Argyll & Bute’s former MP, Liberal Democrat Alan Reid, has an untheatrical modesty that makes him easily accessible to constituents. It has also tended to mask the acuity of his reading of political rhythms and their impact on the ballot box.
Reid is also a stayer not a quitter. He is today one of only four of the 56 Scottish MP’s unseated by the SNP in May 2015 who is still fighting the political battle for his party, back standing as its candidate for the Holyrood seat in Argyll and Bute.
He is quoted in today’s national press as pointing out that third terms – which the SNP will certainly win this May and win well – are tough for any party; and that he expects the SNP to lose momentum and direction during that term.
He is right on both counts.
In a third term, the party of government has a substantial and documented track record to defend. It has also become familiar, a bit tired, a bit boring and is running out of ideas.
The SNP’s record in government – very particularly in their critical second term as a majority government, has seen a welter of damaging failure and underperformance in every single one of the areas of major governmental responsibility.
‘Damaging’ in this case, by the way, refers to Scotland and not to the political fortunes of the SNP – yet.
The surge of popularity has momentum in it still. The energy in the drive for independence is starting to wane but has enough left in it to carry another earth tremor of victory this May.
The waning comes from the gradual onset of realistic perspectives fuelled by empirical economic facts; and from the unease in the infantry at the SNP leadership’s failure of nerve in abandoning the moment the ground troops had delivered where they had a real opportunity to achieve independence.
The waning will continue after the victory, as the SNP confront the legacy of their governmental performance to date – and with markedly restricted abilities in their ministerial cadre for turning that situation around – where every one of the areas of substantial failure are of central importance to the country – health, education, policing, justice, transport and, not least, a spending habit unmatched by the ability to pay for it.
The May 2016 election will be the bravehearts last stand, the final imposition of the will to remain blind to reality in the hope that if they deliver one more stonking win, the party leadership will be emboldened to move as they wish – to a second push for indy.
But that moment has gone.
Having flunked the moment they were gifted by their ground forces, the leadership is more than fully aware of the reality of the economic facts and forces they swamped with rhetoric, chutzpah and simple knowing deception in their – in Ms Sturgeon’s – prospectus for Scotland’s Future in indyref 1.
They are also fully aware of the limited ability they have to deploy from their MSP number in any attempt to recover each and all of the failing areas of government.
The bravehearts’ last stand may well deliver the SNP a few new MSPs with competitive competence – but they will still be rookies in government; and some, if prematurely promoted, may be sufficiently arrogant about their comparative capability to create more problems than they resolve.
A post-election reshuffle will also test the First Minister personally as much as politically. Almost all of her own appointments to cabinet office have been failures – and some are her personal friends.
Chief amongst these is the hapless Health Secretary, Shona Robison, under whom the performance of the Scottish health service has increased in cost as fast as it has decreased in evidenced capability and fitness for purpose.
Ms Robison is also married to Ms Sturgeon’s Deputy Party Leader and titular leader of the SNP group at Westminster – the equally erratic Stewart Hosie.
How do you sack a friend or move her to a safe backwater where she will remain largely unscrutinised? And how do you sack that friend when the reverberations from that move may cause unrest amongst your rampant Westminster faction – the group whose micro-management is already taking so much of your time?
Then there is Angela Constance, a daily more risible occupant of the position of Education Secretary, utterly lacking credibility in her role but possessing the power it confers upon her to do harm.
Every aspect of Scottish education is now troubled in various ways – from primary, to secondary, to college to university. And the most basic skills of literacy and numeracy are proven not to be being delivered by the ludicrous ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ – at both primary and secondary level’.
Both of these Cabinet Secretaries were appointed in Ms Sturgeon’s trumpeting of her determination to recognise the ability of women. Both have devalued that currency in marked degree.
With the SNP clearly going to come under increased scrutiny in performance after the coming election, with fewer ideas, less star dust and more damaged goods lessening their chances of success, the need for a robust, well organised, well informed opposition with a clear and convincing alternative political raison d’etre could not be more important.
This need will govern the way the non-SNP electorate vote in May; and there is really only one choice available as to where to place that vote. for an effective opposition.
Whether or how either or both of the Liberal Democrats and Labour recover from their evisceration in Scotland and nationally is a matter for the future – and not an imminent future.
Kezia Dugdale, a charming Labrador puppy with as much political intelligence, is trying to make Labour an alternative to the SNP in faintly embracing independence [with no rationale for doing so]; and in pushing loose variations of a social justice agenda.
But why on earth would anyone with SNP, pro-independence or socialist sympathies vote for a blurred and uncertain alternative to the way the SNP is currently presenting itself – for an alternative that will have no power to enact anything? You would have to be a half-wit to waste such a vote.
Voting for the SNP party of government, which has the power to deliver, is the obvious best chance of getting what you want in these issues.
It is impossible to fathom why Ms Dugdale thinks that making Scottish Labour an ersatz SNP is going to go anywhere at the ballot box.
The wild card in the coming election is the Scottish Conservatives.
Under the plain speaking and clear sighted leadership of Ruth Davidson, they alone remain unequivocally of the conviction that continuing membership of the United Kingdom is the best and most constructive place for Scotland.
Their identity today is contemporary [unpatronising] one nation conservatism; and their press releases reveal a well organised research capacity interrogating issues with results fed both to their leading frontbenchers and to the media.
The continuing determinant of how people will vote is – and has to be – whether Scotland goes for independence or chooses to remain in the United Kingdom, in its current or a revised constitutional form.
If the Davidson Conservatives were to produce a manifesto proposing a specific relationship between Scotland and the UK; showing how it would work; articulating its specific advantages to Scotland; and identifying the measures they would take to bring Scotland and the UK into alignment to make this happen, they would be in electoral business.
This would feed and enliven the substantial pro-union vote as nothing has yet done, reassure and mobilise it, giving it something attractive to use as a recruiting sergeant; and as such, generate the capacity to attract a new vote.
Nothing will obstruct a huge SNP win in May – but if the Conservatives can mobilise their new recruit, Professor Adam Tomkins, to join them in pulling this sort of proposition together, they have the capacity to provide a counter excitement of exactly the right kind to change the political dynamic; unite the opposition vote on fresh and forward looking constitutional grounds; and direct an opposition with a chance of making an impact.
Realistically, what else is there? What have they got to lose?