Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The hard politics of Dunfermline

It goes without saying that it's a very good thing that a person convicted of repeated domestic violence (and without really the slightest shred of doubt over his guilt) has been effectively forced to resign his parliamentary seat. But from the point of view of hard political calculation, is this a setback for the SNP? After all, if Walker had pigheadedly soldiered on, the party could have avoided a very tricky by-election, while still distancing themselves from the "independent" MSP. For the avoidance of doubt, a contest in Dunfermline would have been murderously difficult regardless of how it had come about, because the typical (although thankfully not universal) pattern in by-elections is that the incumbent government lose at least some ground - and the SNP government will be defending an absolutely wafer-thin majority.

But the reality is that this was a situation where the SNP just couldn't win. If Walker had stayed in place, he would have remained an acute embarrassment to the party, because everyone knew full well that he had been originally elected as an SNP candidate. So we all just have to put this one down to experience, and hope that lessons are learned that will prevent this entirely avoidable mess from ever occurring again. At least now a line will be drawn - in an ideal world the SNP will retain (or technically gain) the seat with a candidate who bears as little resemblance to Walker as humanly possible, or less ideally they will finish second in a constituency that is in any case traditional Labour territory, and will be seen to have accepted a fair penalty for their mistake in selecting Walker in the first place.

I'm slightly troubled, though, by the efforts I've seen on Twitter to browbeat the main parties into making this by-election an all-woman contest. It would certainly be tactically savvy for the SNP to select a female candidate, and fortunately it just so happens that the best potential candidate I can think of is a woman (Shirley-Anne Somerville). But the message that will be sent out by a deliberately concocted all-woman contest is that men are the guilty parties, who are atoning for their sins by leaving the floor to women on this occasion. That would be entirely inappropriate. These were not crimes committed by "men" - they were committed by an individual called Bill Walker. By all means, let's ensure that the tackling of domestic violence is a key issue for debate in this contest, but that debate should not censor - as is sadly all too common - the voices of male victims of domestic violence, or indeed female victims where the perpetrator was another woman.


  1. S-A Somerville would be an excellent candidate.

  2. Well said.

    Walker's legacy will be that by lying on his application and at selection interviews (I believe that candidates are asked if there is anything in their past that might be an embarrassment to the party if it came to light) he has damaged his party and the cause that he presumably believed in.

    It wouldn't surprise me if Labour won. John Brownlie suggested on Munguin's Republic, that a representative of Labour For Independence should stand.

    A good idea, I say.

    And no, the election of a representative is not a one issue matter. There should never be an all women, all men, all gay, all black, or all anything else list.

    Parties should choose their best candidate.

  3. Shirley-Anne is a Fifer and would be a good candidate.

    On the question of all woman or positive discrimination, this was debated at Annual Conference quite a few years ago. It was chucked out mainly by women speaking against the motion. The late Margaret Ewing said she got where she was by merit and not by unfair bias. I cannot see that changing.

    Having returned today I listened to your participation on the Podcast. A very enjoyable listen.

  4. I think Eric Joyce should resign his Westminster seat and stand in Dunfermline. Lord Watson could be his election agent.

  5. Thanks, Marcia.

    Juteman : Yes, Labour aren't exactly short of their own mistaken choices!

    Tris : I think the Labour for Independence idea would be worth pursuing, but only if the candidate is a big-hitter, which realistically means Dennis Canavan. If it was a little-known candidate I don't think there would be much point, and it might even be counter-productive.

  6. I'm not sure that LfI can actually field a candidate given that they are all members of the Labour Party.

  7. If memory serves me right from all the excitement a few weeks ago, we learned that the membership policy of LFI is that you have to share Labour values, and you can't be a member of any other party than Labour. So the majority of them are current Labour members but not all of them. Dennis Canavan could certainly stand, but Labour members within LFI wouldn't be able to campaign for him without risking expulsion.

  8. SAS not being returned was one of the few disappointments of the 2011 election. Funnily enough hers was the first name I thought of when Walker announced his resignation. All the better if she is a Fifer :)

    I don't think there needs to be an all women short list to see SAS coming out on top in the selection process. However that is from an external viewpoint, the local constituency party might differ.

  9. Being the SNP candidate in this by-election is likely to be a pretty dispiriting role. I doubt SAS would want it, though I agree she'd be good.