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Posts Tagged ‘Holyrood’

Murdo Fraser Might Yet Be Very, Very Canny…

In Constitutional Spotlight, Home Affairs, Party politics, Regional politics on September 29, 2011 at 9:20 pm

By polarii for The Daily Soapbox

‘Canny’ is a singularly appropriate word when discussing Scottish politics. It comes from the Gaelic ‘can’ – to know, and hence has come to mean (especially used derisively by Englishmen of Scotsmen) ‘with an eye for thrift or a chance’.

Canny is also a singularly appropriate word to describe Murdo Fraser’s plan to separate the Scottish Conservative party from the UK Party. Not just because it detoxifies the brand of the most loathed party in Scotland. Not just because it allows Fraser to cast himself as the uniquely Scottish defender of the Union, without being in hoc to London.

Canny because it allows the Scottish Conservatives to play the voting system by using ‘decoy lists’.

The Scottish Parliament uses the ‘Alternative Member System’. Voters have two votes – a constituency vote and a regional vote. Constituencies work as they do for Westminster, but the regional seats are distributed like a PR list system, except with penalties for the parties that did well in the constituency rounds; thus, hopefully, balancing out some of the improportionalities of the FPTP constituency system. This is how the Green Party, with a relatively low level of support spread widely across Scotland, have been able to gain a seat or two at Holyrood – since they won no constituencies, they are not penalised in the regional lists like the other parties.

The ruse here assumes that Fraser’s new party (call them the Scottish Tories) will be in, at least, a loose alliance with the Conservative Party. Essentially, they would function as the coalition between the German CDU and the Bavarian CSU functions. And here’s the trick: one of the parties, say the Conservative Party, runs for the constituencies, and one, say the Scottish Tories, runs for the regional lists.

What this means is that the Scottish Tories have no constituency MSPs, so they are not given any penalty when it comes to calculating the regional list seats. Thus the Conservative Party wins all the constituency seats it otherwise would have, and the Scottish Tories win additional seats on the regional lists, since they have no penalties for winning constituencies, whereas all the other parties have.

To give an historical example, Italian lower chamber elections used to run on a similar system – but instead of regions, they did the proportional vote over the whole country – like an Italy-wide regional list. In 2001, both major coalitions put up two lists, and told their voters to vote for one list in the constituency elections and one list in the national list election. Their constituency lists carried 360 of 475 constituency seats, despite receiving 0.2% of the national list vote; everyone had voted for their coalition under list-title A in the constituencies, and for the same coalition under list-title B in the national list vote. The national list ruse was so successful for the victorious House of Freedoms coalition that one of its members, Forza Italia, had to surrender 12 seats because they had not submitted enough candidates on the national list to fill them!

And just for political balance, Labour have tried this too. They are so strong in the Glasgow constituencies that they stand very little chance of winning Glasgow regional list seats. But instead of saving money by not submitting a list, they tried to submit candidates from the Co-Operative Party in 2007. This would have had exactly the same effect as with Forza Italia, since every Labour voter in Glasgow would have switched their regional list vote to the Co-Operative Party, meaning Labour/Co-Operative would have won many constituency and regional seats. But the Electoral Commission struck it down on the grounds that, since no-one could be a Co-Operative Party member without also being a member of the Labour Party, they were essentially the same party.

But, with Fraser’s plans for an independent Scottish Tory party, the Electoral Commission will find an arrangement between them and the UK Conservative Party much harder to strike down. This needn’t be a problem for the other parties: the Lib Dems can follow their natural dividing lines and reform as an allied SDP and Liberal party. Labour can detach the Co-Operative Party. The SNP might struggle, but there are muted internal divisions which could lead to the formation of two mainstream nationalist parties.

The effect of this would be to make the regional lists completely separate from the constituencies. No party would receive penalties from their constituency seats, and so the regional list vote would essentially become full-blown regional PR, as their would be no penalties applied to groupings who had done well at the constituency level. This would make it easier for the two major parties – Labour and the SNP, who currently carry the most constituencies and so attract the most penalties – to gain an outright majority, which is currently very difficult (making the SNP’s recent victory all the more incredible).

I don’t know if this plan is in Fraser’s mind. I suspect not, because as soon as he goes down the decoy list route, so will all the other parties. Thus he will actually reduce his electoral advantage, because the Conservatives are currently advantaged relative to the other parties, since they do not win many constituencies and consequently attract fewer penalties. Having said that, if he plays his cards right, he could use this ruse for one election earlier than the other parties, and thus hope to gain some sort of incumbency advantage.

Maybe it will just show up the system for its convoluted and absurd nature. The last survey done on public understanding of the Scottish voting system (in 2003) showed that only 39% of people understood the system, which had decreased (somehow) since its introduction in 1999. When you consider that this is also the system used in Wales and London, and is very similar to the AV+ system the Jenkins Review recommended (the only difference in AV+ is that constituency seats are elected on AV rather than FPTP), the possibilities for complicated coalitions and system subversion multiply greatly.

