If I was to vote for the SNP in my constituency ballot on Thursday, I’d have to wear a clothes peg. I would give them my vote but only because they are the least bad option out of the four parties running in every constituency throughout Scotland. “Not as bad as the rest,” isn’t really much of an endorsement. Labour are still finding their feet under both Jeremy Corbyn and Kezia Dugdale, although for how long they’ll stay as leaders is open to much discussion. The Lib Dems are still tainted from going into coalition with the Tories at Westminster and for some policies that I have problems with seeing as liberal. Plus there’s their opposition at every turn to Scotland having an independence referendum; very democratic. As for the Tories, well, let’s just say we’ll never be bedfellows, comfortable or otherwise.
Why would I wear a clothes peg? As a protest, at the poor choices on offer but still wanting to exercise my democratic right. This is the only way I can see of saying, “You’re getting my vote but under protest.” In the French presidential elections of 2002, the electorate was faced with a choice of Jacques Chirac, who was at the time under suspicion for corruption while he was mayor of Paris and Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the Front National. A choice between a possibly corrupt conservative politician and a man regularly accused of racism and anti-Semitism. There was a suggestion at the time of going to vote with a clothes peg on their noses to express disgust when voting for Chirac. However, the protest never happened as it may have been illegal to do so because it is prohibited to advertise one’s vote inside the voting precinct. I’d happily face prosecution to show my protest but luckily I don’t have to as there is an independent candidate, Jack Caldwell, standing in my constituency. I agree with his proposals for a lobbying register at Holyrood, wanting to protect community assets, his call for a progressive criminal justice system and his belief in policies and not ideologies. Sadly he’s unlikely to win the seat but I wish him the best.
That just leaves why the SNP would have gut my grudgingly-given vote. Firstly, I do admire a lot of what the SNP has managed to achieve over the last twelve years. They not only won two elections but got through four years as a minority government, only to become a majority one four years later. The second is especially impressive given the Scottish Parliament’s electoral system was designed to prevent any party achieving an overall parliamentary majority. For any party, let alone one who was widely seen as a minor one fifteen years previously, to do so is incredible. I’ve admired some of their legislation and approaches to issues, overs less so. However, there were a few things over the last two months that put my teeth on edge.
I’ve always found the SNP surprisingly timid in government when they’ve had a chance to do something brave, even if it ends in defeat. The best example of this was the Referendum (Scotland) Bill from 2010. Only only 50 of 129 MSPs (47 SNP, 2 Greens and Margo MacDonald) supported a referendum at the time. Rather than put the proposition of Scotland having a referendum to a Chamber vote, the Scottish Government withdrew the bill. At the time I said they had missed a trick. Here was a chance to show Scotland that the other main parties didn’t even think the people deserved the say on the future of their own country. Surely that would go down a storm in their election material. In the end, they didn’t need my advice and won a majority.
With that majority, they could achieve brave changes to how Scotland works as long as they maintained the highly impressive party unity. They didn’t. Realistically, they didn’t want to do anything to rock the boat in the run up to the referendum. Fair enough. Then there was the run up to the UK General Election to consider, before the Holyrood one started to veer its head. Never wise to scare the punters when you’re looking for their support, eh?
The thing is, an SNP politician did propose something radical and for the good of Scotland recently. During the Prime Minister’s statement on his involvement with the Panama Papers story on the 11th April, Angus Robertson called for a package of stricter rules to tackle the small number of landowners owning large parts of Scotland through tax havens. I was impressed by the SNP’s Westminster leader, this was an action that would make Scotland more open and accountable. The pity is, the SNP at Holyrood had the opportunity to bring such a law in but chose not to. During the final reading of the SNP’s Land Reform Bill on 17th March, the Greens proposed for a ban on land ownership by tax havens. The proposal had strong support amongst land reformers and parts of civic Scotland. The amendment was defeated by 80 votes to 33. Within a month, the SNP had gone from voting against a ban on land ownership by tax havens to calling for the means to deal with it. Fair enough, the SNP did promise to set up a new publicly accessible Register of Controlling Interests if they won re-election. However, they could have added that to their own Bill, or just support the Greens amendment. Instead they didn’t. The Scottish Greens’s co-convenor Patrick Harvie said the move to limit the effects of the legislation through the SNP’s majority was disappointing. I agree.
Then there’s inconsistency on tax. During First Minister’s Question Time on the 29th of March, Nicola Sturgeon again said she was against raising the top rate of tax to 50p for those earning more than £150,000 in the next parliamentary session. She claiming implementing the policy could see Scotland lose up to £30m a year in public revenue. Again, fair enough, don’t frighten the horses et cetera, plus the sum wasn’t that much. However, the SNP are also proposing a 50% tax cut in Air Passenger Duty to promote tourism if they win re-election. This cut is worth approximately £750 million over the next session. Increasing the number of people who fly into Scotland is really worth sacrificing three-quarters of a billion? I can’t see the tourist trade making that much extra money in the next five years, especially when everybody is spending less. Cutting your budget by £750m is good but not raising taxes for fear of missing out 4% of that is bad? Surely not folks, that makes no sense to me. The richest one percent get to keep their income tax cut from the UK Tories and then play less tax each time they jet off to foreign climes. That’s not the fair and progressive Scotland I keep hoping will emerge in my lifetime. All of this is while the SNP has an unprecedented polling lead, yet they are feart of offending a very small portion of the electorate.
The final straw though came on Saturday. The day before the Stun had had come out in support for the SNP. The red top often does come out for a party but it was surprisingly early this time. To show the importance they view the election, they photo shopped Sturgeon, John Swinney and Humza Yousaf as Kirk-era Starfleet officers. Remember, this is the paper that the First Minister had previously described as sexist for doing something similar to her with a mock-up of her in a tartan bikini in March 2015. Political memories are short though, so the leader of the SNP posed with a copy of the paper, which was the front page on Saturday’s edition. I’ll let you decide if it was a good idea or rank hypocrisy played as political manoeuvring with those who control what is now considered news.
Last week when the truth about the Hillsborough tragedy came out in court, Murdoch’s papers were the only ones not to feature the story on their front pages. Unsurprisingly given the red top’s role in spreading lies about the people who died that day. There was no remorse shown. There is a reason Billy Bragg wrote Never Buy the Sun. The tabloid is a bigoted, sexist, vile publication. Posing with a copy of it does not sit with me, at all. I feel angry that it was even considered, let alone acted on, especially last week. I think it is very poor judgement and would have made it harder for me to have voted for them. Thankfully, this time, I didn’t have to peg my nose as I did so.