Archive for category Elections

Who do you not hate?

In addition to the independence question and the Holyrood voting intention put as part of our first monthly Survation poll (with the Daily Record and Dundee University’s 5 Million Questions), I also get to ask another question, and I can be more partisan than they are. So I asked the following:

Irrespective of how you personally vote, which of the following parties would you like to see as part of a future Scottish government (for example, as part of a coalition)?

The results were pretty striking (I’ve changed my mind since last week, incidentally, and will show the arbitary precision in these numbers: bear in mind that just one more person picking a particular party has a one in ten chance of increasing their result by 0.1%). The figure in brackets here shows how far above each party’s list vote in the same poll their result  is.

SNP: 48.8% (+8.9%)
Labour: 46.9% (+18.8%)
Green: 22.5% (+14.1%)
Lib Dem: 19.7% (+13%)
Conservative: 18.1% (+7%)
UKIP: 8.9% (+4.3%)
SSP: 1.6% (+0.8%)

I read this question primarily as “which other parties do you not hate?”, and so if I were Labour I’d find a crumb of comfort in these figures – although the actual Labour list vote we found is pretty low, there’s a substantial section of the public who don’t currently vote for them who are not against them being back in office. The SNP, on the other hand, (with much stronger actual voting intention figures) look like they are closer to the top of their maximum achievable vote. But hey, actual votes certainly trump a reservoir of broader non-voting sympathy. And overall, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see almost half the country want to see each of those two parties having a role in office.

But the picture is a bit more complicated than it looks. The detailed tables show that about a quarter of Labour voters think the SNP should be part of a future Scottish government, and vice versa, which may be a recognition by a good chunk of the public of the broad similarity of the two parties’ positions on much of the policy agenda. Conversely, roughly 10% of both parties’ own voters do not want to see their chosen party in office, which seems a touch odd. That number is even higher for the Lib Dems, with more than 15% of remaining Lib Dem voters not wanting the party to have a role in government.

At the bottom of the list, the SSP do figure, but only one person in 125 would vote for them, and only another one in 125 thinks they should be in office. The damage Sheridan did to the party shows no sign of going away, which I personally regret. I’d like to see Holyrood return to rainbow days again, with a good group of SSP MSPs as well as more Greens. But that looks a long way off. Above them, UKIP are in the area where they might pick up a regional seat or two if their vote were to be well-focused enough, but a pleasingly small proportion of the Scottish public don’t hate them.

The middle order is also interesting. On the actual regional voting intention, the three smaller Parliamentary parties were bunched pretty closely – the Tories on 11, Greens on 8, and the Lib Dems on 7. Of those three, the Tories remain the least well-liked beyond their actual voters, the Lib Dems retain a perhaps surprising reach, and the Greens come in third overall, greatly helped by the 30.7% of SNP voters who would like to see us in office (18.5% of Labour voters also felt that way).

It’s tempting as a Green to get excited about these figures, but there’s a sting in the tail for the party, just as there is with the excellent list vote found for the party in the same poll. There may be a substantial pool of potential Green voters out there (enough for the party plausibly to aspire to become the third party at Holyrood, no less), but without bringing in more money, more members, and more activists, we will never be able to convert these figures into a reliable base for the party. That next phase is already happening pretty widely in Edinburgh, and in parts of Glasgow, but beyond that, the critical mass for the Greens exists only in the wards of key hard-working activists (shout out to Martin Ford, Mark Ruskell & Ian Baxter in particular here). As William Gibson said in another context: the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.

I’m too much of an inactivist right now to criticise, but the party’s problems remain broadly the same as they were even ten years ago. Patrick and others are working hard to try and help see the referendum won while simultaneously promoting the party’s distinctive positions, but the question remains: how can an increased level of interest and warmth be converted into those three vital assets?

In for a penny, in for a groat

GroatThe Governor of the Bank of England has just sunk plans for Scottish independence today, we’re told. The flaws with the SNP’s currency union mean it’s over all bar the voting, apparently.

