Archive | May, 2007

>Scotland: the red and the grey

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Well, as the polls anticipated Scotland’s minor parties including the fledging pensioners’ party were comprehensively dished by larger parties and in particular the Scots Nats who at first glance appear to have hovered up the voters previously garnered by Greens, Scottish Socialists and (on a more minor scale) John Swinburne’s pensioner’s party. Only the Greens – the most established and robust of minor parties hung on in the Scottish Parliament with two MSPs (down five). Looked at more closely – and course I was as I was checking out the pensioners’ party – there is a slightly more complex picture.

The Scottish Socialists (SSP) had split into two rival factions after party leader Tommy Sheridan’s apparent predilection for group sex and swingers’ clubs (and implausible sounding denials of subsequent tabloid revelations) disenchanted some of his former comrades, although he did rather unexpectedly win damages at a libel trial, seemingly through sheer force of personality. Electorally speaking, Sheridan’s Solidarity party came out on top over the official SSP but the combined far-left vote was down to a mere 2.1%, more than halved, suggesting that former voters had, for whatever reason had, indeed plumped for the Scots Nats.

This tends to suggest that charismatic populist leadership always mattered far more these than socialist ideology that preoccupied the sundry Trotskyist groups that managed to merge in Scotland in 1997. Further South George Galloway, leader of the anti-war leftist/Muslim Respect party (which is where the English SWP ended up) – another libel trial winner with an egocentric flair for self-promotion seems to be a politician in the same mould. Although his ability to keep his trousers is not in doubt, his sense of overconfident invulnerability also tripped him up, as dressing up in a leotard and pretending to be a cat on Big Brother was probably hard to sell to comrades and brothers as one of the many (meowing?) voices of anti-capitalism.

On the other hand, both Sheridan and Galloway are pretty canny and effective political operators, whose chutzpah and outrageous media bravura have to draw a certain admiration even from the sceptically and unsympathetic (like me) and so perhaps the first of a new breed of semi-celebrity egomaniac left-wing populists, part-celebrity, part stand-up comedian, part politician. Ken Livingstone is perhaps a clever and more successful example. The idea of new ‘left-wing populism’ has recently been developed in more academic terms by Luke March in a recent issue of SAIS Review, although I don’t think he covers the celebrity, sex and leotards angles.

To return to Grey politics, the Scottish Senior Citizens’ Unity Party (SSCUP) despite fielding almost a full set of regional lists and lost it single MSP, John Swinburne. Following the logic of the two-part electoral system as they had in 2003, the SSCUP like the Greens, the two socialist parties and all other minor parties apart from the Scottish Chrisitan Party more or less ignored the single member constituencies entirely and concentrated entirely on the regional list element, where seats are allocated using the Additional Member system which compensates parties with large support who have done poorly in the single member constituencies. This was presumably knowing they had no chance of winning and might inadvertently let in parties they disliked by splitting the vote and it was also logical because a canny voter using their second regional for a minor party might in fact be more likely to elect someone by using their regional vote for a minor party than rather big party that had already gained lots of MSPs elected in the single member contest in a region region. The SSCUP (like the Greens and SSP) actually only fielded one only one candidate in the first-past-the-post contests – party leader John Swinburne in Motherwell, who urged voters to back Labour in first-past-the-post contests (a self-chosen role of support party to the traditional centre-left that pensioners’ parties elsewhere in Europe not infrequently try to play).

Totting up the regional list vote the SSCUP did not do totally disastrously – nationally it came to 1.90% as opposed to 1.5% in 2003 with a growth in absolute number of votes polled from 28, 996 to 38,743, although turnout was up from 49.4% in 2003 to 51.8% the party did this time field lists in all eight regions (as opposed to three in 2003). So, no national breakthrough for tartan grey power, but a score that does put the SSCUP in the same bracket as other established fringe grey parties in Germany or Scandinavia, which pull in 1-2% of the national vote. The SSCUP came in as the most important extra parliamentary party nationally, although admittedly in a Scottish context that does mean being the sixth party.

