Some commentators reckon we get the MSPs we deserve. But actually we get the MSPs the parties allow us to have.
According to the Scotsman, Mike Russell – currently SNP MSP on the South of Scotland list and Cabinet Secretary for Education – might not get back to Holyrood after the 2011 elections. He’ll be the candidate in Argyll and Bute, a seat the SNP holds but on a wafer thin margin. And with poll ratings what they are, it’s not guaranteed he’ll hold it. So to be safe, he needs a high ranking on the SNP list vote.
But according to an SNP “source”, that list ranking is “too difficult to call. He is facing competition. It is a quite crowded list.”
He could be out on his ear, looking for alternative gainful employment, courtesy of party members. And I for one am astonished. Particularly as this would be the second time they’ll have done it to their former Chief Executive.
Mike Russell is widely acknowledged as one of the big beasts in the Scottish Parliament. He has an intellect and anyone who has been up close and personal with the Parly will know that this is an attribute in rare supply. He is a skilled debater, and despite a reputation for being combative and abrasive, he is also one of the few MSPs who can and does reach across the parties. He is feared and respected in equal measure. Few profess to like him (though I have always found him to be congenial company) but that is hardly the point.
It would appear that Derek Brownlee, Conservative MSP for the South of Scotland, might also be in trouble. He needs to secure top spot on their list ranking to guarantee his return next May. His main challenger is the failed MP, Peter Duncan. Yet, Derek Brownlee in this Parliament has acquitted himself well, negotiating significant policy concessions during each annual budget process, giving the Conservatives a far bigger profile than their lowly numbers warrant. He is bright and able, is a capable media performer and an acceptable face of Scottish Conservatism, in so far as one exists. Not quite in the big beast league yet, but he has potential.
Neither of these MSPs should be having to scramble for re-election.
Holyrood needs its big beasts. In fact, it could do with acquiring a few more. Yet eleven years on, the party members who wield so much power over list rankings appear not to have quite grasped this. It might be tempting to reward loyal party servants who have put in a shift or two at the ground level but people really ought to think beyond that. There should only be three criteria applied when voting for parliamentary candidates:
– the person’s ability to win the party votes
– their potential to make a good MSP, in the constituency, region and in Parliament
– the difference their contribution might make to Scotland and the Scottish people
Where it involves the sitting MSP, members are entitled to ask themselves to what extent the candidate has achieved any and all of these three things. To choose future MSPs on any other basis is frankly a misuse of the privilege that the list ranking and consequently, the regional vote system bestows on party members.
Devolved Scotland faces the toughest economic times it has ever known: we need quality MSPs who can guide us through them. If Holyrood reconvenes next May without the likes of Russell and Brownlee, it – and Scotland – will be a far poorer place.