Political mavericks

I recently reported from the Scottish Green party conference where Robin Harper made his last speech before standing down as a MSP. It got me thinking about where all the characters and political mavericks have gone.

One of the most refreshing aspects of the first two Holyrood elections in 1999 and 2003 was that proportional representation allowed for the election of independents and minority parties. Robin Harper became the first Green parliamentarian in 1999 and was joined by 5 other Green MSPs in 2003. Similarly Tommy Sheridan and his former party, the SSP, made strong showings. Independent voices such as Dennis Canavan and Margo Macdonald were also elected.

This gave us a parliament with some colourful characters who were free of traditional party political constraints. People genuinely liked someone like Robin Harper and whether they agreed with all the Greens policies or not they recognised his passion for the environment and social justice. Likewise whatever has subsequently happened in his private life Tommy Sheridan was as charismatic a politician as Scotland has produced in recent times. The man in the street believed Sheridan was talking for him.

So as the 2011 elections beckon what is the outlook for our  minority and independent politicians. The answer is a mixed bag. There may be an opportunity for parties or politicians offering a fresh alternative to gain votes from all the major parties. Labour and SNP both have scars of being in power, whether in Holyrood or Westminster,  and may be on the defensive. The Conservatives still have the toxic Tory handle up here and are unlikely to make any inroads. The Lib Dems meanwhile could pay a particularly high price in Scotland, where the Conservatives are hated, for their actions in coalition.

But is there anyone well placed to take advantage. There is always a possibility of a strong socialist party garnering votes in the old industrial heartlands. However the SSP may be fatally wounded by the Tommy Sheridan affair and Sheridan himself, the most electable socialist previously, will struggle to make a Lazarus like comeback. George Galloway is threatening to run and would probably stand a sporting chance of being elected. I would welcome this for even though I don’t agree with all his views Galloway is a great orator and will at least put the cat amongst the pigeons.

The party who seem best placed to benefit are the Greens. Their vote while falling in 2007 did not collapse as spectacularly as the SSPs and they maintained 2 seats. On the plus side they have wisely positioned themselves as a left social justice party opposing cuts and have some momentum from Caroline Lucas’ Westminster victory. They have however lost, in Harper, their best known politician and are still seen as many as a one trick pony.

It will be interesting to see what happens and I for one hope we get as wide a spectrum of views elected as possible.

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