26 June 2008

Motherwell & Wishaw will be without an MSP for quite a few days

Why? Because it's been pointed out - quite sensibly - that it will be rather a tough ask for Jack McConnell to be High Commissioner to Malawi and the MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw. Even McConnell agrees, saying that he won't be both at the same time, while asserting that Malawi won't go without a High Commissioner. This means that the idea of the By-Election co-inciding with a General Election is pretty much dead.

That implies quitting Holyrood at Christmas. That in turn suggests a By-Election by the end of March 2009. And it will be delayed until then because no one would ever want a By-Election in January or February if they can help it, so Motherwell & Wishaw could go the full three months without an MSP if both of McConnell's statements are true. And Labour will want to avoid that.

But is there an alternative? Yes. There could be attempts to keep Sir Richard Wildash - the current High Commissioner - in place until May 2009 at the latest. That would enable a By-Election to take place just under a year from now, on the 11th of June.

Why then? Simple. It's the date of the European Election in Scotland. It would couple the By-Election to a poll that's already happening - saving money for Labour - and drive up turnout. Labour activists would hope that it boosted the Labour vote in the area as well. Or, indeed, they may hope that the European performance keeps the seat Labour.

No, that's when the By-Election will be - people have forgotten the European Eection as a possibility and it's the most likely: turnout will be abysmal in January, February and early March, and unless Labour are convinced that they can not only hold the seat but hold on to their vote, they won't want an embarrassing result in the run-up to June. So they'll hold the two together. And to avoid the bad publicity of no one representing Motherwell & Wihsaw, and letting the SNP's lead over Labour in terms of Parliamentary seats double for a couple of months, it'll be a short campaign. That suggests that he'll quit in May.

And Malawi? Well, here's what McConnell told the press:

"There will be absolutely no time when I'm still a member of the Scottish Parliament and High Commissioner in Malawi."

That's clear-cut. He's making a statement of how things are going to be. There are no qualifications and he's stated that it will absolutely not happen: he will not, at any time, be both an MSP and a diplomat. But here's the next bit:

"There will also be no time, I'm sure, when Malawi's without a High Commissioner."

No absolutely, and the "I'm sure" actually puts doubts on the situation. The first bit is a statement of intent: this is how it's going to happen - it sounds definite. With the "I'm sure", he sounds like he's giving an opinion, or a prediction. I was sure that Portugal would win Euro 2008. I was sure that Rangers would win the SPL last season. Being sure of something happening doesn't mean it'll happen. In fact, the way it's delivered, the minute you actually utter the words "I'm sure", you add something unspoken to the sentence. When you say the words, "I'm sure Malawi won't go without a High Commissioner," what you're actually saying is "I'm sure Malawi won't go without a High Commissioner... will it?" There's something about those words that makes the statement more about re-assurance for the speaker than for the listener.

Which is why Malawi's going to get shafted. And all because Labour want to win the odd Parliamentary vote criticising the SNP's policy on paper clips.

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