According to teasers and trailers on Twitter from the Sunday Herald, the SNP decided today to expel Bill Walker from the party.
Which is the right decision. For a number of reasons.
First, the most important ones. Bill Walker appears to have a history of abusing his wives and is alleged to also have faced an accusation of assaulting his step-daughter. In responding to the claims in the Sunday Herald, the Dunfermline MSP did not deny that he assaulted her physically using a pot, but instead claimed more or less that she started it.
There is, as they say, no excuse for domestic abuse. And there is no place in the Scottish Parliament for blokes who beat women. An isolated incident is one thing; a series of uncontested charges of violence against more than one women is quite another.
The SNP made the right decision on this ground alone.
But the party also had cause to expel him because of the lack of disclosure. It would appear that Bill Walker did not tell anyone about these matters from his past. Neither in the application form to become a parliamentary candidate nor to his local branch and constituency before, during or after selection.
There is no doubt that every single elected party representative (of all hues) and indeed, candidate has stuff in the cupboard they would prefer not to fall out. Most tend to tick this box in the application process with eyes tightly shut and everything crossed. Election hopefuls are human beings, after all, and nothing defines us as a species more than our capacity for weakness and failing. We’ve all done something stupid at some point in our lives.
Very few take the route of one potential by-election candidate who decided full disclosure was in order. It was, after all, a pretty high profile contest in a seat the party had a real chance of winning. Several hours closeted with a party official got it all off this person’s conscience and imprinted onto the memory banks of said official. By the end, the only thing unknown was the candidate’s favoured choice of toothpaste. But it was the right thing to do. Knowing in advance of any potential issues allowed the party to manage the risk and work out any rebuttal strategy. Sadly, such honesty is rare.
Of course, it could be argued that expelling Bill Walker allows the SNP to have its cake and eat it. Without sullying the party whip, the MSP is likely to continue to vote with the Scottish Government on most issues, maintaining its majority. And on issues where they disagree – such as on same sex marriage, the SNP can distance itself from Bill Walker’s intemperate and intolerant views. Expelling Bill Walker is not only the right thing to do, but also a useful one.
However, the voters of Dunfermline are not so lucky in that they have no say over whether or not Walker stays or goes. As is the case with Labour MP Eric Joyce, the electorate cannot convene a disciplinary committee in order to dump their recently elected MSP. MPs and MSPs cannot be pushed (unless they are convicted of an offence and imprisoned for more than twelve months) – they decide if and when they go.
The only person who can create a by-election in the Scottish parliamentary constituency of Dunfermline is Bill Walker. And if he has any shred of remorse or decency, he will now do the honourable thing and resign his seat. The people of Dunfermline deserve nothing less.
He was always an accidental MSP anyway: one of the many to benefit somewhat unexpectedly from the SNP landslide last May. However, there is no reason why the SNP shouldn’t hold the constituency in any by-election and demonstrate that it wasn’t just a fluke. The party is riding high in the polls, and while Labour and the Lib Dems think they are “on to something” with the Amazon tax avoidance issue, the electorate is not that gullible. They can tell the difference between a reserved and devolved issue, even if the opposition parties cannot. In any event, the hideous, giant sheds on the side of the M90 are providing jobs and that is what counts in tough times.
If Labour wants a foot on the ladder back to electoral respectability in Scotland, constituencies like Dunfermline must provide it. It needs a by-election test and now that John Park MSP doesn’t have other matters to distract him, it’s about time he fought to win a parliamentary seat.
Whoever the two main contenders put up for such a by-election, their choices couldn’t be worse than Bill Walker. Just so long as they conduct due diligence on the potential candidates of course.