Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Lies, Damned Lies and Alex Salmond

Sometimes, it's good to remember that there's a lot to like about some of our political opponents. Participating in local hustings, I've noticed there are many areas of shared policy with other parties, most notably the SNP. There is much in the SNP manifesto that I can relate to as a liberal; there are also figures within the SNP who I have a great deal of respect for, even if I don't always see eye to eye with them.

I have enormous respect for Alex Salmond but I don't always take to him. I admit he is a highly capable leader and has had his successes during his time at First Minister. I think it's his personal style and presidential approach I find exasperating; even when I agree with him I can't help but find him arrogant. That in itself is a realtively small issue. I know Salmond can be a clever operator and adept and manipulating situations to his advantage. But I had more respect for him than to imagine he would resort to flagrant deception to further his electoral chances.

The antics of the Tories and the "No2AV" campaign have been bad enough. Their misinformation about AV could well result in legal action and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. By all means, champion the cause of the electoral system you prefer. Play up its merits. But resorting to fear, negativity and blatant untruth to undermine your opposition is not acceptable. It's not fair, it's not clever. And it shouldn't be right, although it seems that the Electoral Commission have never considered extending the laws governing election campaigning to referenda. So maybe the Tories can say whatever they like - such as AV would result in the England football team being regularly trounced by Andorra and Liechtenstein - and get away with it.

Now, back to Alex Salmond. This morning I was having a conversation with some Green activists and another friend who seems a little confused by the three seperate ballot forms. We were all angry about Salmond's suggesting - OK, insistence - that the second Holyrood vote (the Regional List) is a personal vote for First Minister. It was bad enough last time around when the SNP were allowed to stand using the description "Alex Salmond for First Minister". It was potentially confusing but it could have been argued that this is just evidence of the SNP's determination to fight the election in a presidential-style way.

This time round, Salmond has actually stated categorically that the second vote is for electing Scotland's First Minister. It isn't and he knows it isn't. This isn't being a little disingenuous or economical with the truth. It's a blatant lie.

The SNP are usually good at maximising the regional vote so why they have to resort to such dishonesty I don't know. But Salmond shouldn't be allowed to get away with peddling such blatant misinformation in a shamefully cynical attempt to manipulate the vote. The regional list gives voters a chance to vote for multiple regional MSPs via the Additional Member System, which being a roughly proportional system has in the past delivered several members from parties such as the Greens, the SSP and the Senior Citizens' Unity Party. And Margo Macdonald. Clearly Salmond is so terrified at the prospect of our democratic system resulting in the Greens gaining a respectable number of MSPs that he is happy to undermine democracy by intentionally misleading voters.

Professor John Curtice argues that the election will be won or lost via the regional list, which is not an unreasonable assumption. Many constituencies will not change hands, which is why “the SNP is trying to put it in layman’s terms by saying the regional vote is a vote for First Minister and the constituency vote is for your local MSP.” But such "layman's terms" are devious and deceptive.

I appreciate that for some people, like my friend who is not particularly political but values his democratic right, the Scottish electoral system is difficult to grasp. Having the First Minister confuse it further by indicating that one ballot form is for voting for the next FM is irresponsible and fraudulent. Someone who might want to vote Green or SSP but prefers Alex Salmond to Iain Gray will be likely to vote SNP in the regional list, while the minor parties are again squeezed. This isn't democracy.

An SNP activist told me that my concern shows that "London parties are panicking". No, it doesn't. The Greens and the SSP can not realistically be described as "London Parties". And my main concern is for Scottish democracy and for Scottish voters to be empowered to vote according to their consciences rather than manipulated into voting for a party they might not actually support.

Alex Salmond should apologise for attempting to mislead the public. Scottish people deserve better from someone who, after all, is the political leader of our country. This lie is every inch as bad as anything coming out of "No2AV" in recent weeks. The worst thing is that I really would have expected more from him.

Caron has commented on this in a rather amusing post: Oh, Alex, you're so vain, you probably think this blog is about you - but the Regional Ballot is not


Marie Robertson said...

Id rather have Alex Salmond fighting the Scottish corner than any other leader. I voted Liberal last time around and this time its the SNP who will get my vote.

The Liberals are finished after their deal with the devilish Tories in London.

Andrew said...

Marie, a fair point. I've never said Salmond wasn't a good leader. I respect a lot of what he's accomplished. Check out my observation of his performance in the first leader's debate. And you can vote for who you like. That's not the issue.

The point is that some very deliberate untruths are being said by someone who really should know better. This isn't about the coalition in London. It's about whether it's right to make dishonest claims about the Scottish electoral system to voters who may be confused about what the different ballot forms are for. Surely, even as an SNP supporter you don't condone any leader intentionally misleading the public?

But as you've obviously got views on the Westminster coalition, I wondered what you would have done last May? A coaltion of Labour, Lib Dems the SNP and Plaid Cymru keeping out the party with the most seats? Or nothing, allowing Cameron to run a minority government and call a snap general election whenever he felt he had the most to gain?

Duncan said...

You say 'Many constituencies will not change hands'.

Could that be wishful thinking?

Larbertian said...

Actually it is a vote for First Minister since the list vote will determine how many final MSPs there will be and the number of MSPs will determine who the First Minister is.

John Curtice said it was a reasonable argument to make when he was on Newsnight.

Andrew said...

Duncan - it was actually John Curtice who said that many constituencies will not change hands. At the General Election NONE changed hands. It will no doubt be different this time, but there are many constituencies in Scotland where one party or another has such a solid majority it is - unfortunately - hard to see them being anything but held by the incumbent, which is why Prof Curtice believes the list votes will be key in deciding the outcome.

So no - not wishful thinking, although clearly I would like us to hold all our own and I accept this is unlikely!

Larbertian - It is not unreasonable, as Prof Curtice stated, to assume that the regional list will play a significant role in deciding the outcome of the election and therefore implicitly who is first minister. But that does not make it a vote for First Minister, any more than the constituency vote is a vote for First Minister - it is after all the combined number of constituency and regional MSPs that determines the final number of MSPs - not the regional list alone!!!!!

Salmond's claim remains disingenuous at best and it is clearly an attempt to squeeze the smaller parties in the regional list. The election is about choosing local MSPs, the next parliament, the next government and the next First Minister. To maintain that the constituency vote is for your MSP and the regional is for FM is at best an oversimplicity; at worst plainly dishonest.

From my point of view, this simply underlines the need to move to a more straightforward system of proportional voting for Scotland's elections - like perhaps STV?