Monday, March 30, 2015

You wanna be fair, and maybe you're right, let's burn our fingers, stop the fight

I winced slightly when I saw this reaction from Mike Small to the anger in some quarters over the SNP's plans to introduce all-women shortlists, and 'zipping' on the regional lists -

"I for one am getting bored by mid-spectrum male monotone bloggers who can only speak in the language of anger. The lack of self-reflection, the complete absence of solidarity or connectivity with a wider movement and the inability to see beyond the narrowest political gauge is a depressing spectacle...

People seem angry because they don’t perceive this as a problem. But it is...

And, of course, shortlists on their own are only really a partial remedial measure, they do nothing to challenge the wider cultures of sexism and misogyny. They do nothing to challenge the fundamentals of male power. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be tried."


I didn't wince because I was in any sense one of the bloggers that Mike was talking about. As it happens, I feel quite ambivalent on the subject of all-women shortlists, and I've certainly never felt angry about the idea. I do look around me and see a society that is riven by gender-based discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion, and I do see that as a serious problem that must be addressed. But, on the other hand, I'm not wedded to a dogma that insists I can only acknowledge the marginalisation of women, and never the marginalisation of men when it occurs. It seems utterly fatuous to talk in unqualified terms about "male power" when you consider, for example, the way that male victims of domestic violence see their experiences trivialised or completely denied.

Nor do I think that male domination of political office is some sort of "racket" that automatically works in favour of all men, in all circumstances. There's a peculiar brand of macho pseudo-feminism among some male politicians that can lead to "manning up" being demanded of men where "understanding" would be the watchword in identical circumstances involving women. (The American Vice-President Joe Biden is sometimes cited as an example of this phenomenon.)

I've mentioned before on this blog my incredulity at reading a bizarre quote in a Scotsman article a few years back that referred to the growing imbalance in favour of women in the field of medicine. It was suggested that, instead of seeing this as a problem to be solved, we should simply embrace the feminisation of the medical profession and the advantages it brings to patients. Can you imagine the reaction if anyone suggested that we should stop trying to get more women into parliament, and instead embrace the wonderful masculinity of politics?

In spite of all these flagrant double-standards, I do think parliamentary representation is a special case, and is the one and only sphere where positive discrimination by gender may deserve a fair hearing. Members of parliament aren't simply professionals providing a service in return for a salary - they presume to take the place of the whole populace, and legislate on behalf of every single person. If we don't see ourselves reflected back in them, there's an obvious deficiency, and talent/competence (even where it exists) does not make up for that.

So my views on all-women shortlists have oscillated over the years. I remember being quite sympathetic to Labour's initial experiment, before gradually changing my mind and feeling that any form of discrimination was so repugnant that it couldn't be justified, no matter how noble the objective. I've now gone back a little bit in the opposite direction, and genuinely don't have a clear opinion anymore.

But I don't feel angry about it, and for anyone who does, just consider this - whatever the rights and wrongs of the SNP's plans, there may be a hard-headed tactical advantage to be gained from having more female candidates, no matter how that comes about. And it's not simply that the cause of independence faces a particular problem among women voters. I've also seen academic studies suggesting that female politicians gain a small but significant number of bonus votes simply by virtue of their gender, after all other factors are controlled for. That may be somewhat irrational, but is any political party going to turn up its nose at the prospect of extra votes?

50 comments:

  1. As usual, inaccurately reported, so any discussion is less than comprehensive. The executive has the option to impose all women shortlists. Note it is an option, and it does not apply in all cases.

    It was stressed that where constituencies had mixed shortlists, a woman was chosen half the time. What does that tell you about when they are likely to apply it?

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  2. What happens when you get ten excellent male applicants, and one female that is a numpty?

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    1. That is what's wrong with the system. Only one female puts herself forward? Why would that be? Anything that changes the skewed propensity to select male candidates has to be a good thing. Your 'female numpty' argument displays your reactionary thinking.

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    2. In your theoretical example, you would hope that the centre would not exercise their option to impose the "female numpty".

