Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Those Scottish Elections: the essay

I know I'm a bit slow with this as I get the blog back on track but I thought I'd give a very quick overview of the Scottish elections. The headline, of course, was the amazing landslide for the Scottish National Party which, for those outside of Scotland, is essentially an alternative social democratic party to Labour, without the baggage of murder and government and at liberty to put political ideas independent of a Westminster agenda.

Whilst that does not mean the SNP is immune from exactly the same neo-liberal and reactionary pressures that Labour is prone to it is able to, for example, oppose trident and nuclear power or propose a tax on supermarkets in a way that Labour seem utterly unable to. Indeed I even voted SNP on the constituency ballot (where the Greens did not stand) in order to help displace the complacent Labour incumbent.

We could go into the SNP's deficiencies at length - but frankly that would be both boring and churlish in the face of their historic victory gaining a majority of seats under a system that was specifically designed to stop them doing just that.

How did they do it? Well, they certainly had a strong well-financed campaign, although I wont go as far as some to call it a work of genius. To a large extent it was achieved through the miserable state of the opposition and the ability to gain real momentum off the back of that. There were few people who voted on the 5th that had any illusion about whether the SNP would be forming the next government or not, but if we look back to January we see the polls were predicting a comfortable Labour victory... that lead was lost by Labour rather than overcome by the SNP.

Labour's campaign

Labour did so badly that they lost key Glasgow seats leaving them in a minority in the city... yes, Labour a minority in GLASGOW. Unthinkable.

Much has been made of the dismal and lacklustre Iain Gray, Labour's Scottish leader. It certainly has little to do with Ed Miliband, as he barely figured in the Scottish campaign, with the entire weight of responsibility placed on the shoulders of a man determined to do an uninspired impression of a sack of potatoes. But frankly Labour chose him so they can't be absolved of responsibility no matter how much their candidates complained of the terrible campaign.

Labour's vision for Scotland seemed to consist of refusing to think about any alternative to cuts and mandatory prison sentences for carrying a knife. I guess that combination of authoritarianism and abandonment of public services is nothing new but in a field where voters actually had an alternative non-Tory party of government it just would not wash.

I was stunned by Labour's refusal to even talk about tackling the cuts in any meaningful way. There wasn't even any hot and meaningless rhetoric, which could have gone down pretty nicely had Labour wanted to win, which I guess they didn't.

There were two turning points of note for me. Way back when Labour had the lead the SNP proposed a 'Tesco tax' on the 1% richest companies in order to offset public sector cuts. It was a good proposal universally opposed by Labour and the Coalition Parties prompting a widespread feeling that Labour et al were simply voting in the interests of their major donors.

The feeling that Labour were in the pockets of the rich was further entrenched by the fact their argument against the Tesco Tax was that this was a 'tax on jobs'. If they wanted to look identical to the Tories they were doing a fine job and I would not have been surprised if they'd come out with the 'trickle down effect' soon after. It was from that week that Labour started to flag in the polls.

The second turning point, which was far less avoidable, was when Iain Gray was confronted by anti-cuts protesters. It's a difficult situation to handle and I have *some* sympathy with Gray over this, but his choice to turn tail and hide in a sandwich shop became an overnight legend which genuinely started to define Labour's campaigning style, run away from anything difficult. People still raise this minor incident today, and it may well become Gray's legacy.

For me more symbolic of Gray's shambolic election was the less known incident from when Alex Salmond was doing a photoshoot in a supermarket, the way you do on the election trail. As the assembled press and journos directed their attention to the big man who should walk in by chance but Iain Gray. He weakly waved and then ambled off to the lavatory. It sums the man's political career up for me.

But herein lies the danger for Labour. They desperately need to do some soul searching and the temptation to blame Miliband for not doing enough or Gray for being rubbish has got to be overwhelming. However I think that would be a mistake. Labour lost because they had nothing to say, not who was delegated to not say it. Be nice to supermarkets, be frightened of independence and give more powers to the police simply did not resonate with the electorate, and why would it? Why not turn to a Scottish party that had been careful to play down any dangerous thoughts on Scottish autonomy.

What about the Tories and Lib Dems?

Whilst the Tories did not have a great night the utter rout of the Lib Dems is the big news. All three Westminster parties saw their leaders resign in the wake of the election result which is probably inevitable but quite what Goldie or Scott were meant to do with the hand life had dealt them God alone knows. At least the Tories ran an honest and clear campaign with a leader who was happy to look the electorate in the eye and tell them 'hard truths', even if I don't think they're true.

Tavish Scott, the leader of the Lib Dems on the other hand seemed utterly flummoxed by the whole thing and given a complete absence of anything useful to say seemed to drift as much as Labour. He tried to distance himself from the national Coalition but without any meaningful policy difference this just looked shifty and dishonest.

The flagship policy of the Scottish Lib Dems was even worse than Labour's lock up those carrying knives. It was opposition to merging Scottish police forces. The majority of the electorate probably didn't even know there wasn't a single Scottish police force, let alone felt particular concerned about whether it was merged. It was totemic of their campaign that they chose as their lead campaigning issue an obscure piece of admin.

The only other significant campaign issue raised from the yellow team was on refinancing the debt of Scottish Water. As the only newsworthy economic issue they raised it was both complicated and reeked of privatisation. However the main problem with it was for a party that justifies drastic cuts in public services on the basis that we're in too much debt suggesting we get into more debt seems just the tiniest bit incoherent and, well, opportunist.

Not for the first time I was left thinking that even Lib Dem members deserve a better leadership than this. My local constituency candidate Alex Cole-Hamilton could not have campaigned harder if he'd hired an army of clones to go door knocking with him. The man was a Stakonovite of historic proportions in a campaign he must have known that he'd be crushed in. I genuinely feel very sorry for the guy. I must be going soft in my dotage.