Except that’s a lot of nonsense for one key reason. Scotland’s medium and long-term currency future won’t be up to the SNP. Their schedule, which I was previously more sceptical about, gives us a bit over two years from a Yes vote to independence day, which coincides with dissolution of Holyrood, which means that post-independence decisions will be made by the people in the most interesting election Scotland will have ever seen.

I’m also very relaxed about an initial period where we use the pound prior to any change, either to our own currency, my preferred option, or hypothetically to the Euro, which I doubt any of Scotland’s five Parliamentary parties will offer in May 2016. But imagine Labour win at Westminster in 2015, which still has to be the most likely option. And then perhaps a separate Scottish Labour would get their act together and lead Scotland’s first independence administration. It’s not impossible: just think how the British electorate chose them to “win the peace” in 1945. Would those two administrations not work together while respecting the Scottish people’s desire for independence?

In fact, the hostility to currency union from Westminster and Threadneedle Street would then no longer have much of a real purpose, if one accepts that it’s primarily to scare Scots into voting No. Maybe the SNP would also accept over time that currency union would be too restrictive, and offer a transition to our own currency (see the Republic of Ireland’s experience for how slowly that might happen). Who knows? But the decision will, if we win, be made by the Scottish people on the basis of the manifestos offered then: each option has pros and cons, but a democratic choice is the right way for it to be made.

Commonwealth and Common Weal: The shape of things to come.

According to Nicola and Alex the world is watching, but the truth is that Britain isn’t even watching. If 2014 does turn out to be a momentous year for Scotland it will happen with a whimper down south. Although it still looks like the No campaign might win it, the Yes side has moved the debate on from where we were two years ago. Some kind of positive outcome for Scottish democracy now seems inevitable, and it can either be done consensually or by splitting the Labour party down the middle and further undermining its already wobbly legitimacy. Anas Sarwar and friends won’t go gently from their 80,000 a year at Portcullis House, especially with the outside chance of getting to sit at the big table and play around with some of those cool nuclear submarines.

There’s also a European election this year. It looks like the SNP and Labour will get two seats apiece and the Tories will likely hang on to theirs. The real battle of interest will be between the Lib Dems in their first election test since the massacre at Edinburgh City Council in 2012, the mustache bearing armchair army of Jaguar driving UKIPers and the Greens. Given that the Greens exceeded expectations last time around and have historically performed better in European polls, it is not too much to expect that Maggie Chapman will be ensconced in Brussels come next summer. From the left of what is already Holyrood’s most left-wing  party, Maggie will be hoping to attract the core Green vote combined with disenfranchised Labour and SNP supporters and the rump of the Socialist left to push past George Lyon and whichever Top Gear audience member UKIP plump for.

A European breakthrough could signify a big year for the Greens, now fairly well established in Edinburgh and Glasgow but still hovering on the edge of several wins in central Scotland and the Highlands. The increased profile given to them by the Yes campaign has allowed Patrick Harvie to more clearly articulate what separates them from both the SSP on the one hand and sandal-wearing Lib Dems on the other. With Alison Johnstone bedding in following the retirement of Robin Harper, the Euros and the long lead in to the Scottish general election of 2016 will be critical in determining whether Green politics in Scotland can copy the relative success achieved in its North Sea neighbours. The dominance of the SNP and the apparent inability of Labour to put one foot in front of the other means that Scottish politics is crying out for a torch bearer for floating progressive voters.

It will also be the year in which Scotland gets equal marriage legislation, in what has been a needlessly drawn out process. One of the side effects of the equal marriage campaign has been to further erode the influence of the Catholic Church in Scotland. The Church has not covered itself in glory in the past twelve months for all kinds of reasons, burning bridges with many progressive Catholics in the process.

Celtic will, somewhat inevitably, storm the SPL. Fingers crossed Aberdeen will come second, one of the few clubs with the resources and fanbase to do something with their European place and the financial bonus it would bring. The game would appear up for Hearts, hamstrung by a combination of apparent corruption, a global financial crisis and the inability of the Scottish Football Association to keep watch on the game. The irony of their Wonga sponsorship won’t be lost on the fans who have had to watch it all unfold from the stands and in the newspapers. Scottish football is still in a fairly sick state, and until the men with suits and 1990s playground haircuts are replaced at Hampden then it probably won’t get better.

