An open goal

The shiteness of being Scottish is nowhere more palpable than in politics.

It feels sometimes as if the gleeful vitriol with which political opponents lay into each other in defence of ideology or party allegiance has a peculiarly Scottish taste to it. Even in a country famous for uncovering the principles of things in order to understand and communicate what is going on to the world, any clear understanding of the present condition of politics is made impossible by ideological battles and deliberate obfuscation, history is invisible to those living through it, each claiming their own strategy to be the only one that will work, or their particular ideological commitment the only one offering any truth, as all others are lying or deluded.

Regular readers will know that I am a fervent supporter of Scottish independence. To this end, since my return to Scotland I have always voted for a political party that supports independence. I do not have any delusions about this: despite Thatcher’s famous assertion that Scotland could become independent by electing a majority of independence supporting members to Westminster, when this happened Scotland did not become independent. Perfidious Albion always changes the rules to ensure that its interests are served, and it will continue to do so for as long as it remains unchallenged. There is no doubt in my mind that the struggle for Scottish independence inevitably involves conflict of one sort or another with the British state, which is capable of anything in defence of its power or in pursuit of its interests. Anybody who does not realise this has not being paying attention to history. The Scottish independence movement has always been split between those who realise this and those who do not; those who believe that Scottish independence is possible by purely democratic means, with the permission of the British State, and those who see this as politically naive.

The senior party in the governing coalition at the Scottish parliament has adopted a long view, very slowly building up institutions and introducing policies different from predominant ideologies of Britishness, which it believes will make the eventual transition to independence more straightforward. Apart from the usual bleating from defenders of the so called United Kingdom, jumping on any failing of government in an attempt to demonstrate that the devolution experiment has been a disaster, and that the Scottish Parliament should be closed down, or at least reduced to the status of parish council, there are also critics of the Scottish government who speak from positions of principle and with no desire whatever to thwart the cause of Scottish independence. Unfortunately, supporters of the Scottish government do not always get this; they appear sometimes to believe that theirs is the only political party favouring independence or that it is the only force capable of bringing this about; they see all criticism of government as coming from supporters of the Union, caught in a sterile dichotomy that obscures and conceals reality. More grist to the mill of Scottish shiteness.

The voting system used to elect members to the Scottish Parliament is designed specifically to prevent any one party gaining an overall majority, or alternatively to ensure that the chamber faithfully represents a full diversity of political opinion. Despite this, one party has been in government for fifteen years, either as a minority government, in coalition with another party or with an overall majority – a result considered by most commentators as anomalous, but at the same time is surely indication of the strength of support for that party and what it stands for. For electoral purposes, the country is divided into 73 constituencies each of which returns one member, and into 8 regions of 9 or 10 constituencies, each of which returns 7 members, making a total of 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament or MSPs. Voters are asked to choose two representatives; one for their constituency and another for their regional list. The candidate who gets the most votes in each constituency is elected as MSP for that constituency. Votes for all the other candidates in the constituency ballots are then discarded. Votes for the regional lists are supposed to compensate for this. List votes are cast for a party rather than for a specific candidate, with each party supplying a list of preferred candidates, hence the name. The first list MSP in each region is chosen by dividing the total number of votes for each party by the number of MSPs that party has already gained in the region, plus one. The winning party then has one MSP added to the number it already has, and the process of diving the number of votes for each party by the number of MSPs it already has in that region, plus one, is repeated until all 7 regional MSPs are elected.

This means that if a party wins every constituency in a region, then the votes it receives on the list will be worth only one tenth of the votes on the list for a party that has no constituency victories. This is simply a mathematical fact. It is a consequence of the system used to calculate how votes are translated into seats in parliament. Ever since I returned to live in Scotland and acquainted myself with the voting system for the Scottish Parliament, I have been able to see a fairly obvious way of gaming this system. Purely mathematically, if an independence supporting party fields candidates only on the list and if independence supporting voters are clever, then it becomes possible to ensure that parliament is stuffed with independence supporting members. Of course, as many commentators have pointed out, this in itself does not outline any specific strategy in the direction of independence. Neither does the maths guarantee that voters will actually see the potential of gaming the system like this and then cooperate, to work together en masse to bring it about. It remains however possible in principle.

