27 June 2009

Filling a gap

Much has already been said about the decision of Grant Thoms not to fight the Glasgow North East By-Election, and most of it seems to revolve around his blog: the conventional wisdom has it that despite having taken the site down, others have got hold of the posts and some of the more forthright views would get repeated. Well, traduced.

By co-incidence, Stephen has read this post by Charlotte Gore about why her being a blogger would rule her out as an effective PPC.

To be honest, I disagree. After all, with only limited print resources (money, paper and ink are all finite) and no local media access (save the local papers' letters page or maybe 2 seconds on regional news), a blog does give candidates a chance to get the message out. Certainly, Kez started blogging in the run-up to the 2007 election; Christina McKelvie had a blog; Chris Stephens still blogs occasionally; Julie McAnulty's blog was doubtless a useful tool in her campaign as an Independent back in 2007; and in the run-up to this month's Euro election, Labour's Kirsty Connell was blogging fairly routinely. Meanwhile, Richard Thomson may be the SNP PPC in Gordon, but his blog goes from strength to strength. And of course, Stephen's role in the Scottish blogstablishment may never have come about had he not been the PPC in Linlithgow & East Falkirk in 2005.

So a blog has its advantages for your campaign, and as the battle in each constituency is effectively one micro-campaign in a network of such contests up and down the country, perhaps being a blogger of some note may generate a little extra media interest in the seat in question, but not enough to be a major liability: if an SNP blogger is a candidate in the next Westminster election, they'll be one of 59. Labour and the LibDems will have 631 candidates, so being a blogging PPC for one of those parties is to be a drop in the ocean. While a Tory blogging candidate will be one of 649 (albeit with 18 fighting under the UCUNF banner). 650 if they decide to challenge John Bercow. So a blog offers PPCs an advantage, gives perhaps a little extra coverage to their local campaign, but is ultimately one contest of many so there's limited scope for scrutiny.

Which brings me back to Grant.

The Glasgow North East By-Election is due very soon, and the candidates will be fighting in that and not necessarily in a Westminster General Election. Indeed the maximum number of campaigns taking place concurrently could, at the moment, be no higher than three: Glasgow NE, Norwich North, and potentially Livingston. More than 600 battles in a normal Westminster election will have been condensed and concentrated into no more than three. Where the Scottish media is concerned, no more than two of those will matter.

That changes the game.

Digging through everything Grant has ever said to anyone at any time since primary school might seem pointless when he's one of 59. When he's one of two, or on his own, everything becomes fair game for his opponents. Moves that may seem excessive or unacceptable in a General Election become par for the course in a By-Election. Conversely, things that would never have seen the light of day in a General become front page news for days in a By-Election: for example, who would have given a shit about where Margaret Curran lived had her candidacy for Glasgow East been in a General Election?

In short, Grant probably had to do what he's done. But there's something else.

I'm speculating wildly here, and I apologise profusely in advance if I am wide of the mark, but what if Grant, who has done and is continuing to do a good deal for the SNP's LGBT wing, Out for Independence (this is the primary reason that I am gutted for his withdrawl - not only would it have been a good thing for the movement for him to fly the flag, but I can tell you now that he's a sharp political operator and would once again make an A1 candidate and damn good constituency Parliamentarian), feared a Bermondsey-style campaign? As I said, things that are unacceptable in a General Election (such as homophobic abuse, like that meted out by the Liberal campaign regarding then Labour candidate Peter Tatchell) become just a tactic in a By-Election. Similarly, things that no one would surely pay all that much attention to (like, for instance, a candidate's sexuality) become massive news. Did Grant see the writing on the wall?

After all, every Party has its own heroes and villains where the LGBT community is concerned: Labour has the likes of Peter Mandelson and Stephen Twigg on one hand, and Michael McMahon and Jim Dobbin on the other; the Tories have Iain Dale and Alan Duncan on one side against Anne Widdecombe and, I daresay, a higher percentage of the membership than the leadership would like. Even the LibDems have Simon Hughes on one side, and, err, Simon Hughes' By-Election campaign team (oh, the irony in their slogan, "The Straight Choice") on the other. For the SNP, it's a case of Grant, among many others, against the likes of Brian Souter. Would that be commented on? Of course it would.

And would Grant's own life be commented on? Sadly, that too is likely. And in a city led by Stephen Purcell, it would be rank hypocrisy. But unfortunately, I still think we'd see it.

Like being a blogger, we may still at a stage where being openly gay or bisexual is fine when you're one candidate of many, but problematic when you're one of one.

And, if I'm right, I guess the challenge to that situation will have to come another time.


Stephen Glenn said...

Sadly Will the closing paras are more along the lines of the rumours I had heard about Grant's withdrawal rather than the blogging reason. It was one reason I'd kept that personal side somewhat private in the early days of my blogging but it seems to have seeped in more and more openly over time.

Will said...

It's sad that we have to keep things like this compartmentalised in this way. I've started being a little more gung ho about it as I don't see myself wanting to stand in an election any time soon.

At some point, though, someone's going to have to test the water, but I suppose if we have to ask "Are we ready for this?" then the answer is "Probably not".

Caron said...

Surely in this day and age anyone trying to run a campaign based on bigotry and prejudice would get thumped in the long term. I would like to think so.

Mind you, Labour trying to reignite the class war in Crewe was pretty grim, so maybe not.

Did you read Costigan Quist's post in response to Charlotte Gore's which basically lamented the fact that politicians were all becoming non controversial homogeneous fearties who were scared to speak up for what they believed in.

I am as far away as you can get from Charlotte in terms of her attitude to public services but I think politics is better off for people like her who are willing to think creatively and spark off debate. We need our mavericks and free thinkers.

Have a good Summer - not long till Strictly now!

Anonymous said...

Hi Will,

Super post.

I write as a gay man, now in the 28th year of our relationship together. Our Civil Partnership certificate bears the final figures "001" in its reference, and have seen tremendous developments in the acceptability of gay persons in society in general and in politics in particular over my lifetime.

We have come a long way from the days of Geremy Thorpe. It was at that time that I decided if I was to be able to contribute to the cause of Independence that it was not to be in the field of being in "front of house" as a candidate and have been more than happy to stay in the background, helping to stoke the boilers rather than attempting to steer the ship.

Not all would have been, but generally I felt there was, for me, no other choice. Oh, and of course the fact that deep down I don't think I would have been a very good candidate anyway though I did get the length of being vetted for the Candidates' list for the Scottish Assembly in 1979.

I quite agree that there is a world of difference in fighting a by as opposed to a general election and could quite understand if any in-place candidate decided, for whatever reason, that they would rather not.

I think we have now reached the stage where the Party could profitably be much more pro-gay than it apparently is. Some of the statements from relatively senior figures over recent times have been well less than helpful and these people should have been stamped on publically. I am also deeply concerned at the influence on public opinion that Brian Souter's membership might have and urge him seriously to adopt my own chosen tactic of "invisibility".

Ironically, I now no-longer feel that need. What goes round come round, Brian and it will be a measure of his committment to the cause of Independence if he and his like-minded friends can keep their mouths shut. For what they havce to say is, I am convinced, deeply unattractive to the general public.

For God's sake even the Tories have given up gay-bashing as being counter-productive and I don't think for one moment that the average Tory activist is any less homo-phobic today than they were yesterday. And that is a lot, but they dare not now say it in public, for that goes against current public opinion.

So for any gay person out there committed to Independence I would say "If you think you have what it takes - GO FOR IT IN ANY WAY YOU CAN. Being gay is really of no consequence now. It is the sort of character you are that counts."

Keep up the good work, Will.