The election looms and I’ve been trying to get to grips with who and what the people and polices are in my own constituency, Glasgow Kelvin, and across Scotland in general.
Let’s start with those in Kelvin…
|Glasgow Kelvin Constituency MSP|
|Name||Party||Websites||Votes at Last Election||%|
|Martin Bartos||Green||Candidate Manifesto (PDF)||1286 in 1999||4.8%|
|Brian Cooklin||Conservative||Party Site Manifesto||1816||8.2%|
|Katy Gordon||LibDem||Candidate Manifesto||3334||15.1%|
|Isobel Macleod||Scottish Christian Party||Party Site Manifesto (PDF)||No Data||No Data|
|Pauline McNeill||Labour||Candidate Manifesto (PDF)||7880||35.7%|
|Niall Walker||Independent||Candidate No Manifesto||No Data||No Data|
|Sandra White||SNP||Candidate Manifesto (PDF)||4591||20.8%|
Hmm, it’s taken me an hour and a half just to find all of those relevant links, let alone begin to start analyzing them – vote data and candidate list is from the BBC, web sites and manifestos are a result of Googleing and I hope I’ve hit the “official” election sites for all people concerned, I’m surprised there isn’t some website with this sort of information for every constituency already… unless someone knows of one?
It’s interesting that neither Brian Cooklin of the Scottish Conservatives nor Isobel Macleod of the Scottish Christian Party seem to have any personal web presence so I’ve given links to the appropriate party website and we must assume that they will behave as party automatons rather than as individual constituency MSPs if returned.
Clearly the constituency remains a two-horse race with the incumbent Pauline McNeill (LAB) defending a majority of 3289 meaning Sandra White (SNP) has to convince 1645 people to change their vote from Labour to the SNP. 1645 represents 7.5% of people who turned out to vote in the last election or 3% of the whole electorate but this is a pretty high hurdle to surmount. Pauline’s 7880 was 9.1% down on the previous previous election but this represents no gain to the SNP as they were down a similar 8.5%. However, if the SNP polled the same way they did in 1999 and Labour poll no better than 2003, then the SNP would win here by 428 votes.
The latest opinion poll from The Herald actually gives Labour a slight lead, for the first time in months, but 50% of voters remain undecided. Meanwhile their web poll puts the SNP at 67.2% and Labour at 11.0%. A similar picture at The Scotsman has a web poll showing Alex Salmond as the preference of 84% to make the best First Minister. Of course these polls are self-selecting and I know for a fact that the SNP office are far more web savvy than the Labour crowd so these figures should be taken with your Government regulation five grams.
Sandra is taking a gamble that this hurdle can be surmounted though as she is only in third place for the Glasgow List vote and last time around only two MSPs were returned for the SNP from the list, including her.
Anyway, it seems that returning Kelvin for the SNP is actually possible although of low probability – it’s still a damn near 8% swing they need here. It will come down, of course, to how much of a dressing down the “most educated seat in Scotland” feels like giving Labour. I suspect the answer is “a lot”, largely because of a continuing distaste with the national party’s performance (and there’s still that whole Iraq thing) and also because we don’t respond well to negative campaigning, which Labour are wading into wholesale, apparently without anything more appealing to say about their own policies.
Which brings us neatly to the question of policy. Key to consideration are the four standard areas; education, health, economy and taxation. This time around the further area of the constitution also has to make it high on to the agenda. While considering them I also want to think about what is needed specifically in Scotland and, with the SNP in real contention to form the backbone of the executive, what vision the parties have for Scotland’s future has to be taken into account.
The Labour vision is “Building Scotland, Not Breaking up Britain”, which largely seems to mean “Vote for us because the SNP are deeply scary.”. On the constitution this means absolutely no reform, the status quo is fine. Even the conservatives are pledging to at least review the devolution powers.
On education the policy is largely a mirror of national policy: raise school leaving to 18 and create skills academies. They have nothing on higher education funding – fees-free is great but only if the public funding universities need is also available. On health the message is “we’re doing great, let us do more” with little new of note other than free vaccination against cervical cancer and a range of pledges to reduce waiting times, tellingly they say “A core set of services should be provided in rural general hospitals and telemedicine will allow them to act as the frontline of access.” which essentially means “leave a nice cheap skeleton service in rural areas and centralise everything else”. On the economy, the pledge is to achieve 100% employment via a new agency and skills training scheme and (coupled into education) develop skills useful to a global marketplace with a new emphasis on language. Furthermore there is to be a tax break for small businesses for which the Federation of Small Businesses recently booed Jack McConnell off stage, disappointed at the detail. The final taxation question is Local Income Tax – Labour is the only party apart from the conservatives to wish to retain the Council Tax but pledge to add bands at the higher and lower ends to try to make it fairer.
