05 September 2010

Every Start Requires An End

For some time now (for which, read a year), I've been questioning the future of my blog, mainly as I've just felt uninspired, and at times just too tired to continue with it. I now have the answer.

You all know that I studied in Scotland, then went back to Lancashire, and that I've been aiming for a move back to Scotland.

Well, I have my move.

It's Southbound.

So a blog that started life as a way of keeping my mind active while I was looking for work, then became an extra activity while I was in work can still be that, but seeing as my life is basically about to change radically, I've taken what I view as the logical decision.

I'm pulling the plug, killing off J. Arthur MacNumpty.

It seems foolish to press ahead with it.

However, that's not the same as quitting the blogosphere. Instead, I'll be blogging from The Will Patterson Notebook, where I'll be looking at politics both of the Holyrood and Westminster variety, and maybe throwing in a few more football-based posts, and other stuff besides. I dare say I'll still be posting with variable frequency, but hopefully, once the move's completed (by this time next month), the mojo will be back and I'll welcome the new start. Though of course, The Sunday Whip and Selection Box posts will remain.

Cheers for the ride, guys, but now, I'm changing lanes...

22 August 2010

Selection Box: West Scotland

The final region, West Scotland, has one major eye-opener: the emerging contest in Renfrewshire North & West. Sitting MSP, Trish Godman, is standing down here, and her replacement is Stuart Clark. Up against him are Derek MacKay, the Leader of Renfrewshire Council, and Tory Leader Annabel Goldie. Now, this throws up a few interesting questions. Firstly, how well will Cllr MacKay's candidacy be received? His position will make him a well-kent face, but is this good or bad? Renfrewshire Council have, like many others, had to take some tough decisions even before the recession, so there's the possibility that he could well end up as a Peter Grant-type figure. Or his profile could carry him to top spot.

But breathing down his neck is the Tory leader, Annabel Goldie, the only sitting MSP to be standing in the seat (unless Ross Finnie decamps), and let's not forget, reasonably high-profile as the Leader of her Party. QIB would potentially turn this seat into a clear three-way marginal (it's possible that just 6% could end up separating first and third). Who will prevail? This one is worth watching next May...

Meanwhile, Jackson Carlaw is the Tory candidate tasked with 'defending' the re-drawn Eastwood, but thanks to Cunninghame South entering the region, there are still two notional Tory Regional seats, so even if Carlaw gets ranked second on the List, the big question is, who'll get third? An early figure to watch is Maurice Golden of the Glenrothes By-Election, who has been selected for Cunninghame North, but it's early days yet.

Of course, all of these, in this and the previous five posts, are just the tip of the iceberg and there are many more selections now in place. But even so, there are all sorts of twists and turns that could take place between now and next April, when the candidacies will be formalised. Anything could happen.

Selection Box: South Scotland

South Scotland isn't devoid of a few interesting contests.

For Labour, there's the vexed question of who to replace Cathy Jamieson as candidate in Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley, particularly as a QIB would make this seat highly marginal. But there's another interesting decision for the party. With Cunninghame South leaving the region, and SNP-held Kilmarnock & Irvine Valley coming in, there's now a notional Labour Regional seat, and a vacancy to fill. Moreover, the theory that the spot might prove tempting for a defeated Labour MP has been blown part by the somewhat frustrating failure on the part of any Labour MP to be defeated, so unless Lord Browne fancies doing a Foulkes, it's not clear who might come forward.

