Salmond has done Labour a favour

ALEX Salmond should have the gratitude of the Scottish Labour Party for at least one reason: for establishing beyond doubt that minority administrations can govern without the need for a coalition partner.

I sincerely wish Labour had learned this lesson while we had the chance. I personally was convinced at the time of the necessity of doing a deal with the LibDems in order to govern effectively. Had we instead listened to wiser counsel, and decided to govern on our own, we could have avoided the electoral and democratic catastrophe that was proportional representation for local government.

We made that particular reform for one reason only: to buy the co-operation of the LibDems, whose support had been effectively advertised for sale on eBay for the right price. And the right price was Lowest Common Denominator politics.

Sick of the old system where only the most popular candidate won? Want a new system that guarantees a winning candidate even for the losing team? Reckon everyone should be able to be represented by a councillor from his preferred party regardless of how many votes that party actually wins? Then the single transerable vote is the one for you. In fact, have three, or even four councillors and then you can choose which one to represent you. That’s democracy in The New Scotland – the political equivalent of non-competitive sport in schools: all shall have prizes.

So thank you, Alex. Thank you for showing us the error of our ways. I trust it’s a lesson Labour will remember when we return to power at Holyrood.



Filed under Alex Salmond, Holyrood, Labour, LibDems, Politics, SNP

15 responses to “Salmond has done Labour a favour

  1. You are right that the SNP have shown minority government works. And credit to the party – they have made it work. But that is true for a couple of reasons – a) they have actually been pretty good and b) the main opposition have not. Ignoring the first part of that (I don’t want to rub it in too much) I don’t think it is much of a bombshell to state that the SNP were a much more effective opposition party than Labour have been – note the budget debacle for evidence. I’m not as convinced as you that Labour could have done the same job with the SNP in opposition – especially if the numbers were as tight as they currently are.

    Another reason why it has been so successful – which benefits Labour to an extent – is that 3 of the four main parties actually have the same ideology (if you remove the constitutional settlement from the equation). With similarities over broad ideas and only the detail differing, it is no wonder that minority administration can work – and indeed, no wonder that there can be so much hostility between Lab & the SNP. They’re fighting for the same votes.

    Interesting thought though, that Labour “will” return to power in Scotland. You guys need to get away from that mentality – that the SNP are merely keeping the seat of power warm for you. You need to realise you lost for a reason, and if you don’t change, you will not be returning to power any time soon.

  2. Johnny Norfolk

    Can I add my thanks to yours for him removing the labour Scottish power base. It just ensures an even bigger defeat for Labour at the next General Election.

    Thanks Alex.

  3. “Sick of the old system where only the most popular candidate won”

    Oh, you mean the system that delivers a large 66 seat majority Labour government on just 2 in 10 of the electorate, 2 in 6 voters? Where 58% of voters do not know the name of their MP and 68% (on average) do not vote for their MP. Where the party with less votes gets more seats (15 ‘wrong winners’ in English local council elections or in England in the 2005 GE where less votes than the winner gets you 92 more seats than them). Where it took 18 long years to get rid of the Tories despite them never having more than 1 in 3 support. Only when there was an overwhelming near 70% hatred of the Tories were they removed by this system.

    It is ‘first-past-the-post’ that is the ‘democratic catastrophe’ where 75% of seats are dead certs (even in ‘landslide’ 97, only 186 seats out of 659 changed and most of those were more due to boundary changes) and favoured party candidates have never set foot near an area till they are selected there.

    People are sick and tired of both Labour and Tory, but the only other choice is to waste your vote and risk getting the worst of the two, or give up altogether – nearly 40% have given up and don’t bother voting any more (most of these are left leaning). Other parties become a wasted vote under this system because they are never given a chance to grow. It is catch 22 – you cannot vote for a party BEFORE they have built large-ish support, but parties cannot build large-ish support (and get media coverage) until people vote for them.

    In contrast, PR allows competition and allows ideas and parties to grow slowly over more than one electoral cycle gaining incremental representation that reflects their support.

    Government manifestos are currently decided in darkened rooms behind closed doors by the very few party activists, fighting between different wings, factions and cliques of the party. Currently if a Labour voter in a general election prefers John McDonnell to John Hutton they have no way of showing it. PR will allow voters to show these preferences – see the joins. If they are not happy with Labour they can vote to the left of the Labour party and know their vote will count and for once Labour will have electoral pressure from the Left as well as from the Right. Look at the mess Labour has got into with this system that pushes it further and further to the Right. This competition will be good for the Labour party – it will make you more attuned, more accountable.


