Source Direct: Birthday Voting Blues

Many of you have asked how I plan to vote. The truth is that I am struggling with my conscience.

FIRSTLY, AN ANNOUNCEMENT. It’s my birthday tomorrow and I will be taking a little time off to celebrate turning the grand old age of 36. The upshot being that Source Direct will be out of action and will return on St Patrick’s Day (17th March). 

While I am away, I will be considering my voting options, and I invite readers to help me here (my constituency is Glasgow Kelvin). Many of you have asked how I plan to vote, and while I don’t get prissy about this type of question, the truth is that I am struggling with my conscience.

Probably, my constituency vote will be SNP. They don’t deserve it, given their slim record of achievements since Nicola Sturgeon took over as First Minister. And I don’t trust their promises on independence, for the reasons I’ve outlined consistently, namely that the Sustainable Growth Commission was never a viable economic prospectus and risks being downright ludicrous after Brexit and the pandemic.

However, my strategic assessment is that devolution is a broken system which perpetuates failure at both London and Edinburgh levels, by creating confused levels of accountability. Public anger at failing services, corruption and inequality therefore lacks a central target. Independence remains the most plausible cure for those democratic ills. And anything less than an SNP majority will, paradoxically, strengthen the hand of prevaricators in the party leadership, while a strong majority piles on pressure and gives the independence movement options. 

However, #SNP1and2 was always a tactical mistake for the independence movement. Particularly in Glasgow, it is effectively a spoilt ballot to choose SNP on the regional list.

Logic might suggest choosing the Scottish Greens, by far the most likely pro-independence vote to count at a regional level. And certainly, the Greens have a worthy range of policies. My worry about them is not the familiar complaint about student union politics, although I do feel they would have greater mass resonance if their messaging focused consistently on the Green New Deal and independence, with themes of jobs plus public control over politicians and the economy. What I call the soft-left, pro-indy “Bella Caledonia” vote is surely fifteen percent of Scotland, any day of the week.

I was unimpressed with their treatment of Andy Wightman, not necessarily because I agree with him, but because it was disrespectful to one of the few individually respected parliamentarians of any party.

But my bigger problem is, the Greens feel like a hallway house between opposition and coalition. Their critique of the Scottish Government’s central narratives is weak and rather too “collaborative”, so that they become essentially a ginger group on Sturgeon’s hegemony. The Parliament desperately needs robust and credible opposition, especially from the pro-independence side. The Greens may have credibility, but their critiques feel fainthearted. In fairness, the last few weeks have seen more robust stances, but then, an election is afoot. Scrutiny should last the four-year cycle.

I wouldn’t theoretically rule out a “unionist” vote. But Labour has moved sharply to the right under Starmer, while purging the left. The world “Blairite” is doubtless overused. However, I suspect that, if Blair was coming up in politics today, rather than during the roaring nineties, he would do precisely what Starmer is doing. And Sir Keir combines Europhilia and British chauvinism in a focus-grouped manner that could have been devised by Peter Mandelson.

Meanwhile, Labour’s Holyrood representation, as the late Neil Davidson splendidly put it, “with very few exceptions, involves a cohort of shifty election agents, superannuated full-time trade union officials and clapped-out local councillors.” And the “very few exceptions” clause becomes less relevant with Neil Findlay leaving.

I’d like to have faith in smaller pro-independence and leftist parties. But my gut tells me they are too many, too diffused, and frankly too weak in public profile. Perhaps readers may convince me otherwise?

For all the flaws in the pre-2007 Scottish Socialist Party, it represents precisely what this parliament lacks, an emotionally resonant, class-based, anti-establishment opposition. At present, we have five parties sharing a similar professional class profile, similar all-round liberal attitudes, similar tastes and lifestyles. This is an institutional failure, a failure of representation. Scotland doesn’t look or feel like its parliamentarians.

These are my thoughts, tell me yours. I am open to persuasion. Alternatively, I may be forced to spoil my ballot, and if anyone has creative thoughts on vandalism, I’m happy to listen.