15 February 2007

State of Independents

I thought I'd take a look today at a few of the Independent candidates making a plea for your vote in May. We know about Campbell Martin (and you know what I think about him), and Margo MacDonald, and Jean Turner has announced that she'll be seeking in Strathkelvin and Bearsden. There are a couple of others I want to consider.

The first is Mev Brown, founder of the NHSFirst Party. This is his latest political affiliation: he was the Tory Candidate in Edinburgh East in 2005, he stood in the Livingston By-Election as an Independent, he stood in the Murrayfield By-Election for Edinburgh Council as the UKIP Candidate, and then formed NHSFirst in time for the Moray By-Election, where he stood. He is looking for your vote on the Lothian Regional List.

Now he has the benefit that his name might ring a bell to voters in Edinburgh East, Livingston and Murrayfield (if he's lucky), and by standing on an NHS banner he's ostensibly campaigning on an issue that evokes strong feelings. He's also building a presence in the 'Comments' section of the Scotsman website.

The downside is that in Edinburgh East, Livingston, Murrayfield and Moray, he wasn't particularly successful. He took fourth place and 10.3% of the vote in Edinburgh East as a Tory. As an Independent, he came eighth with 0.2% of the vote (55 people voted for him) in Livingston. In Murrayfield, he again came eighth with 0.2% of the vote, but with only four people voting for him. In Moray, he came fifth and took 1.8% of the vote, with 493 people supporting his campaign. So we have someone who is, let's be honest here, not exactly Mr. Popular. His standing certainly isn't helped by the fact that he has had four different affiliations in the last two years. Meanwhile, his comments on the Scotsman website usually involve lambasting politicians, which given his serial candidate status (and the fact that he's willing to defect to any party that will have him. or failing that, set up his own), surely means that he's criticising himself. This probably won't be his last throw of the dice either, but how ever many times he rolls it, he's going to keep rolling snake eyes...

Next I want to look at Duncan Thorp. Duncan will also be on the Lothian Regional Vote, and is campaigning against politicians. Clearly the experience of working for the Liberal Democrats has soured his attitude towards the political classes. Scottish Political News has noticed him, and isn't all that impressed. There seems to be some scepticism that the campaign will catch on with the public, and Duncan himself disagrees.

The main point he raises about the tribalism of party politics and the detachment that people seem to feel does have some resonance. Certainly I have to agree that the negative campaigning that many parties indulge in isn't helping. Personally, I believe that campaigns work: if you say, 'Here are great reasons to vote for us', people will go along with that and they'll vote for you. If you say, 'Here are great reasons not to vote for that nasty other party', then there's a good chance that people will go along with that too, and not vote for them. But they won't vote for you either as they'll have had no good reason to. Instead they'll stay at home. So Duncan's campaign has a good point, and one that's worth making.

But is it worth voting for? Well, he's had expressions of support but I don't think they'll make it to the ballot box. When you look at successful independents, they have one of two things going for them: they're either standing for a major, emotive issue, or they already have a high profile.

In the first camp, John Swinburne won the SSCUP's List seat by forming a political party based around greater support for the elderly. Jean Turner stood and won on a 'Save Stobhill Hospital' ticket. The Green Party won one seat, then added six to that tally, by campaigning on the environment (and having Robin Harper in the Parliament helped to raise his and the Party's profile in 2003). On the other side, you have Dennis Canavan, who had been a Constituency MP for more than 20 years before he went his own way and won Falkirk West by a landslide. Margo MacDonald had been an MSP for four years, and a fairly notable and controversial one at that (I speak as someone who has been pinned ot a bar by her), before she won a seat in her own right in 2003. Tommy Sheridan had gained notoriety in Glasgow as an anti-Poll Tax campaigner before his SSP won a seat in 1999, and the wider platform that gave him meant that five more SSP Candidates were returned to Holyrood with him in 2003.

And Duncan? Well, the issue of the struggle against politicians doesn't exactly set the heather alight. I find that people vote on the issues that are close to them, on the things that will affect them, on the things that interest them. People that don't like politicians tend not to even bother going to vote in the first instance, so he has to convince them to do that, and then to convince them to vote for him. Many of the cynical voters that Duncan seems out to attract tend to think that one vote makes very little difference, and he has to convince them that one MSP can make a difference. He also has to get them to stop being cynical for just a few minutes, enough for them to believe that he can make an impact and to support him at the vote. It's a big ask.

He's not helped by the fact that he hasn't got much of a profile: thanks to his website, I've found out a little about him, but then I've only been aware of his existence for a couple of weeks. That's not a good thing. Especially when Margo MacDonald, the most unspinnable woman in the universe, is on the same ballot paper as him, campaigning as he does against party hackery, only with eight years in Holyrood behind her and a huge profile.

I wish him luck, really, I do. But his problem is that he's going to need a LOT of luck. And I just don't see where it's going to come from.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments, very interesting and greatly appreciated.

My beliefs have been developed partly because of my experiences of Holyrood not the Liberal Democrats specifically. They are certainly no better or worse than any other political party, they're just another part of a failing political system. (Also I contacted Scottish Political News, I wasn't discovered by them and half of their comments were actually quite positive!).

You're right, If you could see my email inbox then you would realise that there are many people out there who feel the same way as I do about what is happening in politics. And you're also right to say that translating those feelings into people actually turning up at voting places then voting for my campaign is another issue entirely and a huge challenge. But it's not just about winning it's about building support.

The point is that the message is out there and gaining more coverage day by day. I want to see a new generation of principled, independent candidates and however long it takes to break the dictatorship of the political parties is not the point. It's the fact that I'm taking a stand in the first place. I won't attack other independent candidates and I hope to see more elected this time around, though we'll have to wait and see what happens.

The campaign certainly isn't just about the struggle against politicans it's about the first steps to transforming our political system - one that is failing as all the evidence suggests.

My lack of media profile is of course something I'm working on right now as well as focusing more on the major issues...wait and see for more updates...