An investigation by the Sunday Herald’s unofficial Standards Commissioner, Paul Hutcheon, has led to the suspension of Bill Walker MSP from the SNP group. Not one, not two, but three of his ex-wives have reported domestic abuse, either while divorcing him or now, and he also admits hitting his stepdaughter with a saucepan. He’s like Sean Connery without the glittering career, and the SNP have done the right thing by suspending him “pending a full investigation of the facts and circumstances”. There can be no way back, even given just the bits of these depressing tales he doesn’t contest.
When the paper’s front page went round Twitter last night, without an indication of who’d been suspended, I can’t have been the only person hoping it wouldn’t be one of the Nats I liked. And Walker certainly isn’t that. Quite the opposite.
Walker’s part of the under-vetted 2011 intake, and is known in political circles for one thing only – being so homophobic that he made John Mason look almost reasonable. In August last year, when Mason was stirring the pot with his weasel-worded motion (brought to public attention by Jeff here), Bill Walker went a lot further: “There are things called civil partnerships, which I accept, but I’m really concerned about the use of the term ‘gay marriage’ because to me it’s a contradiction in terms and anything that puts homosexual relationships as any way equal to male-female marriages is just not right.” Although I can’t find the link for it, he also used the classic “the dictionary defines marriage as a man and a woman” line of argument. First, it doesn’t, and second, the dictionary defines “United Kingdom” in a way you’re seeking to change.
And the politics? Landslides in a partly proportional system are relative, although 53% of seats on 44-45% of the vote was a pretty generous deal for the Nats. Using their numbers to put one of their more partisan members into the Presiding Officer’s chair took them down to 68 MSPs, three more than a bare majority. Bruce Crawford must be having wee palpitations this weekend, although even falling below 65 would hardly be the end of the world. They got more done more competently last session with just 47 MSPs, after all, and there are still at least three more votes for independence beyond their ranks.
Also, crucially, Walker is the constituency member for Dunfermline. If he’d been a regional MSP, it would have been possible for the leadership to try to persuade him to stand down on behalf of whoever was next on theÂ list, despite the evidence from 2003-2007 when the likes of Campbell Martin and Dorothy-Grace Elder stuck two fingers up at them and stayed on as independents. But no, and Walker’s majority was just 590. A by-election in these circumstances in Labour’s former heartlands is not on Alex Salmond’s to-do list. An independent ex-SNP MSP without any credibility who keeps his trap shut and probably votes with them on everything is probably the least worst outcome for Ministers. But pressure will build to have him out, both from the opposition and from those who believe someone responsible for an apparent career domestic violenceÂ is unfit to serve at Holyrood.
The election of someone this unsuitable was part of the price of the SNP’s success. They’d never have expected Dunfermline to fall into their hands: Dunfermline West, which preceded it until the last lot of boundary changes, had been narrowly won by the Lib Dems over Labour in 2007. And so the Nats selected someone with a personal history one assumes no-one in the local party knew about, which suggests no-one really knew him at all. The story about Salmond meeting a new MSP the day after the election and not knowing who he or she was must not seem so cute now at SNP head office.