Party, policy or personality?

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by Jolene Cargill

According to the STV poll after the last leader’s debate around 50% are not sure who they are going to vote for at the eleventh hour.  As I shuffle into the booth to cast my vote I will be joining the undecided.

It is incredible how much information we have access to as voters.  But how do we make the choice when we are torn between the calibre of the candidates as individuals and their party policies?

All the parties want to promote employment, create jobs and reform public services. Yet with the impact of tax and benefit changes, public sector cuts and budget cuts to social care, community and volunteering sector, it’s hard to see how the party policies will make real improvements to the quality of life of our communities in Scotland.

Voting based on policy is not clear cut unless it’s driven by a single issue like graduate contributions or whether to create a single centralised police force.  The real nuances are in the true currency of the election; personality.

One or two of the polls have asked who would make a capable leader.  Who would we trust to lead the country under pressure?  But most coverage has been staked on favourability.  Ultimately, no matter how much we scrutinise the specifics of party policy we have to make a judgement on how much we trust the candidates.  Not to be confused with how much we like them.

In the absence of constructive policy debate the pundits have egged the pudding by squaring one leader against another.  Iain Gray helpfully hung by his own rope after the sandwich shop fiasco.  He reinforced the critics’ assertions that he was not strong enough to lead the country.

Salmond on the other hand has a thick skin.  And there is no question that he has charisma in bags.  But as we step into the booth what we have to consider is that there is a subtle difference when it comes to perception.  Does he have personality is one question.  What kind of personality does he have is another.

We tend to get dazzled by personality; or to be clear, let’s call it the elusive quality of showmanship.  The illusion that personality wins the day in politics played out in the Blair Government.  Blair mastered the ear to ear grin and oozed a beguiling brand of public schoolboy charm.  Brown was the brains of the operation.  But he was not judged in the media by his track record as Chancellor or grasp of economic policies.  He was rejected because he didn’t toss the ball from his nose like a true performer.

According to the last poll the SNP is set to win over 60 seats and Labour just over 30.  In my constituency of East Edinburgh it’s set to be a close two horse race between Ewan Aitken for Labour and Kenny MacAskill for SNP.  Both strong candidates with credible political achievements.

A former leader of Edinburgh City Council, Aitken sees himself first as an ordained Church Minister who just happens to be a politician.  He has a solid track record and he has embraced new media as an electioneering tool.  I like Aitken. Not only does he admit to being a man of faith and that his faith influences his decisions, he has integrity, he is down to earth, not afraid to stand up for the underdog.  And his focus is on local issues.

Aitken admitted that Kenny MacAskill’s decision to release Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds has been raised on doorsteps just three times.  The former Justice Minister has always been his own man.  Despite being a lawyer he was instrumental in the campaign of the 80s against the poll tax and urged the public not to pay their bills. He stood by his decision on Megrahi in the face of ridicule.

Both men are heavyweights.  So a preference for SNP policy and confidence in their ability to perform in Government does not make this an easy call because character counts above all else.  David Cameron seems like a nice bloke.  He likes to cycle, was educated at Eton and spends quality time with this family.  That’s not personality in the true sense.  It’s a public persona he has cultivated while implementing savage public sector cuts under a guise of ‘the big society’.

There is no question Cameron is capable of being Prime Minister.  But somehow I don’t trust or respect his character.  So as I make the choice on the ballot paper there is still one notable question to settle.  Do I trust them to act with integrity?