Then there’s the Commonwealth Games, Scotland’s mini Olympics. No doubt there’ll be a lot from Glasgow City Council about putting the place on the map, showing it is open for business and reminding us that people make Glasgow, just like people made the dual carriageway to the East End and the over budget motorway that cuts a swathe through the Southside like the spaceship hovering ominously in Independence Day. The sceptic in me says that Commonwealth and Common Weal are different things, but it is to be hoped that some of the shine stays at least once the G4S guards on temporary contracts and the BBC mobile broadcast vans have chugged off south again.

One thing for 2014 is certain though. Peter Capaldi is going to be brilliant in the TARDIS.

An urgent post-indy reform

An STV ballotIf Team Yes win the vote next year, amongst the governance changes required will be an expansion of the number of MSPs, primarily because we’ll need to staff more ministries and more Committees. Consider Westminster, bloated as its offices may be.

Starting with ministers, this page lists around 100 of them, and that’s just counting the Commons. The largest Holyrood grouping seen so far was just 73, the 1999-2003 Lab/LD coalition, down to 72 when Steel became PO. They couldn’t all be Ministers, not just because some of them weren’t up to it.

Now clearly there’s more to manage when you run an administration covering 63m people (with varying levels of devolution) compared to one which would the sole national administration for just over 5m people. But we’d need Ministers to cover pensions, social security, foreign affairs, defence, and a host of other junior Ministers too.

The same applies to Committees – currently there are 14 regular ones at Holyrood, plus a few on pieces of private legislation, plus welfare reform and one for the Referendum Bill. We’d need a permanent committee for the areas mentioned above, and there just aren’t enough MSPs to go round. Almost every MSP who’s not a Minister (or the PO, or Margo, or Johann Lamont, or Ruth Davidson) is on a Committee, sometimes two, sometimes three.

So what’s normal for an independent European country of our size? To pick the four such countries who have a population between five and six million, we find the following:

Bear in mind also that we’ll be celebrating the departure of 59 MPs who represent Scottish constituencies, plus a proportion of the 781 members of the House of Lords, however calculated. 65 would be our pro-rata share of the hereditaries and the bishops and those installed through patronage. So a Holyrood seating anything up to about 250 would be a net reduction in the number of parliamentarians representing Scotland. Oh, and we’d get more MEPs – to be honest, a greater proportional influence in the EU sounds more useful than about 95% of the peers I’ve ever taken notice of.

But 250 is excessive. Somewhere between 150 and 200 would make sense and fit that European pattern. I’m going to plump for 200 and y’all can haggle me down if need be.

So how would we elect them? The path of least resistance would be to expand the existing AMS system. Increasing both halves of the equation proportionally would give us about 113 constituencies and about 87 regional members. That’d be easiest done as regional lists of 10 rather than 7. Right now each constituency MSP represents just over 70,000 people on average (remembering that Orkney and Shetland have an MSP each, each representing around 20,000 people). Under this change each constituency MSP would represent about 47,000 people. Seems okay.

Another option would be to elect a second chamber by some other method – perhaps a national list or similar. And find somewhere else to house them (for a smaller chamber of, say, 71, the old Royal High would actually work). This is architecturally easier than expanding Holyrood, although I enjoyed being press officer for the building process and am ready to do it again if need be.

But if we’re going to do this thing, why not do it properly? Let’s get rid of the damn lists altogether, which were a compromise of their time between Labour and the Lib Dems, end the division between constituency and regional MSPs, and elect every last one of them fairly. STV works for Scottish local elections, it ends the kind of games which AMS encourages, and it allows the public to express more sophisticated preferences if they wish. Voters are already used to it, and it would reduce the number of electoral systems in play, making voter education an easier task.