  4. It’s great isn’t it. Instead of one party having the vast majority of councillors in an area despite picking up only just over a third of the votes, the councils actually have members elected on the basis of the overall votes cast. That’s not just a pedantic point. It means that there are genuine oppositions on those councils – meaning proper scrutiny for decisions and less chance of endemic corruption. It means that councillors will have to work for the first time ever in many places because they know that they won’t be re-elected just because they’re wearing a red rosette. They can even be beaten by someone from their own party who is prepared to put in the effort. It means that voters decide who is elected rather than party machines.
    As for complaining about multi-member wards, tell me – how many times have you voted for those to be imposed on people in England?
    Of course, you are right – minority parties can govern effectively. However, I think you are absolutely wrong to think that Labour could have done it in ’99. What the Lib Dems did was to allow the Edinburgh Govt to depart from the Blair diktat – allowing for a different approach to elder care and tuition fees for example. Had Labour been governing alone, I doubt that would have been possible. I would guess that toeing the party line in ’99 would have led to defeat in ’03.

  5. Peter

    I’m with Alex on this one. I always prefer democracy to “strong government” and as such we should have a form of PR for all elections. It is rare that one party convinces a majority of an electorate that it should govern alone – true for all the big general election victories (Thatcher 83, Blair 97). As such, no single party has the consent of the electorate to govern and should not do so save with others.

    In terms of the type of PR, STV seems to me to be the best. It preserves a constituency link and allows constituents to choose between individuals if they like a party or between representatives who will get things done and those who will not (regardless of party affiliation). It avoids the arty stitch up of a list.

    And as you say yourself, a minority government can operate effectively if it is run sympathetically so there is no need for a coalition.

    I hope that one day the leaderships of the main parties will get away from self interest and see that PR is a necessary adjunct to a democracy. But they seem to quite like the duopoly of power, despite years in the wilderness. It is odd to me – so pleased I am not a politician would be hopeless as those who fisk this will no doubt prove!

  6. Iqbal_M

    Dear Tom Harris MP, can you cite an example where PR-STV has been bad for Local Government in Scotland, because I can’t?

  7. Alex

    Oh come on, they give silver and bronze for sports: what does the ‘old’ system do? Rewards the winner with everything – no matter how close the result.

    It’s not like all parties are entitled to a seat under STV: some parties ‘win’ more votes than others and they get, surprise, more representatives. That’s why you can stand multiple candidates. I think there are better ways of doing it than 4 member STV but it’s a far superior system than anything that only returns one representative.

    After all, what does the old system give you if you’re a vote away from winning? Nothing.

    What does the winner get even if collectively other candidates were more popular? Everything.

    You yourself didn’t get a majority of the vote and that’s the case for most MPs – leading to the the sad state where most of the people in the country who bothered to turn up to vote didn’t get the MP they wanted. How on earth can that be healthy in a democracy? Wouldn’t your constituents be better served if they had multiple representatives so that we could guarantee more than half of them had a representative they voted for?

  8. richard

    Surely you mean “if you return to power”. You don’t want to seem presumptuous do you?

  9. I think the Lib Dems may just have benefitted from a sabbatical from power, and from the Mondeos, perhaps just a term sooner. Yes, yes, hindsight is a great thing but the Lib Dems didn’t come across at all well trying to explain why they had refused to even sit around the table with the SNP. If the sabbatical had been taken earlier then they could’ve affored to have been a bit more leisurely and relaxed about their current predicament. I also think, even though the polls didn’t punish them too badly last March, that they were quite tainted by their close association with Labour.

    To be honest, we didn’t need really need this SNP government to demonstrate the viability of minority government because the Danes and the New Zealand government have been gettin’ along fine for years. There’s a lot of great lessons Scotland could learn from our neighbours and minority government turns out to be just one of them.

    If it’s sci-fi horror films you’re into then I highly recommend I Am Legend; the film is as gripping and frightening as Matheson’s fifty year old novel.

  10. Carmichael – I thought “I Am Legend” was a big pile of pants, and not a patch on Charlton Heston’s “The Omega Man”, let alone Matheson’s novel. It was typical blockbuster-by-numbers that Hollywood gets away with all too often come each summer. Sorry.

  11. Re previous comment,

    LOL, I just realised what I said about lessons from our neighbours. I’m not suggesting for a minute New Zealand are our geographical neighbours, but you get what I mean,

    all the best

  12. Wes Mantooth

    Talking of horrors, try this out.

    Ladies and gentleman, please welcome First Minister of Scotland, Iain Grey.

    Re ‘I am Legend’ neither film is as good as the book.

  13. Oh well, there’s just no pleasin’ some people. I could accept criticism of the film because it’s open to accusations of fright-by-numbers but I think the book has that singular ability of great horror novels in making the hairs go up on the back of the neck quite, page after page.

  14. The reason the SNP administration works at all is that they talk to the other parties at Holyrood and try to work out how to make 64 votes in the chamber. Labour look like they only knew one way to do that, but ditching the Liberals is only half the solution.

  15. Madasafish

    I’m glad to see Mr Harris admitting PR was only chosen to stuff the Opposition Parties – to put it crudely.

    Now may I remind him of the West Lothian issue which was designed to stuff the English?

    After all, since we are now receiving a degree of honesty and openness from a Labour politician, much to be welcomed so no carping from me, how about a recognition that allaowing Scottish MPs to vote on English matters without vice versa is both unfair, wrong and untenable?

    Oh and how about a Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty?

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