Without getting into the sordid details of the last five years of Scottish government and the many controversies whipped by reactive British nationalist media, nor to regurgitate the grubby business of internal party politics, it is uncontroversial to observe that in the eyes of public opinion, domestically the coalition of the SNP and the Green Party, which currently holds power at Hollyrood is doing very well, and despite a great deal of recent and unnecessary cultural warfare about the Gender Recognition Act and the Hate Crime Bill, it is introducing sensible social democratic policies that distinguish it from the government at Westminster, the policies of which are designed only to advance the fortunes of a particular class without regard to anybody else. There is no doubt that the popularity of the Scottish government is in itself a thorn in the side of the British State. There is nevertheless a growing clamour of discontent among supporters of Scottish independence about the extent to which the SNP has been pursuing its stated fundamental aim of securing Scottish independence. In the light of this, a number of independence supporting political parties have come into existence, one or two of which registered at the Electoral Commission for inclusion in the forthcoming Scottish Parliamentary elections. All of these have advocated for voting SNP in the constituency ballot and voting for them on the list. Clearly, for as long as there is a plurality of so called list only independence supporting parties standing, the system cannot be gamed. This can only happen if there is only one list only independence supporting party standing candidates, and that it receives the votes of all those who support independence or who voted for the SNP in the constituency ballot.

So far this is just theory, speculation based only on the logic of the voting system and a broad consideration of the condition of politics in the run up to Scottish Parliamentary elections. It ignores of course the shiteness of being Scottish, of our tragic tendency to divide into sects and to fight among ourselves as battles against the real enemy are lost, positions of advantage squandered and the imperial power moves in.

But then suddenly, out of the blue, a party emerges, arguing from principles similar to those outlined above that the voting system can indeed be gamed. It is standing candidates only on the regional lists and advocates voting SNP in the constituencies. Coincidentally I am sure, all the other list only parties that had registered for the forthcoming election stand down all their candidates and advocate voting for this one party on the list, while voting for the SNP in the constituencies. The leader and founders of the party, all candidates and all of its rising membership stand by a commitment to suspend party allegiance, explicitly not to engage in personal attacks on other supporters of independence, for the sake of ensuring that the Scottish Parliament is filled at the forthcoming election with independence supporting members. In this way pushing the thorn more deeply into the side of the British State and ensuring many strategies towards independence are explored, in addition to those favoured by the current government. There is no doubt that the British State is seriously threatened by this possibility. It would lose a great deal of moral and political clout almost overnight if the strategic aim were to become reality, and it might at last begin to give in to the inexorable tide of history, to see that despite its flag shagging, all of its clandestine efforts to undermine the devolution settlement and to bypass the Scottish government, the tide of public support for Scottish independence is rising beyond its control.

From where I am sitting, the Scottish electorate is looking here at an open goal.

Sadly we all know what happens when we Scots see an open goal before us.

All it would take to score that goal would be for independence supporting people in Scotland to sink their differences in a common cause, to forget about personalities, about who said what to whom, about whose party is best, or about any specific policy issue beyond the goal of independence.

All it would take to score the goal would be for all those who believe voting makes any difference to anything and who support Scottish independence, to vote on May 6th for the SNP on the constituency ballot, because it has shown itself to be a competent party of government, and to vote for ALBA on the list ballot, because its members will ensure resources are not squandered by unionist parties picking a fight with the government for no other reason than that they are unionist parties, and to make space available within the Scottish Parliament for healthy non-partisan discussion of policies appropriate to our new country, as well as of strategies for disengaging from the British State.

Scoring that goal will not bring about independence, but it will pile up the tally, move politics in this country along with the tide of history, help us understand how the shiteness of being Scottish has left us damaged.

Time for Scotland to begin the process of healing.

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Thank you for reading. Never give up.

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Author: Duncan Spence

Mountaineer, retired bicycle messenger, philosopher, wordsmith, proofreader, Dutch translator.

17 thoughts on “An open goal”

  1. .. a good read, succinct and unbiased.

    Apart from the die hards who simply cannot engage with change, or refuse to for reason of other agendas, those engaged and knowledgeable in Scottish politics and the Indy movement, who have serious reserves about ALBA, have been voicing their concern by repeatedly asking one question…

    What can ALBA actually DO once they’re into the parliament? Explain rationally, without using ‘faith’ or ‘belief’.

    I’ve been trying answer this question, by explaining that, for me, ALBA mean the difference between voting, and not engaging or voting at all. That’s where I was on the back of events.

    I think that in itself is reason enough if need be, but it’s also the ‘possibilities’, which may be Ill defined at present, but wouldn’t have a shout at all were it not for ALBA.