Swinburne’s failure to re-enter Holyrood basically stemmed from a failure to see his personal vote in the single member Motherwell constituency – 6.51% and 1702 votes, slightly better than 1597 votes (6.29%) he got in 2003 – reflected as enough of a regional vote to gain one of the top-up-seats. In 2003 the SSCUP list in Central Scotland headed by Swinburne got 17, 146 votes (6.52%), this time a mere 7060 votes (2.48%). Basically, the Scottish Greys seemed to have tried too hard to be a national party, rather than focusing their limited resources on a few promising regions.

It will be interesting to see whether the SSCUP will now keep going, which I suspect will depend on the party funding regime, whether Swinburne stays on in politics and whether a new leader emerges – simple life expectancy statistics would seem to suggest that even if they overcome electoral hurdle pensioner politicians may have a limited career. Swinburne is 76. On the other hand, the leader of the German Grey Panthers Trude Unruh led the group (which founded in 1975 when she was in her fifties) for more than three decades before her recent death aged 80.

>Scotland: Greens, Reds and Greys all squeezed says poll

>Well, it seems as ever I am rubbish pundit. Polling in today’s online edition of The Scotsman, of which I have temporarily become an avid reader, suggests a big squeeze on minor parties with Socialists, Greens and, of course, Greys all getting severely whacked. A consequence of Labour’s successful strategy of polarizing the campaign as a choice on the future of Scotland, apparently.

>Scotland’s Greys set for minor breakthrough?

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To the mild consternation of friends, family and colleagues, I have started to track the fortunes of Europe’s disparate band of pensioners’ parties, which if not quite the wave of the future seem at least an interesting side effect of current debates on grey power and ageing populations. And they are, of course, better represented (if still minor) phenomenon in Eastern Europe (Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Poland, the Czech Republic in the 1990s and Russia too until the , but also present and in some cases registering on the political radar in Western states (Israel, Holland – well established fringe groupings in Scandinavia and Germany).

Indeed, closer to home Bonnie Scotland has it own grey party, the Scottish Senior Citizens’ Unity Party (SCSUP), which, thanks to the PR element in the Scottish electoral system, gained one MSP in the Scottish Parliament in 2003 – John Swinburne, former commercial director of Motherwell football club. In 2003, the SCSUP was something of a one man band, spending less than £4000 on its entire campaign and fielding only a handful of candidates – by comparison other minor parties such as the Christian values oriented People’s Alliance spent twenty times that. Although reviled by some (seemingly SNP-supporting) commentators who see the SCSUP as a Labour-inspired spoiler and in trouble of homophobic remarks at one time, Swinburne seems to have made enough of a mark and to have generated enough publicity as a novelty to create a reasonable party organization and attract some experienced and/or well known candidates for the upcoming 3 May elections this year. The interesting question is whether – like the Scottish Socialists and Greens in 2003 – the SCSUP can spring a surprise and grab rather more seats than anticipated.

Polling research carried in 2005 out in connection with proposals for Council Tax reform in Scotland by Help the Aged submitted to the Scottish Parliament suggested that 22% of retired people in Scotland would be prepared to use their second (regional list) vote to support the SCSUP, a figure suggesting the party had the potential to gain 7 or 8 members of the Scottish Parliament. More recent polling, suggests that when not lumped with ‘others’ the SCSUP has around 3% support, although for a minor party reliant on protest or floating voters – will older voters really want to bracket themselves politically as ‘greys’? – this is a very uncertain estimate. My own personal bet is that they might gain 3 or 4 deputies, although I can’t find any bookmarkers’ odds to allow me to modestly back my hunch.

Looking over, the experience of grey parties that have made (minor) breakthroughs (GIL group in Israel, pensioners’ parties in Holland in the mid-1990s, the unexpected entry of Germany’s Grey Panthers into the Berlin legislature last year), Scotland in 2007 does seem to fit the bill for an injection of grey party politics: a polity with strong social and welfare traditions facing (uncertain) reform; an election when the existing party system is in flux; some reasonable organization on the ground and a deal of publicity.

I spent my train journey home yesterday poring over pre-election coverage of the Irish elections in the Irish Times – a variegated party landscape but no pensioners’ party (above conditions, perhaps not fulfilled). Looks like I shall have to buy The Scotsman come Friday morning.

Is that possible in deepest mid-Sussex commuter country?