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    3. It wouldn't occur to you to see that women who are not numpties were encouraged to come forward? Of course not.

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  3. I think when a party is clearly the most popular, there comes a responsibility on it to take the lead in respect of promoting equality. That applied to Labour in the late 1990s and I think it applies to the SNP now.

    The part of the rule change that made most sense was to give the option to impose at least one woman on a shortlist, in other words to stop a local association playing silly buggers.

    You would hope that with the increase in membership that the quality of candidates (both male and female) would improve.

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    1. I think they already have James to be fair and there have been some very difficult choices already because there was two and sometimes three outstanding candidates up for the same seat.

      The point about membership size is very important because we are no longer talking about a small(ish) pool for a fair sized party but a huge one where there is absolutely the talent within to have some excellent choices.

      Here is the most apposite figures and also likely one of the main reasons why the party is doing this. (albeit for a limited time)

      New SNP members improve gender balance of party

      The SNP has today released figures showing the extent to which the extraordinary surge in party membership has contributed towards improving gender balance and the proportion of young people in the SNP.

      Before the referendum around 33 per cent of SNP members were female, putting the SNP in line with the average figures for UK political parties. Since then, as membership of the party has surged to over 93,000, the proportion of SNP members who are female has also risen sharply to 44 per cent.

      Research into the demographics of members of the three Westminster parties cited earlier this year by the House of Commons Library suggests that 39.5 percent of Tory members are female, 31 per cent of Labour members are female and 29 per cent of Lib Dem members are female.

      Meanwhile younger people also now make up a far large portion of SNP members. While Under 30s made up 10 per cent of the party before the referendum, the figure now stands at 21 per cent.


      http://www.snp.org/media-centre/news/2014/dec/new-snp-members-improve-gender-balance-party

      I'd also point out that this isn't just about shortlists because we want and need more of those 45% of female members to become activists. Actually we want ever more members to become active period, but we are already making very encouraging progress with a far higher number of female activists than we used to have.

      As for increasing gay and disabled representation, yes, of course we want to! I'm struggling hugely to imagine why on earth anyone wouldn't want to have a party that reflects and represents the wider public than the out of touch westminster parties. Sure, some may quibble about how but lets at least be as welcoming and encouraging as we can possibly be to those groups who have disgracefully been let down and marginalised by the westminster establishment.

      I'm 100% certain in a party of over 100,000 there will be some top quality talent in there from a wide variety of backgrounds and viewpoints.

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  4. What is wrong with accepting that more men that women want a career in politics?
    More men than women enjoy taking part in boxing, and i don't hear folk calling out for women to fight men.

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    1. That is a straw man argument of the worst kind.

      Perhaps instead of trying to ingrain your views you would be better served by considering why more men than women are interested in a career in politics. What is it about the working environment that makes it so unappealing towards woman, who make up the majority of the population?

      Maybe you'll even see the patriarchal structures we live within and how they are harmful to both men and women.

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    2. Maybe this (the boxing thing) is because women have more sense than men?

      Suggests we might want to have them in important government positions in preference to men...

      ;-)

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  5. Thanks for the balanced, well thought out article James.

    Much better than the hissy fit that is going down over on Wings Over Scotland.

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  6. Populus sub-sample: SNP 49, Lab 20, Con 18, Others <7

    No sign there of the movement seen in YouGov last week. Populus had an outlier that put the SNP on 58% some weeks ago but apart from that their poll has been very steady in the 46-50 range for the last six weeks.

    http://www.populus.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/OmOnline_Vote_30-03-2015_BPC.pdf

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  7. I have just written on wings that we have furtive discrimination presently, what are we going to do about that, let it continue.
    When I worked in the local council we removed the need for people to put which schools they attended in their applications. This ensured that there could be no discrimination in religion. We did not ask an applicant to put their age either. I do not think people were asked to put their full name either or their whether they were Miss/Mrs or Mr. Unfortunately all that preparation fell down when the candidate arrived.
    I also said that I read that women will take decades more to reach equal pay with men, and how long has the equal pay legislation been on the go.
    I do not like the fact that discrimination exists but boy having been told by a member of staff that he was asked by my boss if he minded working with a woman boss, left me speechless, nobody ever thought to ask us women if they minded having a male boss.

