Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
– Mark Twain
I left off commenting on the election result, mostly because I’m absolutely exhausted. While I made a point to use the Wilderness as a source of information & campaign material and promised to make sure I published at least one post a day, I’ve also been campaigning the old-fashioned way: canvassing, delivering leaflets & newspapers, minding the shop, producing merchandise. I’m particularly proud of my eggs. But I think I’ll be a bit more relaxed for a short period.
Nonetheless, there is a referendum coming up for the UK’s membership of the European Union. I’ll thus spend a few posts on reflection of the past election, before concentrating on the next big vote.
The SNP were already sad to see Tricia Marwick, Marco Biagi, Margaret Burgess, Rob Gibson, Adam Ingram, Kenny MacAskill, Fiona McLeod, Dave Thompson, Colin Keir, and of course Alex Salmond, leave the Holyrood chamber for pastures new. But we also lost some great men & women through the unforgiving nature of the democratic system. The Greens are naturally, and deservedly, overjoyed to have tripled the number of their MSPs despite losing John Wilson – but the SNP have lost MSPs too, some who have served since 2003.
Jim, elected to Edinburgh Southern in 2011, is probably most renowned for his tireless challenging of Edinburgh’s PFI history in the wake of the school scandals, as well as his work in health & fitness as Co-Convener of the Cross-Party Groups on Cycling and Health Inequalities. He was also Deputy Convener of the CPCs on Middle East and South Asia, Muscular Dystrophy, Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, and Learning Disability; and Convener of the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee. He was also one of the few openly gay members of the 4th Scottish Parliament, and his loss is a blow to LGBT representation in the Holyrood SNP.
|Scottish Parliament election, 2016: Edinburgh Southern|
|The Other Party||Daniel Johnson||13,597||35.5||+8.2|
|UK Government Party||Miles Briggs||9,972||26.1||+7.4|
|Coalition Party||Pramod Subbaraman||2,216||5.8||-18.8|
|The Other Party gain from SNP||Swing|
Jim’s team undoubtedly worked hard, and actually managed to increase the SNP vote share in Edinburgh South by a 3.2 point margin of 2,527 – increasing his winning 2011 vote by 20% – but it wasn’t enough. Tactical voting by the Unionists in an area with the Other Party’s last MP in Scotland resulted in the election of Daniel Johnson, and there were not sufficient votes for the Lothian list to get him elected to the region. The idea that the Other Party could gain a seat in Edinburgh even after their PFI schemes gave us unsafe buildings that put childrens’ lives at risk astounds me – but it proves that to the dedicated unionist, everything comes second to stopping independence.
There’s another reason Jim not getting on the list is bad for the SNP – it means that two constituencies in the Lothian region have no SNP representation in Holyrood. If we swept the constituencies of Lothian as certain parties claimed, then there would not have been a need for a list seat. But if we lost even one constituency, then that list seat would be crucial in offering representation to the SNP voters of whichever constituency didn’t win. In 2011, that affected only one constituency in Lothian – Edinburgh Northern and Leith – because the other constituencies elected SNP MSPs. This time around it’s three constituencies – Edinburgh Central, Southern and Western – who don’t have SNP representation, and one of those doesn’t even have representation at Westminster. That’s a third of an entire region whose SNP supporters have no representation for their constituencies at Holyrood. If Lothian had even one SNP MSP, it meant that they could concentrate on those three constituencies.
This is why I have zero patience for anyone who says that an SNP list vote was “wasted” – because if SNP voters didn’t vote on the list, and their candidate didn’t win their constituency, then a low SNP list vote means that those voters will have no representation in Holyrood at all. This is how it is for Edinburgh Central, Southern and Western, who no longer have SNP representation in Holyrood when they did in 2011. The best they can hope for is appealing to neighbouring SNP MSPs, or Alison Johnstone and Andy Wightman – two Greens who aren’t members of their party, and already have to represent the Green voters of the 9 Lothian constituencies, but at least they support some of the SNP’s goals. For those voters, it wouldn’t matter how many additional Greens got in – it means that they have no MSP from the party they voted for in their constituency. They don’t have anyone from their party to advocate their local interests in the Scottish Parliament.
The Greens of Central, Southern and Western now have two MSPs to represent them at Holyrood, and fair play to them – but the SNP of those constituencies have none at all. So please, refrain from tut-tutting and shaking your head at all the “wasted” votes in Glasgow and Central – look at what happened in Edinburgh.
