by James Robertson
Two and a half weeks to go till polling day, and the Scottish Labour Party must be desperately looking around for an enormous banana skin to drop in the path of Big Eck. Not much else looks like stopping him right now – not Labour’s own lacklustre campaign, with its non-credible bleat that they alone can save Scotland from the Coalition’s cuts (who would you rather have standing between you and the bad guys of Westminster and Whitehall, Alex Salmond and his gang or Iain Gray and his?). Not the LibDems, however much clear blue water Tavish Scott may be trying to put between himself and his southern counterpart. And not the Tories, much though one appreciates Annabel ‘Commonsense’ Goldie, the perfectly acceptable but still unelectable face of Scottish Conservatism.
Only the Greens have put up a show that matches the SNP’s for professionalism and pizzazz. Coincidentally, only the Greens have the courage and honesty to propose a rise in income tax to help secure the kind of society most Scots want. It looks highly possible that when the dust settles on 6th May Eck and Patrick Harvie may be sitting down over a mint tea to discuss renewables of various kinds. A Nationalist administration nudged and nipped at by an enlarged group of Green MSPs looks rather an attractive proposition.
The SNP, of course, have made something of an art of governing as a minority, and only have to pick up one or two extra seats to be able to claim a huge victory. If they can keep the lid on any tendency to adopt a cock o’ the north strut, and maintain their commitment under fire to a range of popular policies such as no student fees, free NHS prescriptions and a council tax freeze – and let’s face it, their only serious rivals for power aren’t chucking missiles at any of these – they’ll not only get their own loyal support out but sweep up loads of disaffected Lib Dem and Labour votes too.
Even more astonishingly, so long as they keep that old chestnut and the party’s raison d’etre, independence firmly off the election agenda, they’ll draw in committed Unionists of all hues who know in their hearts that nobody will look after Scotland’s interests within the Union better than the Nats. Are there any skeletons in the SNP cupboard? In the absence of banana skins, anyone who doesn’t fancy another Salmond victory had better release them now.
Meanwhile, what about that other vote that’s being foisted on Scotland on the same day as our parliamentary one? The one about Nick Clegg’s ‘miserable little compromise’, the AV voting system? It’s not looking good for AV according to the latest poll. Trouble is, we already have a better (not perfect, but certainly much better) form of PR for Holyrood elections, so the AV referendum looks like we’re being asked to decide between two stale, plain biscuits in a shop window 500 miles away when we’ve already got used to our own locally sourced caramel wafer.
In these circumstances, a pro-independence cynic might be tempted to vote for first-past-the-post just to ensure continuing differences between Scottish and UK politics for the next decade.
Until recently, my own gut instinct was to spoil the ballot paper, on the grounds of both systems being unacceptable. But then I heard that nice John Reid saying that first-past-the-post is ‘the British way’ of doing things. This reconciles me to FPTP much as the Cleggeron’s considered opinion that it would make sense to give wee royal lassies succession equality with wee royal laddies reconciles me to the principle of monarchy. Thanks, Lord Reid, for sorting that out for me.
Published with thanks to the Scottish Independence Convention