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    1. I have been a pretty long term Wings reader, picking it up sometime in 2012 and then following consistently from the start of 2013 onwards. After the past couple of days I feel very isolated from the direction of WoS. It appears to have picked up a veiled agenda that everything is fine, equality has been achieved and these quotas come only at the expense of men. The last time I felt so detached from Wings and the general cause it pushes was following the pretty transphobic comments from the main author regarding Manning. As a trans person myself that stung but I could get over it as being a facet of ignorance on an issue that many people won't have had to tackle with tact and empathy.

      The most recent article and a good number of the comments only heightens my feeling that I am on the wrong side of the targeted audience. The idea that quotas mean someone is a second class citizen is ridiculous. What makes me personally feel like a second class citizen is that I am discriminated against for my presentation and gender identity and my (very good) qualifications are ignored as soon as employer sees someone that doesn't fit into a neat male or female category. If I could have quotas or legislation to stop what is often very subtle discrimination acting against me, I'd take it in a heart beat.

      James, you point out the idea of a gender imbalance in favour of women in medicine and this is an issue I would totally agree with you. Quotas to achieve binary equality are needed but this goes both ways. In fields where women are over represented (biology, psychology) the quotas should act to encourage masculine individuals. In fields where men are over represented (STEM) the inverse should be true. Survivors of domestic abuse should not be seen as men or women. They should be seen as people. The perpetrators should be seen as people.

      For myself, any writer that shows such an adverse reaction to a time limited measure introduced by democratic means makes me incredibly suspicious of what they view as the true big picture. These people might want an independent Scotland but it doesn't seem to come with an equal want for equality and a movement beyond a rigid and gender defined society.

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    2. Everyone's entitled to their opinion - even bloggers.

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    3. Also, it was actually a 'guest post'.

      braco

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    4. Absolutely.

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    5. Anonymous many people have raised the matter that there has been no quota for Gay people or disabled. I would have to say that yes we should be doing this also, but there is certainly a problem where women are concerned. As you say you have a different problem and one which will take time, all barriers in society seem to have to be breached. Your situation would be different in say India, where nobody seems to turn a hair.
      Many years ago long before we had the race relations legislation I was asked if it would bother me to work with an Indian Lady. That is similar to be asking if you minded working for a woman. Of course I said no, I was taken aback that I should be asked

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    6. Women are already paid the same as men for doing the same job. Women aged 18-35 earn more than men of the same age.

      There is no sex related pay gap. It is a feminist lie.

      Also there is no place for illegal discrimination dressed up as a PC good. NOt now and not ever.

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    7. To the Anon. right above this post.

      Bollocks!

      braco

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    8. Bollocks, seconded. Let's take the irony fail as read, and I'll add a 'prove it' (just for fun). On a more serious note, I read the OP with some trepidation, but actually agree with all of it except the point of semantics. To say that power is 'male' is not to say that all men possess it, any more than to describe ostriches as birds is to imply they can fly. ('Patriarchy' is an out-of-date term, which never actually implied the all-men it's believed to: the point being fathers also ruled sons, slaves, the poor and all non-fathers. Kyriarchy is generally preferred now, being less emotive, more gender-neutral and class-aware, but is not yet in common usage, that being the razor reason Small didn't use it).

      I'm no big fan of women-only shortlists, but something does need to be done, not least of which is to have this conversation (again!) and make sure the more nuanced alternatives are up for wider debate next time. Ironically, the 'gross injustice' of women-only anything is the only way to get some folk to even consider that for your boss, your MP, the Prime Minister, your doctor, etc. to 'just have' to be not-your-gender is not right. None of it's a zero-sum game. Being concerned to increase the number of women representatives *does not* imply being unconcerned about male victims of domestic violence: rather the contrary, as it's largely the same stereotyping that restricts women in politics *and* makes people assume we're better at the 'caring' professions, give a sympathy vote, and pretend we're never violent. Having more women in power, and in the public eye, actually works pretty well to erode that dangerous and hypocritical 'pedestalling' (thus also addressing the 'manning up' issue, which is good for no-one).

