>Scotland’s Greys set for minor breakthrough?


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?

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