    I don’t claim to have any certain expectations or ‘beliefs’ as to what ALBA can or will do, but things are definitely going to change, and given how I feel about current circumstances, I can’t help but think that can only be a good thing.

    Great piece, cheers!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glenn, thank you for commenting.

      I think the choice for independence supporters who are not blinkered party hacks is between SNP/Green or SNP/Alba, which is between the status quo and something else we do not yet know about, but promises to make a big difference. It is always going to be a gamble and who knows what dirty tricks the Brits have already got underway, but for many the second option offers opportunity, hope and a much more interesting parliament.

      This has also focused minds on the voting system and forces people actually to understand how it works. Trouble is though that the the status quo has an interest in people not properly understanding the voting system.

      I also think that the Green Party will pick up votes on the back of the Alba campaign. Some say the independence vote is being split; I would suggest on the contrary that it is being doubled 🙂

      Thanks again.


  2. Hi Duncan.

    I thank you for civil and considered response.

    I would like nothing better than for the issues to take centre stage, but people are not like that and politics is not like that. It is frankly fanciful and naïve to think otherwise.

    So yes, I refuse to accept the challenge, as I regard it as a fool’s errand.

    Let’s say that, in a sense, I suffer from Alex Arthur’s problem in that I pull no punches with my views, especially when I feel that a heavy dose of reality needs to be poured over proceedings. But I am not seeking political office, which ultimately means compromise and dealing with people across the board of political persuasion, amongst other differences.

    It is not my intent to sow discord but to wake people up to the problem and for the movement to realise that how people are perceived matters. Alex Salmond is reviled even more than Boris Johnson – and that takes into account his Indy support, just as Johnson’s level of popularity takes into account his Tory support. Salmond is still popular within the movement, but not outside of it. That matters, whether you like it or not. Because it affects the movement’s ability to appeal to voters who are not Yes voters (yet).

    You need to realise that the people who have not come around to Indy do not think as you do (or as I do, for that matter), and we need the bridge that gap if we are to win the referendum when it comes. Do you really think that Salmond, with his reputation, is going to improve those chances, or worsen them?

    As for your comments about the Scottish Green Party, I absolutely cannot agree. Indeed, it seems hypocritical to me to support a brand new party with few policies in place, that seems to be filled with chancers who are seeking or re-seeking an office that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, over a party with years behind it of supporting independence. It may not be their number one priority, but the Greens understand that without Independence, the policies they want to enact are unlikely to come about at all, let alone anytime soon. Yet here you are complaining that we should toss them aside for a party of problematic individuals, at least some of whom, seem to be far more about being in Parliament for themselves, than for Indy.

    I might agree with you insofar as independence not being the primary issue for the Greens, but I greatly disagree that they are pro-Indy due to it being opportunistic. That’s Salmond. That’s Alba!

    If we put Salmond into the Scottish Parliament and the Unionists go for him and repel voters away from Indy because of his being there, by constantly making the news be about him or him v Sturgeon, just as they did in 2019 with Corbyn and anti-Semitism, and having Corbyn versus members of the PLP, don’t say you weren’t warned about Unionists doing so.

    So no, I don’t accept your challenge. And as for your footie analogy, just make sure that the empty goal is the opponent’s goal, and that you haven’t been spun around to kick the ball into your own goal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you again for civilised engagement.

      I guess I do not disagree with your characterisation of what might happen, but I do not believe this to be a foregone conclusion. And I certainly do not agree that ALBA is opportunistically supporting Scottish independence – nothing could be further from the truth. There is clearly a difference between SNP and ALBA when it comes to tactics, but the goal is exactly the same. Scottish autonomy.

      I do not have a very high opinion of the Green Party (for many reasons) and I believe I am not alone in this. I do not believe moreover that the Green Party is a natural home for supporters of independence who are disaffected with the SNP. That only one party dominates the independence cause is extremely unhealthy in my view. That the Brits are bricking it at the prospect of a large majority of independence supporting members at Hollyrood is evidence in itself that ALBA has struck a raw nerve.

      Having said that, I have no problem with anybody voting SNP1 and Green2 if that is what they want to do, because this too will likely excise Hollyrood of Unionists. But it will not bring about the supermajority required for autonomous action.

      I have serious issues with SNP1&2 as a strategy, particularly when it is piled on so vociferously by the SNP hierarchy and appears to rely on people remaining ignorant of the voting system. Perhaps if the SNP issued instructions to supporters to vote SNP1 and Green2, there would be no need for another independence supporting party like ALBA. But that’s not going to happen.