But in terms of constituencies, all eyes should be on the Borders: the new boundaries of Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale are favourable to SNP candidate Christine Grahame (suggesting that Jeremy Purvis might have to decamp to the List), while the Tories have, somewhat surprisingly, selected former Tory MP Peter Duncan ahead of Derek Brownlee, who stood in the old Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale seat. Brownlee will have to make do with fighting East Lothian instead, but this throws up another intriguing battle: with only one Regional seat (and even that's in doubt if Gillian Dykes succeeds where Murray Tosh failed and beats Elaine Murray in Dumfriesshire), and two strong candidates for it, what will the Tories do? Will they opt for old standard-bearer Peter Duncan, the former Party Chairman and Shadow Secretary of State, who quite literally put the Tories back on the map in Scotland back in 2001? Or will they choose the up-and-coming Derek Brownlee, whose negotiation during the budget process has delivered the implementation of Tory policies for the first time since devolution? It's a tough call, and there's going to be one hell of a bloody nose for someone.

(Incidentally, a correspondent who, sadly, didn't leave a name assures me that in fact, Brownlee secured the East Lothian selection before Duncan was chosen in Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale. I must confess to being surprised by that particular alignment of events: while neither seat is a particularly appealing prospect, respectively being the constituency of the Leader of the Opposition and an SNP-LibDem marginal with the Tories shut out, but Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale was Brownlee's base for the last two elections. Does he just fancy a pop at Iain Gray?)

Meanwhile, we have the re-match between Tory MSP John Lamont and the man he defeated, LibDem Euan Robson, in Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire.

Finally, there's the SNP List, with Kilmarnock & Irvine Valley coming into the region but being absorbed into the SNP's current total of five seats in the South, and with five Regional MSPs currently, this could have been ugly for the Party. But with Mike Russell heading north, and Alasdair Morgan standing down, the SNP goes from having more candidates than slots to defend, to having a vacancy for a new face.

Selection Box: North East Scotland

This region has a few fascinating contests in store, mainly as this is the region with the truly new seat, in the shape of Angus North & Mearns. It looks like we can expect a battle between two sitting Regional MSPs: the SNP's Nigel Don, and the Tories' Alex Johnstone. And of course, it remains to be seen what effect Andrew Welsh's retirement will have in Angus South.

Meanwhile, there's also speculation that the LibDems' Nicol Stephen will stand down, leaving the LibDems with a vacancy to fill in Aberdeen South & North Kincardine.

But again, check out the list. The extra (notional) SNP constituency creates a new Tory seat on the List, so there's a question now of who might fill it, especially as no obvious name springs to mind, on account of the candidate in the one top target seat the Tories had in the area in May being a certain Mr. A. Johnstone.

Selection Box: Lothian & Mid Scotland & Fife

Moving to the Lothians, Alex Cole-Hamilton has been selected by the LibDems to 'defend' Edinburgh Central (I say this as, on the notional figures, this seat moves into the LibDem column). Cole-Hamilton was first on the Mid Scotland & Fife List last time at the expense of sitting MSP Andrew Arbuckle, who came second, and would have got in had Jim Tolson not been so inconsiderate by winning Dunfermline West. For shame! Elsewhere, Labour have a vacancy to fill in Midlothian North & Musselburgh, with the retirement of Rhona Brankin.

But the List is where the action is: for the SNP, Ian McKee is standing down (and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that Shirley-Anne Somerville may cross the Forth to Mid Scotland & Fife) so there's a vacancy there. George Foulkes is standing down so there's a vacancy for Labour. And Robin Harper is standing down so we see the first ever Green vacancy, with Councillor Maggie Chapman being tipped in some quarters to fill it. And of course, we don't yet know if Margo MacDonald will wish to continue.

Across the Forth, again, the Mid Scotland & Fife List is where the action may be, with Christopher Harvie retiring (affording an opportunity for Shirley-Anne Somerville to make that crossing), along with Tory Ted Brocklebank, creating a vacancy on the Tory list, perhaps for Bob Dalrymple, who came fourth on the List last time and was the Tory candidate in Stirling (designated a key seat) in May.

