03 July 2008

The Sack Race

With two Opposition parties' Leaders gone, tongues are being placed firmly in cheeks as discussions about Annabel Goldie's future begin. However, it's a mark of how well she's done that the lines are in jest: no one, save the rather unsurprising figure of Brian Monteith, is seriously suggesting that her time is up. Contrast that with eighteen months ago, when the Scottish Tories were perceived as limping towards the finish line, and Goldie would be gone almost immediately after the election. The Tories did OK - not great, but OK - and Goldie has exerted a large amount of influence in Session 3 of the Scottish Parliament. She'd be mad to go.

Besides, there's a more obvious target if you know where to look. I am looking at Robin Harper, Co-Convener of the Greens. Let me begin by asking: when was the last time you spotted Robin Harper anywhere? By contrast, haven't you noticed how often it's Patrick Harvie speaking for the Party? That's the first sign that Harper's foot is slowly coming off the pedals.

Secondly, remember who the other Co-Convener is: Alison Johnstone, Green Councillor in Edinburgh. That's an Edinburgh City Councillor and MSP for the Lothians. See the problem there? I know I do. An all-Edinburgh Leadership strikes me as being unsustainable and something has to give. No, Johnstone's ascent marks what I believe is a phased transition: the first step of Harper's withdrawl.

Shiona Baird had to go first - there's no doubt about that and her main asset was her Membership of the Scottish Parliament. When she lost that, her position was untenable, particularly when there were Green Councillors in Scotland's two largest cities who could take her place. But why did the Party go East - where Robin Harper is - rather than West - balancing the party in geography as well as in gender?

The answer is the concluding phase of Harper's departure: Patrick Harvie is the obvious choice to succeed Harper. Where is Harvie based? Glasgow. So electing a Glaswegian woman to the joint Convenership in 2007, then having her be joined by a Glaswegian man a little while later would concentrate power in Glasgow, and on the basis of a longer term than the current Edinburgh concentration will now provide. No, it was impossible to elect a Glasgow Councillor in 2007, when the Glasgow MSP is on the way in. It is, on the other hand, logical to turn to an Edinburgh Councillor, when the Edinburgh MSP is on his way out. In short, Johnstone in means Harper out, and Harvie in.

Then there's the timing? Does it really have to be this year? Yes, it does. We are entering an active phase in Scottish politics: 2009 is the year of the European election; 2010 the Westminster election (and maybe the Referendum); 2011 is the year of the next Holyrood Elections and 2012 appears to be when the local Elections will be held. Now is the time to go: before the cycle starts and just before the point in the cycle about which, to be blunt (and I apologise to MEPs who may be reading), the fewest people care. The Autumn Conference is the best time to depart for Robin Harper.

Which is why he's next to go.

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