Scottish Information Commissioner directly, she has decided not to issue any decisions which might put forward a critical view of the Ministers. In discussion with the Head of Enforcement, it has been decided to delay the issue of the decision on your case until after 5 May 2016.

Now, no-one should want the Information Commissioner’s office to be partisan or to look partisan. But unfortunately that’s how they’ve just positioned themselves. The key problem here is the phrase “put forward a critical view of the Ministers“.

Do they mean “require to be published information which is itself damaging to Ministers”? Or do they mean “overrule an inappropriate Ministerial decision to withhold information”? It’s not clear, but neither of these is an acceptable reason to work around the provisions of FOI legislation. And in both cases, if the information should legitimately be published, it’s partisan to withhold it just because there’s an election on.

The email to James McEnaney also discusses purdah rules at some length. This is also a misdirection. Purdah restricts the activities of Ministers and civil servants. It does not protect them from embarrassing stories based on their historic activities. With this inept decision the Commissioner’s office have put themselves in the inappropriate position of protecting Ministers during an election. They have also undermined their own credibility and neutrality, and prevented the electorate from knowing something they have a right in law to know – it may be big a deal, it may not be, but that’s for the public to decide, not the Commissioner.

Coulda, shoulda, woulda

SPOILER ALERT AND FULL DISCLOSURE: I love the FM and am also a Scottish Green


chamberSo, boom – that was the week in politics, or more or less anyway. It always feels a little bit like the balloon is letting out the last of the air after FMQs, and that’s not a reference to any one individual.

Notably, this week, our wonderful First Minister (non-ironic: see disclosure clause) gave evidence to the Convener’s Committee of the Scottish Parliament. It’s basically parents’ evening for the FM and an opportunity for supposedly influential MSPs from across the parties (except the Greens and the also wonderful Patrick and Alison who get dingied) to scrutinise the Government. The opportunity to do so is, clearly, vital, and an opportunity for a sit down with the FM herself is a perfect opportunity to hold the Government to account.

Not that you would know it from any of the questions – or not really. Conservative Murdo Fraser, rightly, worked to get clarification from St Nicola on her exact reasons for opposing some zero-hours contacts. Her inability to answer will possibly leave a staffer with a flea in their ear, but it marked out the one question the FM seemed to struggle with. Which begs a question – what is the point of our committees at the moment? It felt a little like they had all got a shared deal on Groupon for collective dental extraction and only Murdo missed the deadline.

As much as I love our FM, I expect the person – any person – in her job to be subject to serious and intense scrutiny. Not only did it fail to happen this week in Committee Room 2 with the Conveners, but it fails to happen on a weekly basis at First Minister’s Questions. Today, Head Girl Kezia Dugdale and Tank Commander Ruth thought the most important pressure faced by Scottish people was the case of Michelle Thompson MP, who is caught up in a police enquiry and has resigned the party whip and been suspended from the SNP as a result.

The allegations against the MP aren’t pretty and since I can’t afford a lawyer, I’ll let you google them. But I’m not sure what the FM can actually be held responsible for. I would like to know why our NHS is failing on mental health though. Or why hate crime is still appallingly under-reported – particularly by people who represent the most vulnerable communities. I’d also like to know why it’s all too prevalent in the first place and what the FM is going to do about that. I’d also like to know more about the Government’s position on fracking.

But most of all I would like a Parliament that’s more willing and able to hold the Government to account on its policies and actions. It isn’t coming from the Committees, it isn’t coming from the opposition and it sure as hell isn’t coming from the SNP backbenches. It’s hard to have faith that it will come from the Presiding Officer’s review of the committee structure either. Fingers crossed – but any review that gives us another system supporting a bunch of patsies, or people who oppose on command rather than principle, won’t work. And a First Minister’s Questions without on eye on the next council by-election is more necessary than ever as we head into a year of likely budget cuts.

(Sorry Nicola – I love you!)

pic copyright Scottish Parliament as per here

Why independence requires the SNP to lose their majority

Green v LabourIt’s been a long year since I voted to set up a new country more or less from scratch, and unsurprisingly there’s a lot of chat about having another go.

What are the triggers? Who gets to decide when we decide? What, in great detail, does Nicola think about it? All good questions.

But let’s admit what underlay many of the weaknesses last time: the SNP’s one-party majority at Holyrood, the very thing which led to a referendum in the first place.

Yes Scotland was seen as just a rebranded part of the SNP, and on policy issue after policy issue, the media (disingenuously but understandably) treated the SNP’s specific independence prospectus as a gospel summary of how independence would look.

