Given some of then things I’ve had to say about his views in the past, some might be surprised to find me agreeing with Pete “The Postponer” Wishart. They might be even more perplexed to find that I am perfectly comfortable agreeing with what he says about the new pro-independence ‘list’ parties that are starting to proliferate. They shouldn’t be. My criticisms of Pete Wishart have never been personal. It’s his attitudes and the manner in which he tends to express them which I object to. I have always allowed that he is generally an excellent constituency MP – so long as you don’t question him at all about anything – and an asset to the SNP Westminster Group – when he isn’t embarrassing them by talking about applying for the job of Speaker of the British House of Commons.
Wishart is much like Nicola Sturgeon in this regard. Probably like all politicians. He’s neither all good nor all bad. Even the most apparently simple individual can be a rather complex mix of characteristics and attributes and attitudes. Nicola Sturgeon is a fine First Minister. Pete Wishart has served Scotland well as chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee. Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the constitutional issue has been abysmal. Pete Wishart’s thoughtlets on the scheduling of a new independence referendum are jaw-droppingly delusional. Even the worst of the British politicians squatting in the Scottish Parliament like bloated cuckoos surely have some redeeming qualities. I am open to that possibility. I do not discount it completely. Anyone?
There is nothing to disagree with in what Pete Wishart says about these new parties that are springing up promising to game Scotland’s ungameable electoral system in ways that even the founders of some of the parties have previously insisted are impossible. At best, these list parties are not a good idea. At worst, they are the worst idea imaginable. They are being sold on the basis of what they promise to achieve – a slew of additional pro-independence MSPs – without any explanation as to how this might actually be achieved. The promise to rid our Parliament of parasites the likes of Murdo Fraser and buffoons such as James Kelly and fatuous nonentities of Willie Rennies ilk holds such powerful appeal that many are accepting the claims of these new parties with a naive eagerness which might be endearing were it not for the serious implications of such folly.
If a promise is too good to be true then it almost certainly isn’t. The sensible individual embraces a healthy cynicism when approached by wannabe political leaders bearing uncommon gifts. Especially when all you are ever shown is the packaging.
Pete Wishart comes to the correct conclusions about these list parties even if he gets there by a process which is rather less forensic than we might wish. He could, for example, have highlighted the illogicality of the assurances such as that the new party will only stand candidates on the regional lists so long as the SNP is ‘guaranteed’ a Holyrood majority from the constituency vote. Firstly, there can be no such guarantee. Secondly, if there could be such a guarantee it would totally negate the claimed purpose of these list parties.
Or how about the insistence that the new parties will not be standing against the SNP and endangering an SNP administration? The only occasion when the SNP has won an overall majority was in 2011. Achieving this remarkable feat involved winning seats in almost every region (7/8). How then can these new parties put up candidates for list seats without standing against SNP candidates and thereby increasing the risk of the Scottish Parliament falling back into the hands of the British parties – a catastrophe none of us who care for Scotland want to even contemplate. And let us not forget that the only time the electoral system has been ‘broken’ it wasn’t by the gaming activities of alternative parties but by the sheer force of the electorate concentrating votes on the SNP.
I wouldn’t expect Pete Wishart to get into psephology which shows how unlikely it is that any of these alternative parties will actually win seats or the arithmetic which illustrates how easy it is for them to do massive harm while trying to win seats. There is an effective 5% threshold for being awarded seats. There is a very real risk that the alternative parties could get near enough this approximate threshold to knock out the SNP but not enough to win a seat. Thereby doing the opposite of what they proclaim as their intention. The more of these parties there are, the greater the risk of the votes that go to them being not merely wasted but, from the perspective of the independence campaign, severely counter-productive. None of them admit to this risk or if they do then they do so well away from the public eye. I consider that to be deceit of the kind that would disqualify any party from getting my vote. Deceit not dissimilar to that of pretending there is a Scottish Labour Party.
What forensic analysis shows – and there’s an abundance of it available – is that these alternative parties represent a huge gamble. A gamble, moreover, in which it is impossible to calculate the odds. We know those odds are stacked against the list parties doing what they’ve scribbled in chalk on the tin, but we have no way of working out even roughly how remote are their chances of success in their own terms. What we can discover with ease are the stakes. If these parties fail to deliver on their promises – which they all but certainly must – then all is lost. The British parties seizing back control of the Scottish Parliament is a prospect which haunts the darkest nightmares of every politically aware person in Scotland. It would be a massive, perhaps fatal blow to the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence.
But what if they succeed? What do we stand to gain? What is the prize? Nothing! No more than what we already have. There is no gain in achieving a pro-independence majority when we already have a pro-independence majority. It makes to sense whatever to put that pro-independence majority in jeopardy for the vanishingly remote possibility of maybe by some electoral fluke getting a slightly bigger majority. There is nothing that can be achieved by a majority of two which cannot be achieved by a majority of one. So why would you gamble your majority of one in the vague hope of getting something that is by any objective measure no better?
Pete Wishart sees this. Do you really want to admit to being less perspicacious than the guy who came up with the inane notion of an ‘optimum time’ for holding a new referendum? Do you really want to claim less political acuity than someone who continues to look at the Section 30 process as the “gold standard” even after it has failed so spectacularly? Do you?
What Pete Wishart fails to see are the underlying reasons for these alternative parties coming into existence in the first place. Actually, it’s worse. He recognises the cause(s) but then flatly refuses to address it/them. This is starting to sound more like the Pete Wishart we’ve come to know and observe with weary despair. Failing or refusing to address issues is something of a trademark. He acknowledges that the Gender Recognition Act was ‘problematic’. But it has been shelved so no need to think about it at all. Please don’t question Mr Wishart on social media about why the legislation was ‘problematic’ or why it was allowed to become ‘problematic’ or why it continues to be ‘problematic’, or he’ll block you. For reasons which may be understandable even if hardly admirable he is not going to allow that the GRA was a mistake. Or even that mistakes were made in the handling and presentation of GRA.
I happen to agree that the constitutional issue takes precedence and must be abstracted for the realm of public policy. But even if only for the reason that it is prompting the massive gamble of the list parties I cannot be so dismissive of what are undoubtedly genuinely held concerns about self-ID proposals and the potential impact on women – even if that impact is exaggerated for legitimate campaigning reasons. It is this discounting of the concerns of Scotland’s citizens which I find incomprehensible and reprehensible. I found it so when Pete Wishart and others were dismissing valid concerns about the First Minister’s inexplicable commitment to the patently nonviable Section 30 process. In the name of consistency and principle I must object just as strongly to the anti-GRA lobby being treated with disdain bordering on contempt – even if I do find their lobbying to be way too shrill and frenetic to have any hope of being effective.
What really irks me, however, is Pete Wishart’s profound indifference to the other dissatisfaction which he acknowledges as a motivating factor in the formation of the alternative pro-independence list parties. He recognises the disquiet, not to say distress, with which many view the SNP’s somewhat lackadaisical approach to the constitutional issue and the Scottish Governments decidedly lacklustre performance in the handling of that issue.
To put it simply, Pete Wishart is worried about how these parties will affect the SNP’s chances in the next Holyrood election. I am fearful of how they will affect the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. We both consider these list parties a very bad idea. But for quite different reasons.
If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence movement.