Selection Box: Highlands & Islands

In the Highlands and Islands, there are a wave of retirements on the way, with Jim Mather, John Farquhar Munro and Jamie Stone all leaving in 2011. In Argyll & Bute, Education Secretary and current MSP for the South of Scotland Mike Russell will replace Jim Mather as the SNP candidate, with Alison Hay looking to win the seat back for the LibDems and current Regional MSP Jamie McGrigor making the pitch for the Tories. Now, at this point, I'd usually mention the QIB here, but the fact that Mike Russell, who lives in this constituency, is a sitting MSP and a Cabinet Secretary to boot, probably neutralises it, along with the fact that for Holyrood, this seat is an SNP/LibDem marginal and the Tories are some distance off the pace. However, QIB would certainly apply in Caithness, Sutherland & Ross (where Regional MSP Rob Gibson will be having a go), and Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch (where LibDem Alan MacRae will be hoping to defend the seat against SNP MSP Dave Thompson). And the average bonus of a quasi-incumbent equates to a 6% swing, which would put both seats in the SNP column.

Meanwhile, it's worth flagging up that Mary Scanlon has been selected in Inverness & Nairn. If I were feeling uncharitable, I would mention that she attempted to present herself as "A New Bonnie Fechter for Moray" following the death of Margaret Ewing, but that wouldn't be like me at all, would it? In fact, she was never a bonnie fechter for Moray: she'd stood in Inverness East, Nairn & Lochaber in 1999 and 2003, and doubtless only stood in the Moray By-Election as she'd already been selected for the seat for the 2007 Election. I mention this simply to point out to those who remember that campaign that she has not been ejected from her base, she is actually returning to it.

The Return of the Selection Box: Central Scotland and Glasgow

Despite the hysteria over the 100-day of the Coalition, and the excitement over Charles Kennedy doing nothing, the Scottish political parties are in the midst of selecting their candidates for next year's elections. So, inspired by Malc's post on retiring MSPs, I thought I'd take a look.

In Central Scotland, all eyes are on Motherwell & Wishaw, not because there's a vacancy (yet), but because there's pressure on Jack McConnell to stand down after taking a peerage. It should be noted that McConnell is the fifth MSP Peer: Lords Douglas-Hamilton, Foulkes, Steel and Watson all went before him and Lord Watson (despite his fall from grace) provides something of a precedent in that he too was a Constituency MSP, and successfully sought election and re-election as a Peer of the Realm. However, McConnell is the first to become an MSP while sitting in the Scottish Parliament (normally the reverse is the case), and he is the first one to consider keeping a foot in both camps after 2011. This is significant for the Kelly Review, which proposed the end of dual mandates from the date of the next devolved elections. Now, the review referred only to "Westminster MPs", which suggests that only membership of the Commons was considered, but combining a working peerage with the Scottish Parliament would be dubious in the spirit of Kelly if not the letter. He may, therefore, end up feeling pressured to stand down. We shall see.

In Glasgow, keep your eye on Glasgow Shettleston, where John Mason (of the Glasgow East By-Election) has been selected for the SNP. Now, Mason is not seeking a place on the Regional List, and does require an 11.22% swing to win the seat. Of course, that's a considerable increase on the swing he achieved in Glasgow East in the General Election in May, but it's only about half what he pulled off in the By-Election in 2008, so it's not completely beyond the realms of possibility. But of course, this will have a knock-on effect for the List, and assuming that Nicola Sturgeon takes #1 billing, then none of the sitting Regional MSPs will want to come fifth.

Meanwhile, for Labour, a pressure has been eased with Margaret Curran's transfer to Westminster: they are no longer trying to fit nine MSPs into eight notional seats, and have already selected Stephen Curran as their candidate for Glasgow Southside. Then there are the Tories, who find themselves with a vacancy at the top of their List given the retirement of Bill Aitken. Malcolm Macaskill has been chosen as his replacement for the Glasgow Anniesland candidacy, but the actual list is yet to be determined. It's still possible that Ruth Davidson might enter the fold, but I understand that the Tories' one Councillor in Glasgow, David Meikle, has been selected in Southside, so he is one to watch.