The Scottish Parliament dissolved yesterday (following an interesting, amusing and admittedly tribal interchange between Iain Gray and Alex Salmond) and now campaigning begins in earnest. Already I have noticed various individuals predicting the outcome of the May elections, as if the six weeks of campaigning are something of an irrelevance.
Obviously, as a Liberal Democrat, I will be wishing for a good result for my party. I would also welcome a more representative parliament and would probably think it to be a good thing if the Greens were to make some gains. But aside from a favourable final verdict from Scotland’s voters, what else would I like to see in the coming weeks?
1) More focus on substance, less on personalities. The media focus on Jack McConnell and Alex Salmond in 2007, to the detriment of both the other parties and Scotland’s democracy, was little short of embarrassing. It could be worse this time, especially as Iain Gray’s attributes do not include personal charisma. However, it wasn’t just the media who were responsible for creating personality cults around the leaders – the parties were equally as bad, with the SNP’s “Alex Salmond for First Minister” slogan summarising effectively the party’s obsession with personality politics.
2) A media focus on the issues that matter, not on what the parties want to talk about. The coverage of the last election campaign was centred around a tedious argument between Labour and the SNP about the issue of independence. The SNP would love to fill up the pages of the daily papers with pro-independence propaganda, but this time the stakes are higher and there are more vital issues for candidates to tackle. Scotland deserves better – from its elected representatives but also from the media. Much as the media love a good story, they also have an important role to play in holding parties to account and asking tough questions.
3) More coverage of parties other than the SNP and Labour, and for the media to reflect the multi-party nature of Scottish democracy. This election isn’t about which of two parties emerges the stronger, however much it is painted that way. I would like to read and hear more about the Liberal Democrats’ distinct message for Scotland (obviously), the Tories’ campaign strategy, the Greens’ economic policies and so on. And surely some of the minor parties deserve a few inches dedicated to an analysis of their varied (and often interesting) positions?
4) More sensible, sober-minded debate and less tribal posturing. I’d like to see an exchange of ideas, not a popularity contest between polished but bland performers and effectively managed brands. I don’t think the public appreciate cynical opportunism or tribal attitudes, so is there a chance for sensible, rational debate on the key issues affecting Scotland’s future?
5) More honesty. From all of us, but especially from Labour on its economic and fiscal policy.
6) No endless speculation about coalitions. The media, especially The Herald, love to do this. Not only is the campaign an irrelevance to them, so also is the verdict of the voters. Some journalists just want to speculate about the likely prospective partnerships and coalitions, usually basing assumptions on unfounded gossip. To say this is an unhelpful distraction is understating the point. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.
7) Realistic and intellectually credible manifestos. (Scottish Socialist Party excepted of course)
8) Politicians attempting to constructively engage and connect with voters.
9) Genuinely interesting TV debates. Last year, the debates for the general election captivated millions of people who had little interest in politics. I know Iain Gray is not likely to be the best debater in the world, and Salmond’s bluster isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I hope that our party leaders can contribute to a positive debate that will mesmerize Scottish voters and inspire them to exercise their democratic right!
So long as we don’t have to suffer the media hype of “Scott-mania”. Or “Goldie-mania” come to think of it.
10) A Lib Dem gain in Renfrewshire North and West. I can live in hope!