Overall Labour are shooting for a vote for us, we haven’t been too bad campaign while denigrating SNP policy at every turn. True the SNP have some hard questions to answer on how they will pay for what they promise but a glance at their campaign posters will show you they have one praising their achievement in building and refurbishing schools, none outlining future policy or vision and eight negatively targeting SNP policy, frankly it reminds me of the disastrous New Labour New Danger Demon Eyes conservative campaign of 2001.
The Scottish Nationalist Party
The SNP vision is “It’s time to move forward.” and “Fresh thinking and a new approach.”, overall they are presenting a far more upbeat approach. “Moving forward”, of course, has the constitutional implication of their referendum on independence – which is a key manifesto pledge – and they make no bones about their desire to see Scotland become an independent nation. On the doorstep they are not pushing this so much as they are their other policies but no doubt this would step up the agenda once they are returned and I can’t imagine how they could remain a viable executive if they lost a 2010 referendum.
On education, like most other areas, the SNP pledges a list of bullet points that sound great but little substance is given to back them up and still less cost analysis. Reduce class sizes and eliminate student debt – both great policies but pricey. On health they are in direct opposition to Labour standing on a platform of improving rural health access, including reversing the closures of Ayr and Monkland’s A&E services, and avoiding centralization where it is not necessary, the price tag is not mentioned. On the economy, the SNP has got some real substance with drives to make government smaller and more efficient, reducing overall regulatory burdens on business and reducing corporation tax (once it has the power to do so), in fact a pretty small-c-conservative package failing only in the areas where reserved powers wont allow them to do what they want. That covers business taxation but on local income tax, they pledge to scrap the council tax and introduce a local income tax, just like everyone else (apart from Labour and Conservative), at a cheaper rate than the LibDem proposal.
On this last point there is the major problem with the SNP, I’m not scared of independence if I’m convinced of it’s benefits, neither am I scared of paying more tax, I can afford it, but there is a have-your-cake-and-eat-it going on… some of their policies will be expensive to implement and I’d like to see the spreadsheet that says we can afford it, relying on efficiency savings alone can not cover it.
Finally, it has been a long standing SNP policy that Scotland should be nuclear free. “Scotland can be greener. An SNP government will not give the go ahead for new nuclear power stations. We will invest instead in developing Scotland’s extensive renewable energy potential.”. Nuclear energy is green. ROI on renewables can not possibly grow fast enough to meet current needs let alone future needs. Non-nuclear is short-sighted and founded in ignorance about nuclear power. IMHO.
The Lib Dems
The vision is “We think Scotland has a bright future.”. and their manifesto is focussed on sustainable development. As usual, all of their policies are simple, clear and affordable. Constitution: more powers for the Scottish Parliament. Health: More dentists, more nurses, more local health centres. Economy: Much the same as the SNP, reduce red tape and business tax burden. Education: Vastly increase nursery education as the foundation for future education. Taxation: Scrap Council tax, impose local income tax of up to 3.75%.
In fact the big problem for the Lib Dems is one of their own making, without Kennedy and Wallace they are more than a little adrift with the aged Ming and unknown Nicol. I honestly couldn’t recall the Scottish LibDem leader’s name the other day and I’m a fairly staunch liberal voter. They’ve ridden the coat-tails of Labour for way too long, it has been good for Scotland – some of the key improvements to Scottish life brought about by the executive were Liberal policies . You know there’s a “but” coming. But they are also mired by the Labour association and should have jumped ship at the last election leaving Jack to flounder on his own rather than take them down with him.
The new opportunity for them is the three-way debate that there should be on Independence; it’s not as simple as No Change versus Full Independence. The Liberal policy is for more powers to the Scottish Parliament as part of a move toward a Federal Britain. The Lib Dems are the only party with a good answer to the West Lothian Question; the Scottish, Welsh (and hopefully Northern Irish) devolution settlements did leave the English under represented but excluding Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish from reserved matters to redress this is not the answer, completing the devolution process by having English regional assemblies and a Federal British government is. If they share power with the SNP, as seems likely, they should rather be insisting that these are options on the ballot rather than opposing a referendum.
So What is a Voter to Do?
I don’t know yet. Labour have long since lost my vote and reading their manifesto today has not inspired any fresh confidence for me, which is not to say that I don’t have respect for Pauline McNeill herself who is a tireless constituency campaigner. The Lib Dems seem out in the wilderness a bit despite their strong policies, I guess they still need my list vote – I just hope they heed my advice when they come to play King Maker. The real question is do I vote for Pauline or Sandra in the constituency vote? Well I think my concerns about either are clear, I’ll wait and see what they have to say about them.