Beware the Ides of March. March is, as James Kelly says, the final month in the term of the ruinous Coalition government. Technically speaking, from the end of March to the election, those currently performing their duties as MPs will then be candidates. Their terms as MPs are over. Sovereignty is once again in the hands of the Scottish people – not total sovereignty, sadly, but at least enough for each constituency to choose who they want to represent them at Westminster.
Unlike the referendum, however, we’re not working on a single nationwide vote, but 59 smaller theatres of battle. The nature of First Past the Post means that even if 49% of votes went to the Honeydew Party and 51% to the Tomato Party, if that percentage was uniform across Scotland, it means the Honeydew Party wouldn’t have a single representative, and the Tomato Party would have them all. That’s bad enough for the people of Scotland, but worse when you remember that the UK Tomato Party might not gain a majority even if every Scottish constituency voted for them – all it would take is for 60 constituencies in England and Wales to vote Guava, and we’d get a Guava government. (I fear I may have let that metaphor run away from me.)
So what we have here are 59 battles*, for 59 chiefdoms. Each chiefdom has a different story, with different clans vying for control. They may have been SNP fortresses for decades, even since their very foundation; others may be comparatively recent SNP conquests; some may no longer exist. And there are many which have never flown the Clootie Dumpling flag. A resounding victory in one chiefdom does not necessarily translate to the total vote: there is no difference between a 51% result or a 100% result in this case. The 59 SNP clans cannot rely upon anyone but themselves. We cannot, must not, care whether the SNP retain their current 6 seats, or gain 12 seats, 20 seats, 30, 40, 50, 59. All we have to care about is one seat – the constituency where you live.
My chiefdom is Inverclyde. Right now we have a few local clans seeking to elect their greatest to send to Westminster as Inverclyde’s champion. I’ll look at each one in turn, but for now, it’s probably worth considering: just what is this election going to be about for the people of Inverclyde?
Generally speaking, there are four types of elections which take place in Scotland. There are Westminster elections, one of which will be taking place on the 7th of May this year; there are also Holyrood elections, due to take place in 2016; Local elections, due for 2017.; and European elections all the way in 2019. It can sometimes be difficult to figure out which issues are served by which office, so here’s a general breakdown:
Members of Parliament (MPs) represent one of the 59 Scottish Westminster constituencies in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament. They do not have any direct jurisdiction over issues devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but they do on reserved issues such as benefits, social security, immigration, defense, foreign policy, trade and industry, broadcasting, and national security. They can take part in committee meetings and speak in debates in the House of Commons, debate proposed UK-wide laws, question and scrutinise the UK government, and vote on the UK government’s budget proposals.
Inverclyde’s MP since the last general election was Iain McKenzie (New Labour). Contesting in May are Ronald Cowan (SNP), George Jabbour (Conservative), Michael Burrows (UKIP), John Watson (Neoliberal Democrats), and the incumbent Iain McKenzie.
Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) represent one of the many Scottish Holyrood constituencies in the Scottish Parliament. They have direct jurisdiction on most issues devolved to the Scottish Parliament or which have always been controlled in Scotland, such as health, education, justice, police, fire services, housing, and the environment.
Several MSPs represent Inverclyde in the Scottish Parliament: Duncan McNeil (New Labour) represents the Greenock & Inverclyde constituency, a post he has held since 1997, and Derek Mackay (SNP) represents Inverclyde East as part of the Renfrewshire electoral region. In addition, there are seven regional list MPs for the West Scotland electoral region: Stuart McMillan (SNP) lives in Inverclyde, and came within a few hundred votes of victory in 2011 – he will almost certainly seek to become the first SNP MSP to represent Greenock & Inverclyde, as well as the first to succeed Duncan McNeil.
Scotland has 32 local councils, each of which is subdivided into wards. Depending on the size of the ward, each ward could have one, two, three, four or more councillors, all of which you can approach as a constituent. Councillors work with much of the day-to-day running of their constituencies, such as public transport, road maintenance, planning decisions, licensing, running of schools, libraries, museums and galleries, social work services, refuse collection, housing benefit, and council tax benefit. Each councillor takes part in council committee meetings, scrutinises council policies and decisions such as council tax levels, and the delivery of local services.
Inverclyde has six wards within its area, and is represented by a total of 20 councillors at present: 9 New Labour, 6 SNP, 2 Neoliberal Democrats, 2 independent, and 1 Conservative (19 men and 1 woman – the independent Vaughan Jones – which makes Inverclyde the most gender-unbalanced council in the whole of Scotland).
Scotland has six Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), which represent all of Scotland – you can therefore approach any of the six with any issues relating to the European Parliament. They represent Scotland on EU-wide issues of employment, working conditions, consumer protection, economic development, equal opportunities, fishing, agriculture, and environmental standards. They can debate proposed European laws, EU spending, scrutinize EU institutions, and hear public petitions raised on EU matters.
The current MEPs which represent Scotland are Ian Duncan (Conservative), Ian Hudghton (SNP), Alyn Smith (SNP), David Martin (New Labour), Catherine Stihler (New Labour) and… *sigh* David Coburn (UKIP).
Who To Vote For
You don’t go to your MP to fix the pothole two door down the street: your ward councillor will see that gets done. Likewise, if you have concerns about NHS services, your MSP is the one to contact. If your neighbour from Latveria is having problems with the Home Country, then your MEP will be best suited to help**. But if you need help regarding state pensions, benefits, social security, or any other issue that is handled by the UK parliament, then your MP is there.
Much of my canvassing of the Inverclyde area has shown that most people neither know nor particularly care the exact differences between MPs or MSPs or MEPs or Councillors. It can be a bit of a challenge keeping track of all the things the different divisions do, but I think it’s worth keeping it in mind for those who ask: a well-informed electorate is the best electorate.
And it’s worth keeping in mind: out of all the parties and positions, the SNP candidate is actively looking to make themselves redundant. The SNP still support independence, and I hope always will, even if a second referendum is not on the cards for the present. That means they are working towards a future where they will no longer attend the House of Commons, putting themselves out of a job. SNP MSPs and Councillors will continue to be needed in an independent Scotland; we’ll even need more MEPs than we do at present to keep up with comparable countries. SNP MPs, on the other hand, have a time limit. Plenty of MPs have set themselves up for their professional lives: Bruce Millan was MP for various constituencies over 29 years; Malcolm Bruce was MP for Gordon for no less than 32 years; Tam Dalyell for West Lothian and Linlithgow for 43 years. SNP MPs are, ultimately, looking to make their office as short as they can.
SNP MPs don’t want to go to the House of Commons – they want Scotland to be an independent nation, after all – but in order for Scotland’s independence movement to have a voice within the UK government, they need to be there. Back in Keir Hardie’s day, Labour was the political arm of the Labour movement. The Green Parties of Scotland & England are the political arms of the environmental movement. The SNP, simply enough, is the political arm of the independence movement.
*Normally I don’t like military metaphors for political campaigns, but because of the extraordinary circumstances of this and future elections, I’m making an exception.
**Of course Latveria’s in the EU.