At any rate, Fraser’s plan to break away the Scottish Tories is canny itself, even without this fiddle of the voting system. But coupled with it, even for one election, it has the potential to win the Conservatives massive gains in Scotland.


The Lockerbie Bomber’s Release: Right or Wrong?

In Home Affairs on August 28, 2009 at 12:02 am

On Thursday 20th August, Adbelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie Bomber, was released from Greenock Prison in Scotland on compassionate grounds. Megrahi is suffering from terminal Prostate Cancer. The question is, is his release the right thing, or should life mean life?

In 1988, Pan-Am flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing all 243 passengers and crew members; 13 years later, al-Megrahi, who’d been on the FBI’s most wanted list for over 10 years, was convicted of the bombing by a Scottish High Court of Justiciary in the neutral venue of Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

Less than 10 years after Megrahi started his life sentence, with a minimum of 20 years before he was eligible for parole, he was released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. Was MacAskill right to do this, or is the storm of criticism currently being flung his way right?

Some quarters, namely the USA, in the shape of Joint Chiefs Of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Joe Lieberman (Indep-Conn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) have called the decision “obviously political” and have said that it was a decision to improve British-Libyan trade. Lieberman linked the release of Megrahi to British interests and oil exploration in Libya; however he stopped short of accusing the UK of deliberately brokering a deal for his release. Ben Cardin however, went one further and definitely insinuated that the UK had indeed brokered a deal with Libya, a current OPEC member, for oil in return for his release.

Another position articulated by the USA, this time in the form of current FBI director Robert Mueller, is that the release of Megrahi gives “comfort to terrorists.”

While justice in Scotland falls under the remit of the devolved Government in Holyrood, The Westminster Government articulated it’s own position on the matter. A spokesperson for Gordon Brown said that the release has not given “succour to terrorists” but he also stated that the matter was purely a matter for the Scottish Government. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said “we understand the upset. We understand the disagreement. But we have to do what is right in terms of our legal system, what we are duty bound to do.”

Opposition Parties on both sides of the border have condemned the decision, with Nick Clegg saying “Although the decision to release Megrahi was a Scottish one for which Gordon Brown was not personally responsible, the fallout puts the UK at the centre of an international storm;” and the Leader of Scottish Labour, Iain Gray said “Last Week, the Scottish Government made a wrong decision, in the wrong way, with the wrong consequences.” This furore has led to Buckingham Palace confirming that the Duke of York will not visit Libya on a trade trip next month.

The Libyans are, obviously, rather pleased about the decision; Megrahi landed in Tripoli to crowds cheering and waving Libyan flags and Scottish Saltires. This reaction comes on the back of relations between the UK and Libya warming up after Tony Blair visiting Libya and Gordon Brown talking to Gadaffi at the G8 in Italy.

So, now we know the positions of the various parties involved in the debate, it is time to pull it all together into an analysis.

Under Scottish Law, Megrahi qualified for compassionate release as he was diagnosed with a terminal illness with less than three months to live. However, the huge manhunt involved in trying to capture Megrahi and the time spent on the trail in search of justice for victims indicates that Megrahi should have been forced to spend his life in prison. His sentencing details, life imprisonment with a minimum of 20 years without parole have not been observed.

Many people, including the USA and the British Opposition Parties, will argue that under these conditions, Megrahi should have died in prison, as countless others before him have done. His crime was tantamount to a mass murder bigger than that of Dr. Harold Shipman who killed a minimum of 218 people. Shipman’s sentencing conditions stated that he never be released, a decision confirmed by the Home Secretary. In the eyes of the law, what makes Megrahi so different to Shipman? Both killed many, many people, and therefore, in the eyes of the law, Megrahi should have an equal, if not harsher sentence than Shipman.

However, on the 6th August 2009, the Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs was given compassionate release by Jack Straw because of a serious bout of pneumonia that doctors said was probably fatal. However, Bigg’s health has since improved, but there have been no questions about his release. Although Biggs has not killed anyone, his robbery and subsequent escape from Wandsworth Prison are two of the most notorious events in British Criminal History.

So what makes Biggs any different from Megrahi? Both have committed atrocities, albeit in different criminal spheres, both inspired large manhunts and used a lot of time in their capture and trial and, in Bigg’s case, re-capture; and both are suffering from life threatening illnesses. So what makes them different in the eyes of the law? Why should Biggs be released and Megrahi shouldn’t be?

There is no concrete answer here, it is down to individual viewpoints, but in my view, Biggs and Megrahi are no different, Both committed heinous crimes, and both caused the criminal justice system countless man hours and piles and piles of cash; and both have life threatening health problems. So therefore, both should be released to spend their last months or days with their families without the fuss and condemnation that the release of Megrahi has generated.