Tuesday 29 December 2020

Why May?

There is a vaccine. Thank God there is a vaccine. By the Summer we should all have had it and things be back to (the new) normal.

And that new normal would include elections and all that goes with them. Door to door canvassing: street stalls; hustings; TV debates with a live audience; Party rallies. Above all, scrutinised counting of the votes. Unless the vaccine is rolled out much more quickly than currently envisaged however that will not be the position in April or early May. Yet it remains the position of the Scottish Government that we should still have a vote on the first Thursday in May. A Scottish Government, you might note, who have already decided that the challenges of dealing with the pandemic and its aftermath means that we can't have secondary school exams in June or, indeed, conduct a Census at any time during the calendar year 2021.

On its last sitting day of 2020, Holyrood did pass legislation to allow for the possibility of the 2021 elections being postponed. So far was it recognised that we are far from out of the woods that it even provides that the election can be postponed by the presiding officer alone if (and the Bill, soon to be Act, says this expressly)  the Parliament can't meet because of continued Coronavirus restrictions.

So, in April/May it is acknowledged that the crisis might be far from over but the plan is still to have an election.

Indeed, on looking at its actual terms of the Bill, it is clear that the SNP Government wants an election in May. They give themselves powers to conduct an entirely postal ballot and reserve powers to conduct in person voting over several days. How logistically possible the first would be at this short notice is altogether another matter, while pulling essential local government workers away for days to act as polling clerks, Police officers being diverted from their duties to guard polling stations overnight and many schools being closed for days during a year of already widely disturbed educational is, how would you put it, an odd sense of priorities. 

And this is all wholly unnecessary. Almost as soon as the pandemic broke out, English local government elections were cancelled for a year by cross Party consensus. I understand there are quiet conversations going on about them being further postponed. The Electoral Commission have already recommended that.  But this time we wouldn't be talking about a year, for, if all goes to plan, there should be no reason that we couldn't have a normal election, as described above, on the first Thursday in October. Given they would remain in power in the interim in Scotland, why would the SNP object to that?

Here's why. They know they need to cut and run. The polling might look good at the moment but who says that will last. Particularly if, as I suspect, the failure to apply the cash they were given for business support, choosing instead to spend it on pre election freebies, sees the economy bounce back here much more slowly than in the south. Particularly further if, on more considered reflection, given our inherent advantages (in pandemic terms): far lower population density; far fewer multi generational households; far fewer particularly vulnerable ethnic minorities, people begin to question whether we really did much better than "them". Or even better at all. Except, even I would concede, in the field of public presentation.

Public presentation I suspect the Nats hope that, if they can hold on to May, they'll can continue with until a few weeks before the polls open? And also, in the process, avoid a Party Conference that might finally have to be confronted with there being no plan B. 

In summary therefor, there should be no election in May and if that is not a decision willingly taken at Holyrood, it should be taken at Westminster. Power devolved is, after all, power retained.