My name is Ken and I am a recovering parliamentary candidate.
There. I’ve said it at last, openly and publicly. Every twelve-step programme and self-help book tells you that you have to admit your problem before you move on. So, that’s it; I’ve admitted my problem – I am a person who was not elected to serve at Holyrood.
As I wrote in the Broughton Spurtle article A Man o’ Independent Mind, I’m glad I stood and proud of the campaign I ran. Yes, the number of votes I received was a disappointment and I would do some things differently today. However, it was a good experience overall and I enjoyed it. Over the course of five weeks campaigning I received very little abuse and encountered only a couple of people determined to argue the toss over every issue. My favourite was the man who told me a sandwich shop around the corner from a council office was dependent on the public sector and therefore should count towards the share or the economy the state is responsible for. I suppose if I fall ill – break a leg or catch pneumonia – that is the state’s fault for encouraging me to use the NHS. Some people are just contrarian though, so you have to let them be.
In the two months since the election, I’ve licked my wounds, taken a break from devouring news and started planning for my future. That, of course, means job hunting, which has proven harder than I expected given I am happy to do any job that earns over £15,000. Perhaps the stigma still haunts me. After all, who wants to hire an unelected candidate?
So, why did I do it? If I’m honest, vanity played a part in it. I defy anybody who has stood for election to deny that isn’t the case. Not in a bad way, but more that you believe you can make a difference for the better, doing it rather than just thinking about it. I did. I still do. Whether I have or will remains to be seen – it is too soon to say. I do hope that others will take forward some of the issues and proposals I raised during the campaign. Whether they do depends on many factors, but sadly I think that we have a missed opportunity in Scottish politics. The focus of our politicians for the next three-to-five years is, ironically, the nature of independence. Do we have independence-light (whatever that actually means), gradual or a full, proper republic? I say sadly, because until the SNP finally corrects the biggest mistake of their first term and presents a referendum bill, that is the be-all and end-all of our political debate. The opposition MSPs and the analysts will view every decision and proposal through that prism.
In the meantime, we ignore the issue of the type of society we want to live in and how we move forward. We walk away from benefit cuts and state spending that affect the poorest 10% fourteen times more than the richest 10%. We disregard that the top 7% of Scots control 90% of the wealth and the top 13% own 83% of the land. We turn away from the buildings that lie empty and unused, the small businesses that receive insufficient support from the state and the banks the public currently owns a majority stake in. We choose to refuse funding to the schools; we choose to close down hospitals; we choose to reduce maternity beds despite a rise in the number of births across Scotland; and we choose to pillar the public servants, who earn an average pension of £4,200 a year, for having this substantial perks despite earning 18% less than their private colleagues. Compare that to Digby Jones, who retired as the Confederation of British Industry’s Director-General with an annual pension of £300,000 a year after working there for just over six years, but still manages to accuse nurses, doctors and teachers of greed and having gold-plated pensions. We look to charities to help run our services, despite making cuts to their funding and the resources they rely on to survive.
What saddens me most about the election is the major fact we have ignored – how low the turnout was. A landslide, the papers cried. Overwhelming support for our agenda, the SNP claimed. The election result was a historic victory in a system that was designed to ensure no party and especially not the Nats could ever win a majority. While I expected them to win, never did I once imagine they would do so well. Even their activists and party workers were surprised if the Edinburgh count at Ingliston was anything to go by. However, have a look at how many people voted in your constituency. At best, the figure will read 57% from the ones I’ve looked. Within the Lothians’ nine constituencies, the average was 54.95%. Now factor in that this is not how many of the electorate vote, but how many of those registered to made use of their democratic right. I would guess that is at least an extra ten percent, given the number of people I spoke to that never vote, failed to register in time, didn’t know they needed to or were unaware they were entitled to. That means less than half the adult population of Scotland voted and of those around 40% voted for the SNP, based again on the figures for the Lothians. Going by these numbers, at most a quarter of the electorate supported the current government in what politicians and pollsters said was the most important election in Scotland’s modern history. A landslide? A minority of people supported the party that won. The election was another example of why we need better political education and access to unbiased sources of information, plus a more proportional election method in Scotland than the Additional Member System we currently have. I have always said we should use Single Transferable Votes for Holyrood. Next year we use that system to elect our local councillors for the second time, so why not use it for our Parliament as well? After all, Scotland using STV has a certain serendipity, don’t you think?
For now, I will continue my job search and write both here and wherever I am asked to. As ever, I’ll aim to give a different point of view to current affairs and what happens at Holyrood. Not for the sake of it, you understand, but because I see things differently from our elected representatives and think there is a better way to make our country better. I am also continuing my voluntary work and campaigning. At the moment I am acting as the Forest‘s Transition Manager, helping to find the collective a new home and coordinating our departure from Bristo Place at the end of August.
So what has all of this got to do with Creamola Foam? A friend of mine once stood for election as Mayor of Toronto. Part of his campaign was a promise that, if elected, he would give every adult in the city a toy of their choice. Perhaps if I had made a similar commitment to furnish the electorate with Creamola Foam I would have received substantially more votes and garnered more reporting on my campaign. Then again, critics would have used the pledge as an example of why people should not vote for me as it proved I was not a serious or realistic candidate. Sadly, that is what it seems to take to ensure your election these days – a stunt, unrealistic promises and policies the media like. Still, things can only get better. We hope.
- A longer version of the Broughton Spurtle article is available here.