      As I see it, a vote for anything but SNP1 ALBA2 will result in the continuation of the status quo. Independence will be kicked further down the road. The Brits will move in to close down or bypass the Scottish parliament. The Scots will spend the next fifty years tearing lumps off each other and blaming one party or other for the failure. Thankfully I will not be alive to witness this.

      I maintain that there is a real opportunity here to rock boats, rattle cages, upset apple carts, call it what you will, to move Scotland forward at a distance from Perfidious Albion. All it takes is to forget party allegiance and personalities. I am aware that this is a very tall order indeed. But this does mean that it cannot be a worthy aspiration. It remains in any case a good strategy, not only at this particular political juncture, but also for life.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I very good post in the main, but I want to address what I see as its shortcomings.

    “…it is uncontroversial to observe that in the eyes of public opinion, domestically the coalition of the SNP and the Green Party, which currently holds power at Hollyrood (sic) is doing very well, and despite a great deal of recent and unnecessary cultural warfare about the Gender Recognition Act and the Hate Crime Bill, it is introducing sensible social democratic policies that distinguish it from the government at Westminster…”

    My question to you then, given the above, is why you jump to voting on the list vote for Alba, having Voted SNP in the constituency vote, instead of The Scottish Greens, who also support Independence?

    I am not inclined to ignore the people that make up the party, as you suggest (“to forget about personalities”). We have a man leading it, who may have previously been revered in the Indy movement, that has been revealed as a serial sex-pest to women. He may not have broken the law with his behaviour, but not being a criminal is a low bar we are all expected to comply with.

    His personal rating is so low across the board that he lifts Boris Johnson off the bottom. In short, Salmond isn’t going to help persuade people over to Indy. If anything, he will repel people. That’s bad for Indy.

    We then have a boxer who clearly lacks the ability to not offend entire groups of people with ignorant use of language. No, he doesn’t have spin doctors, and maybe that “shoot from the hip” style might appeal to some people, and maybe he could reach people that other politicians can’t, but he can do that for the movement without running for office. I cannot imagine he would be any good as an MSP, who would need to represent people of all persuasions within his list constituency.

    We also have serial politician Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, who is now on her third political party.

    You’re looking to win the battle of the Scot Parly elections in a way that may fail to win the war of independence. We we were winning this without the polarising Alba Party, who will repel potential Indy voters for the reasons I give above.

    I frankly accuse Alba supporters of ignoring who they are voting into the Scottish Parliament and whether they will a) be competent at it and/or b) be able to persuade anyone other than existing Indy supporters to actually vote for Indy and c) not be used by the Unionist side to attack support and potential voters for Indy.

    Polling had the SNP/Greens at over 80 seats and near that meaningless Supermajority without Alba.

    And it is meaningless. This concept of a “Supermajority” has little credence. Having two-thirds of MSPs supporting Indy makes little/no difference in the Scottish Parliament than having a pro-Indy majority. It also does not change the overall number of people intending to vote for Indy. If anything, voting the likes of Alex Salmond into the Scottish Parliament now may repel people from supporting Indy.

    You should also be wary of the press and how it reports Alba. We know that they will assist the Unionist side, so we should assume from this point that all that they do has that in mind. They have already given away before the campaign that one of the things they are hoping for is the Indy movement tearing itself apart and splitting the vote in the Parly, perhaps resulting in a failure to gain a pro-Indy majority. They are already trying to make this about the SNP having an SNP majority (which of course the SNP are doing, to, for simply party-political reasons), but the movement only needs a pro-Indy majority at Holyrood to continue to put in place the second referendum. Polling says we already have this.

    We have all laughed or cringed at the flags issue and the obvious lack of subtlety with it, that is fooling no one. But this is also the ‘dead cat on the table’ that is designed to make you look at that and not check for the more subtle things.

    Would it not be fair to say that if we see something Unionists don’t like, we are automatically inclined to support or consider it?

    And don’t you think they know that?

    The Unionists can see that having Salmond in the Scot Parly gives them something to hang their “No” campaign around. And if his cohorts also give them ammunition to use, so much the better.

    You are being played. Salmond wants back in the Parly so he can say he was there at the moment we gained Indy, as opposed to being someone who had helped it to where it is today, in the past. If Salmond really wants to support Indy, he should stand down. But his ego does not accept that he could be the very thing that Unionists can coalesce around and use against the movement.