Aileen McLeod was not elected to Galloway & West Dumfries, or the South of Scotland region. Aileen is probably the second most high-profile of the MSPs we’ve lost – she was the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform after Paul Wheelhouse was reassigned. Her work for Alyn Smith and campaign for the European Elections in 2014 meant that she could have been an important voice in the upcoming EU referendum.
|Scottish Parliament election, 2016: Galloway and West Dumfries|
|UK Government Party||Finlay Carson||14,527||43.5||+6.6|
|The Other Party||Fiona O’Donnell||4,876||14.6||-11.9|
|Coalition Party||Andrew Metcalf||947||2.8||+0.3|
|UK Government hold||Swing||+0.8|
But once again, the Tactical unionist vote came into play. Just like Jim, Aileen actually increased her party’s vote share since 2011 by 5 points and almost 3,000 votes – unfortunately, so did the UK Government Party, bolstered by an almost 12 point collapse in the Other Party’s vote. Almost half the people who voted for a “Socialist” party in 2011 decided to back their ostensible nemesis, to stop the SNP. Almost as if there’s a pattern emerging…
(Aileen has come under no small amount of criticism in her ministerial role, to the point where more than a few people were quite happy to see the back of her, even if it means a UK Government Party MSP now represents Galloway & West Dumfries – how’s that going to help the birds, RPUK? It would be nice of some to refrain from celebrating the loss of one of their closest political allies to a party which is actively destroying the environment through ruinous policies and wanton neglect.)
However, the strong constituency result for the UK Government Party in the South of Scotland (even though they only made one gain, and it was one of The Other Party’s seats) combined with the strong SNP list vote means that the SNP have three regional representatives. Joan McAlpine did not succeed in taking Dumfriesshire; Paul Wheelhouse couldn’t overcome another mass tactical vote in Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire. But the SNP list vote was strong enough to see them and Emma Harper elected: the tens of thousands of SNP supporters in those ten constituencies have three MSPs to represent them. While Aileen is not among them, at least the SNP voters of the Borderlands have champions.
Dennis was the first blind MSP to be elected to Holyrood when he won Aberdeenshire West in 2011. Yet he proved to be more than a token MSP, as he spoke eloquently on a range of issues, which won him a Donald Dewar Debater of the Year award in 2012. Plus since he did social work in Greenock early in his career, I’m claiming him for Greenock & Inverclyde SNP!
|Scottish Parliament Election 2016: Aberdeenshire West|
|UK Government||Alexander Burnett||13,400||38.1||+17.0|
|Coalition Party||Mike Rumbles||7,262||20.6||-7.6|
|The Other Party||Sarah Duncan||2,036||5.8||-2.4|
|UK Government gain from SNP||Swing||+12.0|
The same problem of the SNP not having enough list votes to save lost constituencies which we saw in Edinburgh happened here again: Aberdeenshire West chose not to re-elect Dennis, but there was not enough to get an SNP member on the list. Aberdeenshire West’s SNP voters thus have no SNP representation in Holyrood, while every constituency in North East Scotland has representatives from the three Unionist parties – even if it’s only one MSP for all 10, as is the case with the Coalition Party’s Mike Rumbles, who also contested Aberdeenshire West.
That the Scottish Parliament’s first blind MSP was unseated by Alexander Burnett of the UK Government Party is one of the baldest examples of Unionist tactical voting I think you could imagine: the Coalition and Other parties’ vote shares plummeted, while the UK Government’s soared. Not only that – Mr Burnett was educated at Eton, was personally endorsed by George Osborne, is a member of the noble House of Burnett, the son of a Baron, and descended from Russian royalty. It’s difficult to be a greater example of everything we’re fighting against. While Dennis’ overall percentage fell, the actual number of votes he received was 1,214 more than in 2011 – which, to me, suggests only one thing: “Liberals” and “Socialists” voted for Ruth Davidson’s man rather than a social democrat. Imagine what it would’ve been like for Ruth Davidson, to have to defend her own party’s appalling record on disabilities to a blind man in Holyrood. But evidently, the people of Aberdeenshire West who used to vote for parties that claimed “Liberal” and “Socialist” values decided it was more important to protect the Union than reject the cruellest UK government in living memory. Supporting a party that’s under investigation for human rights abuses of the disabled was a price worth paying to stop the SNP.
Of all the successful Tactical Unionist votes this election, this is surely the most heartwrenching of all. Any argument of a feasible socialist case for the union was just kicked into the abyss.