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  8. In order to bring about real change,we have to start with comprehensive free child care.
    This will take time but will eventually allow women to have the same opportunities as men and bring about genuine equality.
    However,as long as Tory public school boys are allowed to dictate welfare policy in Scotland,it is going to take much longer.
    Bringing about a situation where people are selected purely on merit will only happen once the mentality of gender equality is fully embedded in our culture and if this means positive discrimination for a spell,then so be it.
    In a small country like Scotland,we cannot afford to leave people on the side lines just because they are perceived as "wee lassies wearing a tin hat".
    We have to use all of our resources to benefit everyone living here to the Max.

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    1. I agree, this would be a way forward for many.

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  9. Interesting experiment happening in France, where they've just held their equivalent of 'county council' elections.

    They halved the number of (and doubled the size of) the electoral areas, and mandated that candidates are put forward as pairs, one male one female.

    So each area elects a 'ticket' of two representatives, and the resulting representative body automatically has a 50:50 gender ratio.

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  10. Everyone agrees that our elected representatives should be broadly representative of the population they serve, right?

    In that case, the only question anent shortlists (or any other measure) should be whether they improve the situation, or not, over the long term.

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  11. "mandated that candidates are put forward as pairs, one male one female. "

    I understand that Labour are 'twinning' constituencies in this way for the next set of Scottish parliament elections. Of course for this to be meaningful the constituencies 'twinned' would need to be more or less equally winnable.

    Labour also had an interesting method of promoting diversity in candidate selection at the last Holyrood elections. As far as I can recall (I can't find reference to this rule on the web, so it may have been changed) the rule for regional list candidate selection was that the first candidate on the list had to be the female or BME candidate with the most votes, followed by the remaining candidate with the most votes, then alternating woman/bme with most popular remaining candidate all down the list. In other words,and depending on the position being selected for and thus the electoral system used, there are various ways of mandating increased diversity while limiting the restriction of opportunity for candidates not in the marginalised group. It could be worth exploring a combination of these methods.

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    1. The Green Party also had alternating lists, with half the lists headed by a man and half by a woman. They only have two MSPs, and one is a man and the other a woman. This is either coincidence, or evidence of an accurate assessment of where they were likely to get elected!

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  12. I don't really understand why there is so much resistance to increasing female participation in politics, business, and other occupations that have traditionally been dominated by men. Females got the vote later than males, they have been under-represented in politics since the beginnings of democracy in the West. Women/females make up 52 per cent of the population in Scotland. Why is trying to achieve parity in representation in politics between women and men so bad? I am afraid I despair at the reaction of some of those who are against it. The argument that someone like Alex Salmond might not in the future be able to undertake a career in politics seems risible and slightly hysterical imo.

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    1. "I don't really understand why there is so much resistance to increasing female participation in politics, business, and other occupations that have traditionally been dominated by men."

      I think there's a danger here of misconstruing opposition to positive discrimination as "resistance to increasing female participation". It's not the same thing. As I said in the blogpost, I think there may be case for positive discrimination in respect of parliamentary representation, because that's about fairness to "us", the represented, more than it is about fairness to the tiny number of people who put themselves forward as candidates. I don't see how positive discrimination in the business world can be justified - surely the better approach is to remove barriers to female participation as far as is practicable.

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    2. My opinion for what it's worth.
      https://grumpyscottishman.wordpress.com/

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    3. What is the difference between increasing women's representation in politics to positive discrimination then?

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    4. James I just wish that everything could be out in the open but deliberations as to the best candidate are often done in secret specially in the workplace. I was often overruled when it came to choosing the best person to be added to my staff.
      I do not think the SNP are in any way guilty in the way they choose their candidates they are better than many and that shows in the number of women in positions in the Party. I am surprised at the number of men who I always considered to be forward thinking who think that this small change is retrograde. As for the Guest on Wings this morning, I think she should have found out a bit more before throwing a hissy fit.