    The Unionists want Salmond in the Scot Parly because it gives them ammunition to use later, during a referendum campaign. They are playing up Alba because of Salmond. They wouldn’t do it, knowing that Indy supporters would support the idea because they don’t like it. If Salmond wasn’t there, Alba wouldn’t be getting the coverage.

    They can then make Salmond the central issue of their “No” campaign, just as they made anti-Semitism the thing for Labour, whilst letting Labour shoot itself in the foot over its Brexit stance.

    Indy voting is on a knife-edge again. It wouldn’t take much to send it either way, so we need to make less mistakes that the Unionists and remember the prize.

    You may see the voting of Salmond and other Alba people to the Scot Parly as aiding the movement in the short-term at least, but I see it as a mistake that could cost us the prize. I don’t see Alba, nor Salmond in particular (who will be made the face of Alba by the media, unless someone else in Alba screws up royally and can be made the poster-person) as helping the cause anymore, but hindering it.

    The one simple thing that Alba could do to change my mind about them is for Alex Salmond to stand down as a list candidate. He can still lead from the side-lines, as far as I am concerned, but not stand to be an MSP. Then I could be more supportive of the third Indy party, because it will be removing the polarising Salmond as ammunition that the opposition will use to sway potential Indy voters to vote “No”.

    We do not need Alba or Salmond to get us what we need in the Scot Parly to get us the referendum and a referendum campaign. We only need a majority of pro-Indy MSPs. Polling says we already have that. Losing Salmond as an MSP would not stop that. It may actually help.

    You might revere Salmond for what he has done in the past; you might support him, but you need to look beyond that and realise that he is a liability now to the movement and to obtaining a majority vote for independence.

    I urge people to not vote for Alba, unless Salmond stands down, because his presence WILL be used to repel voters from Indy, because beyond the bubble of pro-Indy support, he is reviled.

    Think longer term and eyes on the prize. Vote SNP or Green, but don’t vote Alba.


    1. Jammor, I do not know who you are, but I must thank you for reading this post and for taking time to respond to it. And I apologise for my middle of he night reaction. It is nonetheless all I can say. I will not engage with any discussion about the character of anybody. I am of course aware that certain people are unpopular in certain quarters, but it is my experience also that these same people are popular elsewhere. Hence my exhortation not to discuss personality or character but to focus on issues. Your response indicates to me that you cannot yet do this.

      I note that you do accept the logic of the argument presented by ALBA and many others that casting a second vote for a party that is already likely to have won a large number of seats in any region is a complete waste of a vote. You could hardly deny the mathematics.

      I am a little dismayed however that you think that the Green party is an independence supporting party. It is not. It favours a kind of ecologically mindful neoliberalism; its support for independence is not its fundamental purpose, but simply an opportunistic vessel for its political aspirations.

      Your advocacy of SNP/Green is advocacy of the status quo, which for many has become the problem. What I am suggesting is that we forget completely about party allegiance, that we see membership of a party as simply a vehicle to fill Parliament with independence supporting members and to game out the unionists as they have been gaming us out forever with voting systems designed specifically never to upset the status quo. What I am suggesting is that here is a real chance of upsetting the status quo. All we have to do is stand above arguments about party allegiance, to eschew any kind of sectarian division or personal abuse. Otherwise we are sucked back inside the shiteness of being Scottish.

      I have to say that in response to your response, which concentrates on the character of one man as being a political liability without accepting the fact that many hold him in high regard, nor that he is regarded even by his opponents as an extremely astute political operator, a bit of me is resigned again to the shiteness of being Scottish.

      For in the post to which you responded, I tried very hard to present facts, to use logic and to make sensible historical observations in order to point out a real possibility for radical change. I suggested that all we have to do is rise above division and abuse and work together. This is a challenge issued to every Scot who believes in independence to focus only on that and to see the logic of the system, to see the open goal, to take careful aim and wellie the ball into the back of the net.

      Although it is qualified, your response is still a refusal to accept this challenge.

      Thank you again for your comment.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. An excellent explanation of where we are and how to score that crucial, nailbiting goal! I will try to spread it to people who can’t see the big picture and there are many. Thanks 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for that excellent, clear and important explanation of the case for SNP 1 and ALBA 2. This needs to be shared as widely as possible. Hang on in.there Duncan

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Duncan, thank you for this blog. It is factual and accurate and I wish it was possible to make all SNP supporters read and accept the truth portrayed. Uniting against the common enemy at Westminster should be easy but we are easily swayed by their propaganda and that of the Scottish government – at this time.

    Liked by 7 people

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