Interesting developments this morning in Aberdeen Donside. SNP MSP Mark McDonald has announced this morning that he intends to seek the party's nomination for the constituency seat, vacated by the recent death of the SNP's Brian Adam, in the upcoming by-election. It remains to be seen whether party members will endorse McDonald's candidacy, but if they do, it throws up a few tricky and interesting legal implications under the Scotland Act, and the dual franchise of regional and constituency members of parliament it provides for.
In 2011, McDonald was elected as a regional member in the North East, ranked fifth of seven places down the SNP list. Not, you might think, the most promising situation for a young fellow with a family to feed and a political way to make after the next election, subject to the caprice and uncertainty of ranking by the party membership. Aberdeen Donside, by contrast, looks a far more comfortable berth. But there are risks. Section 9 of the Scotland Act governs how vacancies in Holyrood constituencies are to be filled. Subsection six makes plain that in any by-election to fill a constituency seat in the Scottish Parliament:
"A person may not be a candidate at such an election if he is a member of the Parliament or a candidate in another election to fill a vacancy."
The upshot? If he wants to stand in Donside, McDonald will have to resign first. If he does so, another vacancy will open up in the already almost-exhausted SNP list in the North East. Under the Scotland Act, regional vacancies are filled in a different way. No by-elections here. Instead, to find our replacement have to go back to the party list from the 2011. The parliamentary seat is allocated to next ranked person on the list. Where the party list is exhausted, the regional seat sits vacant until the next Holyrood election. The party cannot simply nominate a replacement. In this case, the beneficiary of McDonald's bravery would be the North East list's last candidate, Christian Allard, seen most lately in this parish as an unsuccessful candidate to be one of the SNP's six nominees to represent Scotland in the European Parliament.
For Mark, the game may be worth the candle. Brian Adam first won Donside in 2003, and held it with increased majorities in the two subsequent elections, topping off at more than 55% of the vote in 2011. The Labour Party would be his main competitors, and named their candidate this morning, picking Willie Young from amongst the ranks of their Aberdeen City councillors. Even with these starting advantages, the idea of resigning your seat and running for another can hardly be one anybody would approach without trepidation. In your enthusiasm to acquire a safer seat, you mean lose your political job altogether. If he is nominated to stand, McDonald will have to live by Alex Salmond's favourite motto, from the 1st Marquis of Montrose:
"He either fears his fate too much, Or his deserts are small, That dares not put it to the touch, To win or lose it all."