9 April 2015

Notes on "Defcon F*****d"

Believe it or not, in Inverness Nairn Badenoch and Strathspey in the general election of 2010, Danny Alexander's primary challenger was the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrat secured just shy of 41% of the vote in the Highland seat (19,172) while his Labour challenger Mike Robb took 10,407 to John Finnie's (SNP) 8,803. This time out, Alexander faces Drew Hendry for the Nats, while Labour have given Mike Robb a second crack at the seat.  

But given the history of the constituency, its Holyrood voting behaviour, and the failure of the Scottish Labour Party to pitch beyond urban (and increasingly west-central) Scotland, few folk will be expecting Danny Alexander to be unseated by the representative of the People's Party. Robb will hope to run his opponents close, and to build on his solid 2010 performance to make it a three-way race, but Ashcroft's February poll suggests that he has already been pushed into a distant third.

Those of you watching even snippets of the STV and BBC Scotland debates these past two evenings will have been struck by the vehemence with which the old Better Together coalition representatives went hunting for Nicola. And no surprise. The SNP is the only political party which can really be said to be in contention in every single seat in Scotland. Aberdeenshire to the Borders, Dundee to west central Scotland, everyone up there with Sturgeon has something to lose. Everyone, everywhere, has colleagues and comrades, with a Nat potentially nipping at their heels. The same cannot really be said of Labour, defending their redoubts, or the Tories, trying to shore up Mundell and hoping to give the ailing Liberal Democrats a kicking in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk. 

Whatever your view of the national question, Nicola was always going to have a big, beaming target on her back. And despite the rough handling and the multiple angles of fire, she held up well.

Deprived of the relative security of a proportional electoral system, first past the post ratchets up the stakes. It forces the candidates - as if they needed any encouragement - to fight like rats in a sack. The risks and rewards of failure are far greater. Think of it this way. If Holyrood had been elected in 2011 solely on the basis of who won in the Holyrood constituencies, the SNP would have won 53 of 73 seats (73%) on the basis of 45% of the votes. Labour would have been reduced to just 15 seats in the chamber (21%), despite attracting 32% of constituency votes. The Blair years tell a similar story. 

Other first past the post systems throw up parallel calamities and triumphs, as marginal winners win big, and marginal losers get decimated. The mild folk of Canada have been particularly ferocious in this respect. In the federal election of 2011, the Liberal Party under Michael Ignatieff went into the poll with 77 MPs in the Canadian House of Commons, crashing to just 34. That was as nothing compared to the party's fate in 1984, when the Liberals lost 73% of their parliamentary delegation, falling from 147 to just 40 MPs. The Liberals paid their opponents back in kind in 1993, however, when the Progressive Conservatives conspired to lose 99% of their ridings, belly-flopping from the heights of 169 seats to just two. 

Even the disheartened Scottish Labour MP, complaining of "being set to Defcon f****d", must concede that their own predicament isn't quite so dire -- yet.  But first past the post can be like like Saturn: it devours its own children.    


  1. FPTP may well "force the candidates to fight like rats in a sack", but the Unionist parties appear to be too busy copulating, one with another, to fight for anything.

    I am a wee bit further north than Danny Alexander's seat, but am also a constituent of a Lib Dem MP. I had some election crap through the door last week from (Viscount) John Thurso asking me, as a virtual Labour party member to "lend" him my vote on May 7.

    I have never been a Labour party member, but some of his mail shot constituents may well be. So let's all cosy up together in the Lib Dem bed in the "soft-Tory" seats in the Highlands, and don't let's scrap with one another because we need to keep the giant SNP terrier out of our territory.

    The Lib Dem/Labour/Tory parties in Scotland have forgotten how to fight for anything, because we have allowed them to take the Scottish vote for granted for generations.

    1. Blethering to people today, a few folk have made this point. Although their interests converge on bashing the Nats, there is also the possibility that it will resummon unwelcome resonances with #indyref cooperation. Which went so well the first time...

    2. Exactly. I'm sure talk of Tory/Labour tactical voting loses Labour far more votes than it gains. Long May they keep talking up tactical voting!

  2. Some of us, of course, relish the delicious brutality of FPTP. Under, FPTP a party has to go out and fight to convince the masses to side with them. Under PR, you get a bunch of feeble, have-a-go parties, whose failures to connect with the public are always subsidised by the generosity of the system. Never trust any politician who says that they want to "share" power - it means that they're not taking it seriously.

  3. But first past the post can be like like Saturn: it devours its own children.