Time to fess up. Maths and me are not even on nodding terms. I may still be the only 6th year pupil at my comprehensive seat of learning to flunk the O grade variety for the third time. But very simple arithmetic is not so much of a stretch. Simple arithmetic such as the variety which decides who gets to sit at Holyrood for which party. The form of partial proportional representation we use may sound as if it needs a lot of complex head scratching – and there are seven stricken rounds of calculations to work out which 7 folk get the nod in each of our eight regions. But at its core is a very simple message – if you do well in the constituency section, you get stuffed in the list one.
That’s why I’ve always been at a bit of a loss at the SNP’s insistence on “both votes SNP.” I mean I get that it’s a nice clean, simple slogan and all that, but it seems downright perverse to go into bat for voting preferences which are bound to deny you list seats. List seats which will mainly go to assorted unionist opponents. All the current polling suggests that the SNP is likely to do exceptionally well in the first past the post element of next May’s election. The obvious corollary of which is that it will do exceptionally badly in the regional lists. Or, to be frank, as hopelessly badly as usual. Both votes SNP means fewer SNP seats.
As it happens, I don’t think the philosophy behind the Additional Members’ System was intentionally malign. It was one way of addressing the profound unfairness of first past the post where, in a Westminster context, seats – and elections – could be won with little more than a third of the electors voting for you. However you carve this up, it’s a poor substitute for democracy.The conventional wisdom is that it was put in place to ensure the Nationalists never won majority government. This conveniently forgets that it usually stops any other party doing so. And, at the time it was drawn up prior to 1999, the biggest losers from the new system was a Labour Party which was still riding high. Which is why the first administration was a Labour Lib Dem coalition.
Coalitions are the rule rather than the exception in most modern European administrations. Yes, it often entails tedious horse trading, but it also ensures that compromise and consensus are not dirty words. Who, a very few years ago, could ever have envisaged an Irish job share between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, once engaged in the bitterest of political civil wars, now in government, with the Greens making up the necessary numbers. Admittedly a major factor in this unlikely romance was a joint determination to keep Sinn Fein out of power. (They won the most votes, but didn’t field enough candidates).
Which brings us back to Scotland and the newest kid on the block, the Independence for Scotland Party or ISP. Since it was formed with the precise and sole intention of standing on a pro independence ticket on the list system only, the amount of ordure dumped on its head has been remarkable. Not least since most of it has been dumped by pro independence elected members of both parliaments. Some of the criticism has a superficial logic, inasmuch as the electorate has not been kind to new names on the ballot sheet. RISE didn’t, and the smaller existing socialist parties stayed small. The Greens, who do back independence, have never made the substantial breakthrough you might have thought possible in a world contending with onrushing climate change.
And, naturally, it is that latter issue which is its primary raison d’etre.
But now we have a party whose express intention is to maximise the pro independence presence at Holyrood. To regain the holy grail of pro-Indy majority government by replacing maybe just a handful of unionist MSP’s with enthusiasts from the wider Yes movement. As the kids say ‘what’s not to like’?
I worry that some of the most vitriolic commentary has come from the nationalist benches in the Commons. I used to report on the Commons. I know how easy it is go native there; to get sucked into the Westminster way of doing (or not doing) things. Maybe even to become forgetful of the main reason you were dispatched there by voters ever more anxious to move the Indy bandwagon along.
Cards on the table here. I see no credible alternative to the current First Minister. She could undoubtedly cut it as the Prime Minister of an independent Scotland, and carry herself in the corridors of European and world power way more effectively than the self serving Johnson. No question. She must be aware though, that it’s no longer just a fringe minority of Indy supporters who think the combination of a post Covid economy and the looming Brexit disaster argues for real urgency over getting Scotland out from under the shabby clutches of a third rate Westminster administration.
It’s not that they’re incapable of understanding the massive constitutional complexities in play here. Like many folk, I’ve been reading enough different sets of Indy modelling to need a wee lie down. What they, and I, fear is that in being fixated on playing to someone else’s rules for the sake of added Team Scotland legitimacy, the game is lost altogether. Momentum is lost. Crisis driven opportunity is lost. Crucial support is lost.
This truth I believe to be self evident. The SNP cannot win this battle alone. It needs, and has always needed, people of many persuasions who believe that Scotland’s time is now. That independence, with all the inherent risks, is massively less risky than being joined at the hip to a UK which is not so much a new global player as a shrunken, self deluding shadow of its pre-Bexit, pre Johnson self. One on the brink of doing trade deals profoundly damaging to Scottish (and English) interests.
Time to go. Time to go for it.
PUBLISHED IN THE NATIONAL 29.6.2020