Roderick Campbell was not re-elected to the North East Fife constituency, or the Mid Scotland and Fife Region. Roderick contested the seat’s Westminster equivalent twice before successfully winning the Holyrood seat in 2011.
|Scottish Parliament election, 2016: North East Fife|
|Coalition Party||Willie Rennie||14,928||43.8||+15.4|
|UK Government||Huw Bell||5,646||16.6||-2.4|
|The Other Party||Rosalind Garton||2,026||5.9||-6.2|
|Coalition Party gain from SNP||Swing|
Roderick managed to increase the number of SNP voters in the constituency by 434 – but Willie Rennie managed to triumph, capitalising on 6.2 drops from the Other Party and 2.4 from the UK Government party (though only the former saw a drop in actual votes), as well as somehow reclaiming his own party’s votes lost since 2011, to regain what was once a fairly safe seat for the Coalition Party.
And, once again, the low SNP list vote compared to 2011 means that North East Fife is without SNP representation in Holyrood – one of the hazards of gaining all but one constituencies without a strong enough list vote. As with Edinburgh’s lost lands, the 11,463 SNP voters would either have to appeal to a neighbouring constituency, or the Greens’ Mark Ruskell, to further their constituency’s interests from a pro-independence perspective.
God dammit, this sucks. Stewart was elected in 2003, and since then has been a stalwart of the SNP’s Holyrood contingent. He became Deputy Convenor for the Justice 1 Committee, SNP spokesperson on Public Health, Shadow Deputy Minister for Health, and Shadow Minister for Sport, Culture & Media. Upon the SNP’s first victory in 2007, he spent a short time as Minister for Communities and Sport, before becoming one of two Scottish Parliament representatives on the European Committee of the Regions. In 2011, he became Convener of the Education and Culture Committee, and joined the Scotland Bill Committee. Since 2012, he was appointed Vice Convener of the European Alliance – like Aileen McLeod, his voice would have been valuable in the upcoming European referendum.
Even though the SNP were not in government, he was instrumental in introducing the smoking ban, which has undoubtedly improved the health of countless Scots: while the Executive initially opposed it, widespread public support convinced Jack McConnell to reconsider. Since the 2007 Scottish Government, he was appointed Minister for Communities and Sport. He campaigned for children wearing seatbelts, and against knife crime through successfully changing legislation. All this, after working for Strathclyde Fire Brigade for a decade before his election – in a way, he never stopped firefighting. Of any MSP, Stewart is one who not only changed lives, but saved them.
|UK Government||Jackson Carlaw||12,932||35.7%||+2.3%||13,929||38.3%|
|The Other Party||Ken Macintosh||11,081||30.6%||-9.1%||7,263||19.9%|
|Coalition Party||Gordon Cochrane||921||2.5%||-0.1%||999||2.7%|
And once again, without a list MSP, the West of Scotland has two constituencies – Dumbarton and Eastwood – with no SNP representation in Holyrood. In 2011, the substantial SNP support of Greenock & Inverclyde, Dumbarton, Eastwood, and Renfrewshire South had two West of Scotland MSPs to represent them in Holyrood (Stuart McMillan and Stewart Maxwell). It meant the two had to work for two constituencies each, as well as support their constituency counterparts when needed – but it meant the 40,932 SNP constituency voters across those four constituencies had a champion that represented them via the list. This time, Greenock & Inverclyde and Renfrewshire South got SNP MSPs – but Dumbarton & Eastwood are now totally without SNP representation in Holyrood. Given the SNP came within a mere 108 votes of victory in the former, and 1,611 in the latter, it’s a bitter pill for the SNP of those constituencies.
Chic is one of those MSPs who didn’t have a particularly high public profile, but was extremely hard-working and very good at what he did. He is particularly notable for being a relative newcomer to the SNP after standing for another party in no less than seven elections since 1974. He joined the SNP after the 2001 General Election, and stood for the SNP in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock in 2005 and 2010, and also contested Ayr in 2011. While he didn’t win then, he was elected to the list in 2011, and brought decades of campaign experience to the SNP government. He also put himself forward to contest the Ayr constituency once again in this election, but Jennifer Dunn was ultimately chosen as the candidate. We’ll not muse over whether Ayr could have been won by such an experienced parliamentarian or not had he stood instead of Jennifer – but the fact remains that neither of them were elected, and Ruth Davidson’s man was.
