How I’ll be voting in the Scottish Parliament elections on May 6th

Me after being unlocked from the Scottish Parliament, June 2019

We’re in a time of great polarisation, largely driven by social media, in which it’s difficult to have reasoned, evidence-based discussions about political topics. I sincerely hope this modest contribution brings more light than heat. Obviously, the opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

Those who know me, know that I’m a big fan of nonviolent direct action as an effective and empowering path to a better world. Voting, not so much. As the philosopher Henry David Thoreau put it in 1849: “Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail.”

Nonetheless, we do occasionally have the chance to choose which set of politicians will warm the seats in our Parliaments. We get to do that in Scotland on May 6th; and I think on this occasion, our choice can make a huge difference to the future.

The Need for Independence

Convinced unionists, look away now: I believe that independence for Scotland is the only game-changing option on the table on May 6th. Independence is not merely desirable, as it already was in 2014 (I wasn’t living in Scotland then, but would have voted Yes) — but actually essential and urgent, for any kind of democratic, just and sustainable future. It would be an opportunity to create a new national constitution based on the sovereignty of the Scottish people, with direct democracy as an integral feature. (The recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland would be a good start.)

A more truly democratic Scotland would, among other things, make possible the radical changes to our economy and society that are needed to recover from the pandemic while simultaneously dealing with the global climate and ecological emergency (including large-scale rewilding, degrowth, and a rapid shift from fossil fuels to renewables, among other things). To be fair, just, and sustainable, these changes can’t be imposed from above by the state, but must come from the bottom up, via citizens’ assemblies and other forms of direct democracy — what Extinction Rebellion has been campaigning for over the past two and a half years.

Sadly, we can’t look to Westminster for any positive change. Boris Johnson’s government is deeply corrupt and authoritarian, responding to protest with massively increased police powers and a Union Jack-waving proto-fascism. I think it’s only a matter of time before they seek to remove Holyrood’s powers entirely; and the opposition parties are doing nothing to stop them.

Not to mention the fact (which matters a lot to me, as a member of a dual nationality family who lived in Spain for almost 20 years) that Scotland was dragged out of the EU against its will — and the only likely route to a closer relationship with the EU is via independence.

For all the above reasons, I believe we need independence as soon as possible. The question is, how to achieve it — and, specifically, how to vote on May 6th.

Constituency Vote: Bonnie Prince Bob in Edinburgh Central

As I’m sure you know, every resident in Scotland aged 16 or over (you don’t have to be a UK citizen) gets two votes — one for a constituency MSP, and one for a regional party list. I’ll talk first about the constituency vote, which is counted on a First Past the Post (FPTP) system, just like Westminster — meaning only one or two major parties stand a chance of getting elected in each constituency, and most votes are wasted.

When I lived in Edinburgh South constituency, my MSP was Daniel Johnson (Labour), who I believe did a good job generally, and was helpful to me personally, as well as supporting XR Scotland’s campaign for a Climate Citizens’ Assembly. He’s anti-independence, of course; but aside from that I believe him to be a good egg and I wouldn’t have too many qualms in voting for him.

Catriona MacDonald, the SNP candidate in Edinburgh South, was endorsed by SNP Women’s Pledge and so, unlike other SNP candidates, can presumably be trusted to defend women’s rights. Hence, I’d probably vote for Catriona in Edinburgh South — if I still lived there, that is.

But I’ve since moved to Edinburgh Central, where my MSP, until now, was the entirely useless Ruth Davidson (Conservative), who’s standing down at this election. How useless? Even when I locked myself to the Parliament railings (see photo) with some colleagues from Extinction Rebellion in June 2019 and sent her the key, she didn’t bother to come and unlock me, so I had to write her an open letter. (That’s a bit of a joke, by the way. I don’t really judge politicians by how they respond to stunts like this — but Ruth Davidson was actually useless as a constituency MSP; and even if she’d been any good, and was running for re-election, I wouldn’t vote for a Tory, and especially not with Boris Johnson as leader.)

Right now, the main contender against the Tories in Edinburgh Central is the SNP’s Angus Robertson, who I also won’t vote for. If for no other reason, I won’t vote for him because of the underhand way in which he was selected. The SNP’s ruling body/clique, the NEC, changed the party’s rules specifically so as to slide Robertson into place by excluding Joanna Cherry MP, one of their own brightest and best MPs and a long-standing resident of Edinburgh Central. (There was even a new word coined for this tactic — “cherrymandering”.)

I’m not the only one who was outraged by this. There’s an independent, anti-capitalist candidate by the name of Bonnie Prince Bob, running in Edinburgh Central specifically against the “carpetbagger” Robertson, and I reckon I’ll probably end up voting for him.

List Vote: Alba Party for Independence

But like I said, as in all FPTP elections, most votes will be wasted; and all the polls point to the SNP winning the overwhelming majority of constituencies.

