Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Hobson's choice at the Scottish polls

For a minority government, the scale of the vote in favour of the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services Bill on its final reading on 27 January last year was impressive (108 members voted in favour and 15 against). A similar landslide vote brought in the smoking ban itself on 30 June 2005 (97 in favour, 17 against). In both cases the Scottish Conservatives provided the only opposition. 
It's no secret that the Westminster Conservatives have been disappointing on the issue of the smoking ban (and related issues) since gaining power with the Liberal Democrats in Westminster last year. It is hard to imagine the Scottish Conservatives having the upper hand in any coalition emerging from the Scottish elections (not that being the stronger partner at Westminster has helped any!) 
Scotland's elected representatives are voted using the party list system (additional member system). This means that each person votes for a constituency MSP and for a regional MSP. Although meant to favour minority parties, the plan here shows that Holyrood is as dominated by major parties as Westminster. Since the Scottish media views the election as a two-horse race, major parties naturally respond by urging their supporters to vote for them on both lists. The result is dismally predictable. 
Further: I have never been sure what the list members are meant to represent. Constituency MSPs represent their constituents – in theory anyway. Are you meant to vote for the policies that they represent, rather than for their personal effectiveness as political representatives? Do they feel any sense of responsibility for their voters, or does most of their loyalty go to whatever party selected them to fight regional seats on its behalf?
Both Labour and the SNP want further powers for the Scottish Parliament. One wants Scotland to be its own country and the other doesn't. Personally I feel that Scotland has too many people trying to run it in too many different places (Edinburgh, London and Strasbourg) and that matters should be made simpler by chopping the devolved assemblies and allowing their function to be filled by regional Westminster MPs, who would meet in the regions (including London of course: no more West Lothian question!). (For reserved issues they could all meet together at Westminster. Much less travelling would be needed.) It would bring legislators closer to the voters on certain issues, whether in Cardiff, Edinburgh or Stormont. 
What of smoking issues in the election manifestos of the two front horses? Well, here is what the Scottish National Party had to offer in 2009 (current manifesto not yet released), under the heading 'Creating a smoke free Europe':
Preventing smoking in public places is an important step to creating a smoke free, healthier Scotland and the SNP is working in partnership with our European neighbours in the fight against tobacco. In addition to the Scottish Government’s smoking prevention action plan, a number of initiatives have been taken at a European-wide level and the SNP will continue to work with the EU to make sure that future initiatives are powerful tools in creating a smoke free Europe.
At least it's clear. Labour's message isn't quite so blunt, but the direction of travel is similar.
Scottish Labour led the UK in banning smoking in enclosed public spaces. We remain determined to do even more to tackle Scotland’s high smoking rates. We will introduce a revised Tobacco Control Strategy that will tighten up the loopholes in legislation to prevent tobacco advertising on merchandise. We will consult on the desirability of a ban on smoking in cars that are carrying child-passengers.
That's your choice.


J. R. Tomlin said...

So much less traveling would be required for Scots to go to Westminster than for Scots to go to Edinburgh...

I BEG your pardon. It would mean fewer levels of government to once more get rid of the ability of Scots to run their own affairs of course.

No need for people to run their own business. Silly idea. Let London do it.

Belinda said...

London does a lot of it now!

Under this system the decisions that Holyrood politicians make now in Edinburgh would be made by MPs in Edinburgh.

The difference would be that the elected members would reflect Scotland voting as part of the UK rather than as a devolved region. Many Scots would be voting to get the Tories out, rather than to choose between SNP and Labour, i.e. their tactical choices would be different. (Maybe less so if AV was brought in.)

I can see that this would be far from ideal for many Scots but the system we have seems pretty convoluted too. Do you really think it's the best available to us?