Chic Brodie’s absence will be deeply felt by all parties at Holyrood.
To my shame, I must admit I don’t know as much about Mike as I should. He was elected in 2011, and after John Finnie and Jean Urquhart left the party he became the only regional SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands – and thus, the only SNP MSP for the Orkney & Shetland constituencies. Nonetheless, the Highlands & Islands region has an SNP MSP to represent them in Maree Todd. I really don’t envy her travelling schedule!
Nigel is one of those apparently mythical beings – an English-born Scottish nationalist. His very existence defied the notion of the SNP being motivated by Anglophobia. He was elected in the seminal 2007 election, after serving four years as a councillor. In 2011, he won Angus North and Mearns for the SNP with a 54.8% majority over the odious Alex Johnstone. While he was controversially deselected for this election, his successor Mairi Evans largely retained his vote numbers, even if the larger turnout meant the 13,000+ SNP voters constituted a smaller majority.
Nigel was Convenor of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, a member of the Public Audit Committee, Convenor of the Cross-Party Group on Construction, and was a member of the CPGs on Oil and Gas, Life Sciences, Deaf Awareness, and Renewable Energy. It is beyond depressing that his old rival Alex BLOODY Johnstone sneaked back in on the list.
This one really stung too. Christian was instrumental in Dennis Robertson’s 2011 election, and was elected to the North East Scotland region after Mark McDonald resigned to contest the Donside by-election (which he won again this election with a heroic 11,630 majority). Since then, he has proudly represented the Auld Alliance, that ancient affinity between the Gaelic and the Gallic, in a 21st Century Civic Nationalist context. This was deeply personal to me, as I had a very good friend in Paris who lost his life far too young, and we spent a lot of our time talking about how the lives of French and Scots intertwined over the centuries. Christian is a truly lovely man, and I would love nothing more than to see him continue to work with the SNP – perhaps a go at the next EU elections? – and the cause of Scottish independence.
Were Christian still in Holyrood, the upcoming EU campaign would have a brilliant advocate and parliamentarian; one who does not even have a vote in a referendum which affects him the most due to the mockery of a franchise concoted by Westminster. He is truly a great loss to the Scottish Parliament.
We also lost out on some new MSPs: we could’ve had Donna Heddle instead of Liam McArthur for Orkney; Danus Skene instead of Tavish Scott for Shetland; Alison Dickie instead of Ruth Davidson for Edinburgh Central; Toni Giugliano instead of Alex-Cole Hamilton for Edinburgh Western; Gail Robertson instead of Jackie Baillie for Dumbarton; DJ Johnston-Smith instead of Ian Gray for East Lothian; Jennifer Dunn instead of John Scott for Ayr. And while John Wilson joined the Greens after leaving the SNP over the 2011 NATO vote, I think both parties will deeply regret that he did not return to Holyrood this election.
In the end, the Greens achieved their most ambitious goal – more Green MSPs, and a majority of pro-independence MSPs. The SNP did not achieve ours, of a second majority government. I have no problems with the Greens celebrating their wins: they deserve it, and I’m glad to see their success. Just please don’t give us this “if the SNP didn’t push for the list vote it’d be even more” talk. It leaves a seriously bad taste if you complain that you didn’t get even more MSPs “because of the SNP,” when we had a net loss for ours – especially when we have lost some of our best people in the process. More Green MSPs won’t be much comfort to people who’ve lost their ability to serve their constituencies and regions, nor will they retain the experience of those MSPs.
Nonetheless, my feelings on The Great Tactical Voting Kerfuffle will wait a bit. Until then, I wish all the best to Jim Eadie, Aileen McLeod, Dennis Robertson, Roderick Campbell, Chic Brodie, Mike MacKenzie, Nigel Don, Christian Allard, and especially Stewart Maxwell, who worked so hard in Holyrood as part of the Scottish Government. They’ll be hard acts to follow, and the new SNP MSPs will forever be in your debt. I also extend my greatest encouragements to Donna Heddle, Danus Skene, Alison Dickie, Toni Giugliano, DJ Johnston-Smith, Jennifer Dunn, and especially Gail Robertson, who came so close to joining those newcomers: rest assured, even the greatest of nationalists have had to recall the legend of Bruce & the Spider. Even the First Minister herself.
If there’s one thing I know about SNP politicians, it’s that they don’t just give up on independence if they don’t get elected. So, after you take a well-earned holiday after years of advancing the cause, know that you’ll be welcomed back.