The obvious way to do that (again, with tweaks for the islands in particular) would be to break each of the eight regions into five mini-regions, and elect five MSPs for each mini-region. People would complain that the constituency link would be lost, no doubt – they always do – but mini-regions like that would actually only be about twice the size of existing constituencies, and people living in each one would have five much more local representatives to talk to when they need help. Consider also the role of the Highlands and Islands list MSP just now. They represent an area the size of Belgium (as Eleanor Scott always reminded us), stretching from the most northerly point in Shetland to the southern tip of the Mull of Kintyre, a point further south than the whole of the central belt.

But I’m afraid it’s unavoidable: we’re going to need to do some building work to accommodate them all. I’m sure that’ll go more smoothly this time.

Update: By coincidence, Professor Paul Cairney wrote about this too, yesterday.

Dunfermline athletics long game to kick off for Green goals

elephantbridgeCara Hilton is now firmly ensconced in Holyrood after what turned out to be a reasonable majority in the Dunfermline by-election. Her victory was assured using a scattergun approach to campaigning that entailed being selective about what Scottish Labour’s current policy platform says and relying heavily on ‘I’m no SNP, so I must be Labour’ identity politics.

I know this because I was responsible in part for organising Zara Kitson’s campaign for the Greens and saw it all unfold before me first hand. How do you fight half-truths with truth when nobody recognises the legitimacy of what you are saying? On that same note it would take a Scottish Labour spin doctor to dress the Greens’ result up as a victory, but neither was it the disaster some naysayers made out.

Looking at the question of legitimacy, I was rather disappointed with Brian Taylor for lending his voice to a piece beginning ‘Meanwhile, the Greens had an environmental message’. The clip took one quote from Zara Kitson and pretended it was a manifesto. Had the BBC checked their own footage they would have found hours of interviews with the Green candidate in which she talked about local democracy, the bedroom tax, community football, properly funded schools and well-paid jobs. I know because I was there when it was filmed.
Perhaps it serves the Greens right for running an honest campaign in which they attempted to talk about what needed to be talked about. Zara Kitson made no promises about bridge tolls she would never have individual control over or the policies of a council she would not sit on. Should the Greens have followed the UKIP route and ploughed money (but precious few activists) into the kind of bitter, dishonest and intellectually bankrupt reactionary politics designed to garner as many votes as possible on as little policy as can be inserted into a leaflet made on the 1997 version of Microsoft Publisher? Probably not.

UKIP’s voters will have gone and voted and then retired to their armchairs or slipped their driving gloves back on and taken a ride out in their Saab 95 to check there were still no wind turbines. The Green voters, however, were part of a planned-out process of capacity building and a strategy that went beyond securing votes and getting back on the motorway to Edinburgh or London. This was misconstrued by the BBC on election night when they quoted Zara Kitson saying ‘it had been all about the campaigning’. She did not just mean that it was the taking part that counted; this was a longer battle than the media were prepared to accept in their finite narrative.

The interesting thing about the Green vote in Dunfermline is that nobody had ever been given the chance to elect a constituency MSP before, and the group of people who did choose to vote Green were galvanised by the election into knowing that there were hundreds of people across the area like them. Were Holyrood by-elections contested using the AV system the results could have been radically different. First past the post traps people into tactical voting and creates the same two-party politics that dominates Westminster.  It is almost inevitable that the end result will be hastily printed flyers with big pictures of bridges on and wild promises that can never be kept and will never need to be kept.

It is about the illusion of localism and the belief that constituency MSPs are local leaders, rather than parliamentary legislators. Even more so, the first past the post element of the Scottish electoral system perpetuates the kind of thinking that Holyrood was supposed to leave behind. Why it cannot be replaced with sixteen smaller regions electing lists is a question we should probably all be asking ourselves. Local government should perhaps be left to local government and we should not pretend that Cara Hilton or any other MSP has the ability to change things by themselves.

Any such reform would also present a challenge for the Greens, it has to be recognised. There is very little data showing whether people first vote Green and then opt for a constituency candidate of their choice or whether the reverse is true.  The BBC did not help, but what Zara Kitson tried to do in Dunfermline and will no doubt do again in the future was show that Green votes are not second preferences but first steps toward something altogether different. We need an election system that liberates people to vote freely and demands that smaller parties ready themselves for government.