The broader Yes campaign diverged from the SNP on many issues, of course. Greens (and RIC, and the SSP) had, for example, probably a less popular position on the monarchy, one which I am proud of still.

Conversely, Greens had a more robust and defensible position on the currency issue, and just today the party announced sensible plans for more research on what I call “actual independence”. As Peat Worrier memorably put it:

Take one example. You can understand the thinking behind the White Paper’s currency policy. Folk wanted to keep the pound. The focus groups urged it. So the Scottish Government decided to back it. But in practice, the policy amounted to giving your deadliest enemy a loaded revolver and saying, “please don’t shoot me with this”. The rest is history. Osborne pulled the trigger. Salmond foundered in the first debate with Darling. Credibility was never demonstrated or gained. We lost. I could go on.

Over and over the SNP’s position got confused with the reality – i.e. that the Scottish people would make those key decisions in the first election to an independent Parliament, and at subsequent elections. Neither the currency nor the monarchy would or could have been settled by a Yes vote: both would be decisions to be made later, questions about what kind of independence we want, which would no doubt evolve. This confusion is still happening today: for just one example, the thoughtful Sunder Katwala blurs the two here.

Now it’s entirely up to the SNP to offer a monarchist Scotland, and to say they’ll seek to negotiate a shared currency with Westminster. Both are respectable positions – although I think the latter of those helped sink us. But as long as they have a majority all their own that position will be seen as what Yes2 is all about. A Scottish Government where they are the largest partner but share power with the only other party at Holyrood which supports independence would be entirely different. Such a coalition wouldn’t be able to produce a White Paper2 which just set out SNP policy, nor one which promoted Green policy. Such a document would instead have to say “those decisions will be made by the Scottish people in subsequent votes, if we vote Yes this time”, and simply to list the options. It’s stronger, it’s more winnable, and it’s more honest too.

So, if what you most want is for the SNP to continue to govern alone, and you would rather one or two more SNP MSPs plus eight to ten Labour MSPs instead of a dozen Green MSPs, please do vote SNP with both ballots. But if you’d rather both a Greener government and a more realistic prospect of independence, whenever those triggers are met, I’d urge a Green list vote.

We can’t do it without them, clearly. But they can’t do it without us either.

Elections 101

3d36f095-c244-4701-9235-6f99c2129911There has been some very optimistic chatter about Green collaboration with RISE recently. I understand why, superficially, given there will be some things we’ll definitely agree on with them (ending the monarchy, opposition to Trident etc).

If another referendum takes place we would of course be on the same side again. On other issues, though, we don’t know whether RISE will follow the SSP line, so it’s too early to tell whether we’ll disagree with the platform they’ll offer in May.

Despite the high number of lower-income Edinburgh households that don’t have access to a car, Colin Fox lined up with the Tories to oppose a congestion charge for Edinburgh that would have funded public transport. Is that still RISE policy? Do they still want to replace a flawed wealth tax (i.e. council tax) with another tax on salaries, even though it’d let share income and other wealth go untaxed? Will they support decriminalisation of sex work, as Greens do? Or will they, like the SSP, keep pushing the failed Nordic model, which exposes sex workers to more violence? Are they still for an impractical free public transport policy, which we wisely voted down last year?

Anyway, Adam Ramsay wrote an optimistic (to be generous) piece about cooperation with RISE yesterday, setting out a list of options from full merger (heaven help us) through to dividing up the list and constituencies between us. If this were a preferential election system, like STV, then we could consider a mutual recommendation for second preferences, although it’d be more beneficial to talk to the SNP about that first.

Until that point, we have only ever won list seats for Holyrood, and the only way RISE can win any seats is by competing with us for votes and slots on the list. Like all other parties in Scotland, we’re in competition with them. Like all other parties in Scotland, we’ll work with them if they win seats and where we agree (for example, even the Tories used to be reliably against ID cards, so we voted with them on that). The fact that there will be many policies we share doesn’t make them a major opportunity, it makes them a threat, albeit a minor one.

But don’t take my word for it, it’s time to listen to Colin Fox instead. He understands how the electoral system works, and that parties have to compete for votes. We’re not just a target for him, we’re his number one target.



That’s their right, much as his baseless nonsense about independence irritates me. It’s called democracy. But we need to point out that we have first class MSPs and excellent prospects of electing more, unlike RISE, and we need to illustrate why the Green vision for Scotland is so important and worth voting for. Let’s not kid ourselves that we can do that by promoting a rival party. Of course, though, as Adam says, let’s not spend our time attacking them – the people worth critiquing are the SNP for their failure to redistribute downwards, the Tories for their war on the poor, Labour for their inability to oppose, and all three for their lamentable positions on climate change and the rest.