A Funny Old Election

We are now about halfway through the election campaign for the Scottish Parliament. Postal votes have arrived on the doorstep and as of this past week canvassing is allowed albeit with strict rules. Leafletting has been allowed for a while but few leafletters have been seen out and about.

Posters on lampposts have appeared but not in the numbers previously seen (apart from some centres of posting excellence like Strathpeffer where virtually every legal lamppost has at least one poster on it, mainly SNP & LD confirming the battle in the constituency to the north of me.

Here in Muir of Ord it’s all been a bit lacklustre. A few posters here & there, the usual leaflets and targeted letters arriving by post and door to door delivery by the Labour candidate and supporters for the LibDems and Greens, the later on a Sunday when the campaign was supposedly halted due to the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.

In the constituency we have a battle between Kates Forbes for the SNP,  Denis Rixson for the Lib Dems, John Erskine for Labour & Jamie Halcro Johnston for the Tories. People say they vote on policy  but I do also take account of the person standing. Are they competent, are they trustworthy? Will they follow Party line to the exclusion of local needs? Will they and their teams do the case work needed by their constituents.

I had resolved to sit back and let it all happen this time giving me time to study and observe. That resolution has been broken, more of which later but as to the constituency offers…

I know 3 of the 4 personally and would be happy for any to represent me. I feel a bit sorry for the fourth, Jamie, the Tory.  He got into Parliament late as a Regional MSP when Douglas Ross stood down following election to Westminster which appears to be his preferred place of work (he’s refusing to relinquish his seat there if elected to Holyrood while demanding we focus on recovery rather than referendum. He does not believe the SG can multitask but at the same time thinks he can!). Meanwhile Jamie is the  fourth name on the list as he was last time  and Douglas (not bothering to stand in  a constituency) is number one. Kudos to Jamie for continuing to plow the Tory furrow and on occasion express views sympathetic to constituency & region rather than just the party line.

Sympathy for Jamie  does not however get him my vote. I have never voted for his Party  and I’m not going to start now.

John Erskine is well known from his local campaigning. It may be his time to become a regional MSP and I would not be unhappy if that happened. His likelihood of winning in the constituency is at most a very  long shot.

I’ve known Denis for several years. He’s a good ‘old fashioned’ Liberal Democrat who has learned his trade as a campaigner while not necessarily following the direction of the central office. He’s clear in his views on policy  and comes over well at hustings. He has been ‘awarded’ the opportunity to stand here but as is often the case the party’s focus is elsewhere – to the north & amassing Regional votes.

Kate Forbes  is a political star. Intelligent, local, at 31 she is the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and her career is just beginning.  She has the potential to be party leader, First  Minister or Prime Minister in an independent Scotland. All that and the 3 way split of the unionist votes pretty well guarantees her return to Holyrood after the 6th May.

The Regional ballot is much more interesting.

There are a lot of ifs and buts & before anyone points it out, many will simply vote on party allegiance and not consider who the likely winning candidates are. I would argue that it’s a mistake to do that but it is what it is. 

Last time we had 3 Tories, 1 SNP, 1 Green & 2 Labour representatives. There may be changes and there is a ‘wild card’ to complicate predictions.

Labour will get one seat (Rhoda Grant). The second (John Erskine) is less secure this time.

The Greens had one seat with the well known John Finnie who has retired. Whether they achieve a seat (or two) this time  depends on voter recognition  of their lead candidate  and on the ‘wild card’ success. I’d love to see Anne Thomas (number 2 on their list) rewarded for her long history of local activism but that’s heart ruling head I suspect.

There  have been various predictions re the Tories of 2, 3 or even 4 (in which  case Jamie Halcro Johnston will be relieved!). Clearly the lines are drawn re independence or not, but the current line of no referendum even if a majority in the Scottish Parliament does not sit well with moderate & democratic unionists making this one hard to call!

The SNP will probably retain one Highland Regional seat on the basis of their ‘both votes SNP’ campaign. However the number one on the list is not well known outside Inverness. Their likely second regional seat recipient is Tom Wills based in Shetland (traditionally a strong LibDem vote here) but will they be able to achieve that?

The Lib Dems have not had a Regional MSP because of their historical success in the constituencies and they haven’t really campaigned at regional level in the past. It looks different this time with a different selection process and the late arrival of Sheila Ritchie as a candidate in Moray presumably to up the vote there adding to the total Regional vote. They’ve come close in the past. Will they make it this time? Possibly but unlikely if Molly Nolan takes Caithness, Sutherland & Ross. 

Finally we have a cornucopia of other Parties and individuals on the peach ballot paper. Most are unlikely to get any traction apart from Alba & Andy Wightman.  

I’d really not want to consider Alba but to be fair in my assessments I have to recognise that they might pick up enough votes for a seat in H&I. 

A former Green, latterly independent MSP in Lothian, Andy Wightman has now moved to the Highlands and has a lot to say on local issues. He has a strong track record of achievement in Parliament and if he applies his skills to the needs of the Highlands and Islands we might actually get some improvements here in the Region. However as an independent it is difficult to break through. Having said that his crowdfunding for his campaign was successful and he is fighting a good fight on social media with short videos stating his position on a number of issues. The question is whether his campaign will break through to the average voter. I have noticed interest from a number of people with various political allegiances. Some high profile local endorsements would help.

My allegiance at this election is well known. I have returned my postal vote and voted for Kate in the constituency and Andy on the Regional ballot. I’ve even dusted off the campaign trainers and am out delivering for Andy. Will it be enough? I don’t know but I firmly believe we cannot afford to lose people of the calibre of Andy Wightman from the Scottish Parliament.

So with  just over two weeks to go I look with anticipation to the result of this election. I would encourage everyone to vote as with this low key campaign many may just stay at home. Vote for what you believe and please don’t complain if you don’t like the result but didn’t bother to get out there and cast your ballot for constituency and regional MSPs.

It is very likely  that at the end of the campaign that Nicola Sturgeon will remain our First Minister but it is important that we have a diverse collection of MSPs to hold the Government to account and contribute new ideas to government in Scotland. In H&I there are lots of opportunities for change for regional representation. Anyone like to bet on the outcome of this election?

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