Dropping Like Flies
The campaign has barely begun, yet we have already witnessed three casualties.
The Glasgow Tories have had a bad week: losing their number one candidate to a row over past financial dealings. As it happened, a number of members had queried the result (and the process) which saw Malcolm MacAskill top the List in the first place, and now MacAskill has been pushed out.
Losing a candidate for this reason so close to the election, and when he had such a strong chance of getting elected, is always embarrassing, but in being handed a lemon, the Tories have an opportunity to make lemonade: #2 on the List (and so promoted) is Ruth Davidson, the Glasgow North East By-Election candidate who was judged to have acquited herself incredibly well. At a time when it’s widely considered that the Tory Group at Holyrood needs an infusion of new talent, the now increased likelihood of Davidson’s election is a positive thing for them.
The second loss was Iain Whyte, the Edinburgh Councillor who had been parachuted into Glasgow Maryhill & Springburn. He has learned that by standing, he risks losing his place on the board of NHS Lothian. Accordingly, he has prioritised his local area and withdrawn from the election. Now, Whyte was essentially a paper candidate – neither Maryhill nor Springburn could be described as True Blue, as both areas have been solid Labour since 1935 – but the embarrassment here is that the Tories are now looking for their third candidate for this seat: Whyte stepped into the breach after Ivor Tiefenbrun was drummed out following a tirade against his prospective electorate.
The biggest loss, however, has been inflicted on the Liberal Democrats, where incumbent Central Scotland MSP Hugh O’Donnell has quit in disgust at its current direction, to say nothing of the Coalition and the cuts being inflicted on public spending. To reach a point where a sitting MSP would rather quit than stand on another manifesto is intensely damaging, even if, in the words of a party source, “He won’t be missed”. This, apparently, is on the grounds that he is too independently minded – at least, that’s what we can infer from the mutterings that an O’Donnell-free group would be ‘more united’. That said, it’s a blow to Holyrood as a whole as O’Donnell was a real internationalist in the Parliament, with a particular interest in Africa and the Middle East (even volunteering in Uganda). When Holyrood is slammed for being too dull, too inward-looking, too parochial, you don’t want to lose someone like Hugh O’Donnell, who has the wider perspective. The LibDem source is wrong: he will be missed.
However, let’s also bear in mind that the loss was a possibility anyway: the LibDems had a lower vote share and less support in Central Scotland (12,576 votes and 5.1% of the vote share) than in any other region, so O’Donnell’s coat was always on the shoogliest of pegs, especially given current attitudes to the LibDems. We could have been looking at an O’Donnell-free group anyway, with the seat likely to go to either the SNP or Labour depending on what poll you look at. If even the lead candidate is willing to stick the boot into the party, then it’s very much Goodnight Vienna, so John Love’s chances of getting elected now that he’s top dog in Central Scotland are, I suppose, only marginally higher than they were when he was #2.
That’s an even bigger blow for the LibDems: since 1999, all of the Big 4 parties have had some sort of representation in every region, whether Constituency MSPs, List MSPs or both. If the LibDems lose their Central Scotland seat, there’s a massive gaping hole on their map, and it’s the only one that’s not down to constituency success. At that point, George Lyon MEP would be the only LibDem parliamentarian in an entire region, and you would have to start querying whether the Scottish LibDems are a truly national party anymore. Certainly, their position in the second tier of Scottish party politics – where, like the Tories, they don’t have enough MSPs to supply a First Minister but do have enough to significantly affect Government policy and perhaps even provide a Deputy First Minister if conditions are right – is in jeopardy.