As I expect you also know, the voting system used for the Scottish Parliament means that your vote in the regional list gets divided by the number of constituency seats your chosen party won in that region, plus one. This leads to a situation where, according to the polls, more than one-third of the population are planning to vote for the SNP in the regional vote — and their votes will lead to, quite likely, one additional SNP MSP being elected.

So voting SNP on the regional list seems pointless to me, even for independence supporters, when there are at least two other, nominally pro-independence parties standing — the Greens, and the new Alba Party. A vote for either of which will be worth between 5 (in the South) and 10 times what a list vote for the SNP will.

Between Alba and the Greens, I believe Alba will do the most to achieve independence for Scotland, and hold an SNP government to its commitment to independence. So if you, like me, believe independence for Scotland is urgent and essential, I think you should vote Alba on the regional list on May 6th.

I’m aware that many people don’t want to vote for Alba because they don’t like the leader, Alex Salmond — especially because they have heard the allegations of sexual harassment against him repeated so many times in the (predominantly unionist) media that they think “there’s no smoke without fire”, even though Salmond was found not guilty on all charges, not to mention being awarded half a million quid in compensation by the Scottish government. I don’t have any particular feeling for Salmond, but then I’m not voting for him as my best friend — I’m voting for his party to deliver independence for Scotland.

All the SNP have done on Indy since 2016, despite their pledge not to allow Scotland to be taken out of the EU against its will, is to ask Westminster for a second referendum and to be refused. They could have declared the coming May 2021 election to be a plebiscite on independence but they passed up that chance. There are other constitutional avenues that they have not explored, such as challenging the refusal in court. And the Greens, despite holding the balance of power in Holyrood, have done nothing at all in the past 5 years to hold the SNP’s feet to the fire on independence.

Why I won’t be voting Green this time

There are of course other valid reasons for voting Green, aside from independence. As a lifelong ecological activist I’m well aware of them. But though it pains me to say this, there are other aspects of the Scottish Green party’s agenda for which I absolutely will NOT vote. The most important being their attitude to the thorny issue of sex vs. gender identity — otherwise known as the transgender issue.

The Greens, in their current incarnation, are active supporters of the worrying idea that biological sex should be replaced, in law, by self-declared gender identity. Their manifesto says they will “Deliver long overdue reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, including statutory self-declaration” — i.e. allow people to change their legal sex at will, with no medical diagnosis. They also pledge “enshrining the Yogyakarta human rights principles into Scots law” — a set of principles which include, among other things, a call to “end the registration of the sex and gender of the person in identity documents such as birth certificates, identification cards, passports and driver licences”. So if you don’t agree with getting rid of sex on birth certificates and passports, then feel free to vote Green, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Case in point: In December 2020, all 6 Green MSPs unanimously voted against an amendment to the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill which would have allowed (overwhelmingly female) survivors of sexual assault to choose the SEX, not the self-declared GENDER, of their medical examiner. Subsequently, Andy Wightman, one of the best-known Green MSPs and a prominent land reform campaigner, resigned from the Green Party citing the “intolerance shown by some party members to an open and mature dialogue about the tensions and conflicts around questions of sex and gender in the context of transgender rights and women’s rights.” (NB. Wightman is now standing as an independent on the list in the Highlands & Islands region, and if I lived there I’d give serious consideration to lending him my vote rather than Alba.)

I have no beef with people who want to express their identity in any way they choose, as long as they don’t trample on other people’s rights. But when rights clash — as is the case when it comes to women’s rights and spaces, and the question of who is entitled to them — debate is necessary. I agree 100% with Wightman when he calls for “open and mature dialogue” and rejects intolerance. I sincerely hope you do too, because this is fundamental to a democratic society. It’s been said, “if you don’t support free speech for those you disagree with, you don’t support free speech.”

A party that tries to silence internal and external opposition to their agenda, doesn’t really believe in free speech, and is neither democratic nor progressive, no matter how much they claim to be. And much as I hate to say it, this is what the Green Party have become. Their manifesto claims that “We want to build a truly democratic nation state where everyone is empowered and where all elected representatives are truly answerable to the public” — but unfortunately, it seems that this doesn’t extend to people who disagree with them on the issue of sex vs. gender. So unfortunately, however much I might support other policies of theirs, I can’t vote Green on May 6th.

On this issue, Alba party has expressed a commitment to “protect and preserve women’s rights, not at any expense to others, but as a safeguard for women and girls” as well as “invites and will endorse a citizens’ assembly on how best to reform the Gender Recognition process in a respectful, sensitive and positive fashion.” We can’t yet say what they will do in office, but at least this shows they take the issue seriously, in contrast to the Greens.

Take-home message

For Scottish Independence, for women’s rights, for freedom of speech, and for mature and honest debate, I will be voting Alba Party on the regional list on May 6th. I’ll probably be voting for Bonnie Prince Bob in Edinburgh Central constituency. Obviously you should do whatever your own conscience dictates, but I hope you will consider the above arguments seriously.

With best regards,

Robert

writer, ecodesigner, XR activist