Bit of a strange afternoon as everybody else here has gone off to see one of the staff getting married leaving me to hold the fort but, with no clients, little or nothing to do.
So I thought I might as well rattle off a wee Friday blog about the Donside by-election. Which, in my opinion was a bad result for all the major Parties involved.
I say all the major Parties because I can't really comment on how the Scottish Christian Party feel about their 222 votes, you'd need to ask them.
To the more serious players however, in reverse order.
First, the non-runner. Where was the SSP? There was indeed no ultra-left candidate, presumably because they didn't have the resources. Or perhaps they were too busy being an "important" part of the Yes Scotland coalition.
And then to those who did, at least, start.
Everybody seemed, out of politeness, just to ignore what was an appalling result for the Greens, much closer to the self same Scottish Christian Party than to any of the proper also rans. I do struggle to explain this. The Greens seem to me to be the only Party with a really distinctive current policy offering for the Parliament and many of their ideas seem to me to have support at least among liberal middle class opinion. It's probably fair to say that all the other Parties think, in equity, that they ought to do better. But they don't . One for Patrick Harvie to explain. He may also have to explain to his chums in Yes Scotland what exactly he's bringing to their party. It certainly doesn't seem to be votes
Which brings me to the new kids on the block, UKIP. This was a problem of expectation. Their 1,128 votes certainly kills off the idea that they are completely irrelevant in Scotland, unless that same argument is to be deployed against the Greens, but if it was to be a platform on which to build it is a pretty ramshackle one. Given their success elsewhere, again the question however must be why? There is undoubtedly some truth in the assertion that they have allowed themselves to be portrayed as an exclusively English Party and that such a perception is toxic in Scottish politics. That remains the Tories major problem. But it is surely also that if you, as a Donside voter, were inclined to a distaste for foreigners, uncosted policy promises and populist leadership then there was another, more obvious, recipient for your vote.
Then we have the Tories. Started third. Finished fourth. Enough said.
And so on to the Libs. At first glance they might be the only ones with a justifiable claim to real progress. An increased vote share and an improved place. Except that the increase was only on that vote achieved in the annus horribilis of 2011 and still only to 8.3%. This is an area where the traditional Liberal support was c.15%. Still, I fear, a long way to go.
Thus to the final two. I can do the old "great result" spin. Increased share, 9% swing, "one of the SNP's safest seats" etc etc. All true. But its also true that people rarely remember who came second. And I think there is something that needs to be said about that. Labour now chooses Westminster Parliamentary by-election candidates with considerable care. Emma Lewell-Buck, the local social worker who held South Shields for us with ease in what could have been a difficult contest, was a perfect fit for the seat. But she wouldn't have been any fit at all in, for example, Cambridge.
Labour rushed into candidate selection in Donside and chose the person the Party would have liked to have been the MSP if the electorate hadn't been a feature. But the electorate were a feature and the choice of any local councillor was surely something that should have been given some more thought. It might not be fair, but people seldom have a good word for the Council anywhere. Labour can hardly be to blame for all the inadequacies perceived in Aberdeen Council, not least since we've only recently returned to power. Nonetheless by choosing a councillor as the candidate we inevitably invited our opponents to seize on this, so that what was meant to be a contest about the direction of the Holyrood Parliament ended up focusing on the adequacy of a roundabout and the need or otherwise for some local school closures. That was never going to be favourable ground for us but we had invited our opponents on to it.
Further, any victory by us would inevitably have sought to rely on tactical anti-independence votes from Liberals and, I don't mind admitting, even some Tories. The least likely magnet for that would be a tribalist Labour Candidate. Nothing wrong with Labour tribalists, I'm one myself but to continue my racing metaphor, you need the right horse for a particular course. These decisions are too important to be taken by local activists, in a hurry and without some assistance in the responsibility of their decision making. Hopefully that's a lesson learnt.
And so to the victors, the spoils. The reason this was a bad result for the Nationalists wasn't really the fact that they lost a quarter of their vote share. It's mid term and it seems common ground that Brian Adam had a significant personal vote. No, the reason it was a bad result for the SNP was that in order to hold on to what was their eleventh safest seat they nonetheless had to disavow the suggestion that voting for them had anything to do with Independence. Voters were encouraged to support them as a mark of respect to Brian Adam; to keep the Council; Tax freeze and indeed to do something (never really quite explained what) about this bloody roundabout. All very well, except that if they couldn't sell separation in their eleventh safest seat then it hardly bears out the "secret private polling" boasted of by Yes Scotland. Sure, the Referendum is still a year away but the "plenty of time" argument is beginning to wear a bit thin. And getting thinner.
But there was a final reason this was a bad result for everybody and that is the turnout. 38%. Never mind any implications for what that means for a country allegedly in political ferment over independence, it is surely a worry for politicians of all parties that 62% of Donside voters apparently couldn't care less about who represents them in the Scottish Parliament. This was at times a close contest, so there's not even the excuse that "everybody" knew what the result would be that sometimes excuses low turnouts in foregone conclusion seats.
What can be done about that? Perhaps for a start we should stop talking down the Parliament's powers and responsibilities. But perhaps also we need a somewhat bolder politics.