Alison Johnstone and Patrick Harvie launch the Manifesto
And then there's the Greens

The polls consistently put the Green Party on between six and eight MSPs which always seemed a touch fanciful to me - although I had hoped for an increase. In the end it was not to be, the increase in the Scottish Green Party vote was not enough to see the SGP do more than hold onto their seats (with only the Highlands and Islands seat close to an extra win, being just a few hundred votes away from electing Eleanor Scott).

Personally I think for a small party to get noticed enough and taken seriously enough to maintain their seats whilst all other parties were swept before the tartan steamroller is actually an impressive result. Increasing our vote under these circumstances was a real achievement, but many were understandably disappointed.

With a strong media campaign and good professional approach to the campaign many members felt that this was the best SGP campaign that they could remember, although whether they'd all characterise our message as hard-left as the Scotsman did is debatable.

Certainly the Party focused on raising revenue to protect services and jobs. This gave our candidates something unique to say on hustings and in the press quite distinct from the other parties in Holyrood. It was good that the press focused on our economic policies, showing we were being taken seriously, and to my mind it is this reason that we were able to hold our ground - but in the future we need to ensure we have strong enough ground campaigns to deliver more MSPs in difficult elections as well as when the wind is going in our direction.

The others

The hard-left parties saw no resurgence in their fortunes and are sadly a shadow of their former selves. I saw one SSP candidate describe the idea of a rainbow Parliament at a hustings and to be honest that's what I would like to see, a real diversity of opinion represented (although not at the cost of the Greens, obviously!).

I was pleased that the Scottish Socialist Party polled almost three times higher than the morally bankrupt Solidarity and I hope that means they will be able to play a useful role in Scottish politics in the future. Sadly they did not out poll the Socialist Labour Party, a non-existent party who gain almost all of their votes from people who vote for them by mistake instead of the Scottish Labour Party.

Even though I love him dearly, I was also pleased that George Galloway was a long way off winning a seat in Glasgow. To be honest he doesn't live in Scotland, knows nothing about how Holyrood works, nor does he seem particularly interested in it. He's not qualified and the electorate knew it.

His hyperbolic intervention in the growing football tensions were particular unwelcome I thought and I'd far rather see a more thoughtful socialist like Colin Fox in place as an MSP than a walking megaphone like Galloway.

The far-right continue to be a non-existent force in Scotland and political Christianity, which tends to focus on the hell fire stuff rather than the love one another business, continued to languish at 0.1%. Maybe if they focused on the hugging more than the smiting they might poll a little better, who knows?

When the dust cleared it was clear we are in a new situation with the prospect of independence on the cards and Holyrood's first majority rule. I'm really pleased for Patrick and Alison, our two Green MSPs, and disappointed for those excellent candidates who didn't make it - but elected or no there are still important issues to be campaigning on and I think we're in a good position to do that.


Sarah Cope said...

Why do you love George Galloway dearly? He has some terrifying views; most notably, he is anti-abortion.

Jim Jepps said...

There's a lot to admire in the man as well as much to despair of.

EG I wrote this about him a little while ago when he decided to lurch into homophobia.

Love is probably stronger than I actually feel, I ramped it up a bit as I was about to slag him off, but I do like the idea of having a couple of Arthur Daley's dotted about in the left and I've never been one to judge solely on whether I agree with someone politically or not.

For instance I think Matthew Paris is insufferably lovely despite being a Tory and therefore *worse than the devil*.

Anyway - yes Galloway has some terible views and his ability to turn any issue into being about him is annoying. He was also fucking useless as a constituency MP.

We all have flaws. Mine is openly liking George Galloway.

Sarah Cope said...

Ah, I think you are more forgiving than I am! If someone is anti-abortion and homophobic, I'm afraid I boot them for eternity into the abyss.

Strategist said...

"To be honest he doesn't live in Scotland, knows nothing about how Holyrood works, nor does he seem particularly interested in it. He's not qualified and the electorate knew it."

Aww, c'mon. I'm sure he would have taken a flat back in Glasgow had he got the job. I'm sure he finds Holyrood a bit dull - and let's face it, it is - but his offer was a simple one: I'll liven the place up a bit. For just one of the ridiculously large number (129) seats in Holyrood, that offer was well worth a punt and it redounds to the shame of Glaswegians that they couldn't see that.

And the idea that George Galloway is not qualified as a parliamentarian, of all things, is a daft one. Anyone might not like him or his views for many reasons, but it is just mistaken to deny that he is a master parliamentarian. eg

Jim Jepps said...

I'm afraid would move to Scotland if elected doesn't really cut it with me. He doesn't care about the people and doesn't know about their problems.

He didn't even go to the count and left his supporters to it. Charming.

Holyrood is dull in the same way that many essential and important decision making bodies are dull - I don't want them livened up, I want them to work - improving the lives of the people they represent.

He has not got a clue about Holyrood and how it works. He has no interest in it promising only to be a loud mouth. He is not qualified.

Anonymous said...

Homophobic, anti-abortion, sucked up to Saddam Hussein, Assad of Syria, friendly with some pretty obnoxious Hamas fascists, worked for Press TV the mouthpiece of the Iranian regime.

Yeah,a fairly obnoxious man all said. Quite why some fete him is beyond me.

Strategist said...

Jim, I take your points up to a point - but this is going too far:

"He doesn't care about the people and doesn't know about their problems."

He was a Glasgow MP for 18 years. I should say he knows Glasgow, its people & their problems pretty well. And of course he cares.