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    5. "What is the difference between increasing women's representation in politics to positive discrimination then?"

      The difference is that the first is possible without the second - as the SNP are proving themselves in the upcoming general election.

      Helena : I was startled by Lauren Reid saying she had resigned from the SNP - that does seem like a massive over-reaction. However, if it's true that opponents of the proposal had their microphones cut off during the conference debate, while proponents were allowed to run over their allotted time, I can understand why she feels alienated.

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  13. James, the SNP leadership and hierarchy were clearly determined to drive this proposal through. They did the same with the NATO U-turn, although they very nearly came unstuck there. Political parties do this. I would rather wait and see the consequences of this policy. If it goes badly then it will have to be reviewed.

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    1. The Holyrood seat where the rule change may be relevant is Aberdeenshire East. If Salmond wins the Westminster seat, he would then presumably give up the Holyrood seat.

      Are there any other obvious (or already declared) SNP retirements next year?

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  14. They're only going to try it for a year.

    I do think there's a lot of midinderstanding about this.

    The article in yesterday's Sunday Herald went into more detail about it and it seemed quite reasonable to me, especially given it was just being tried for a year.

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  15. Ashcroft sub-sample (n=53): SNP 43, Lab 31, Con 12, Others <8.

    http://lordashcroftpolls.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ANP-150330AZ-Full-data-tables.pdf

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    1. 8% Green.

      Average of last two Ashcrofts:
      50% SNP
      24% Lab
      16% Con
      5% Green
      3% Lib
      3% UKIP

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    2. Pretty meaningless with such small numbers.

      Of the view that he only runs a (small scale and volatile) national poll to make his constituency polling look more credible. That and it provides a slot for the comedy spouted by his focus groups.

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    3. Sure, I was just highlighting no obvious movement of any sort when you consider:

      Average of every ashcroft since October '14 inclusive:

      47% SNP
      23% Lab
      16% Con
      5% Lib
      4% Green
      3% UKIP

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  16. You see discrimination all the time in this business, whether racism from the UKIPpers, sexism from the papers, bigotry from the football nutters on twitter or just plain hatred of everyone from Katie Hopkins.

    But the only time Wings over Scotland really gets on his angry, anti-discrimination high horse is when it looks like it's going to be white men who are going to be discriminated against.

    Just sayin' like.

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    1. You don't read Wings, do you Betty the First.

      Just sayin' like.

      braco

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    2. I sense a degree of discrimination in your post. Do you have something against white men?

      I personally a fence sitter on the matter. I see both sides.

      Wings has lept to the defence of immigrants, the poor, the unemployed, Scottish voters in general in terms of discrimination against them by UK parties / the media etc. I figure he doesn't like discrimination at all.

      I'm kinda the same so uncomfortable with even positive discrimination myself. However, sometimes things need a push, so I'm watching.

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    3. Have been an avid reader of Wings, actually, not to mention contributor, financial supporter, distributor of wee blue books etc.

      But never have I seen a reaction there the likes of what I've seen over the last few days, beginning last week with the (misinformed) reaction to someone joining a committee, blogs going up, coming down, a note that he's leaving the blog to its own devices, a weekend of raging on twitter reacting to this and then the provocative post yesterday. It's extraordinary.

      All because of a democratic vote on a time- limited possibility that something might happen.

      I started out mildly uncomfortable at the proposal, ended up voting to support it. I don't see it as that big a deal. But what has really shocked me over the weekend has been the reaction from Wings, and although I agree with you, Skier, he has defended other discrimination, it is the DEGREE To which he is reacted to this and the sheer anger involved which is quite spectacular. One does wonder why this particular topic has provoked such an extreme reaction.

      I actually think he's let himself down, and although you probably need a lot of passion to do the kind of thing he does, it feels like he's losing the plot.

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    4. Agreed Betty. This reaction seems very severe for what is a minor issue.

      Wings remains relatively selective in terms of the discriminated that it rallies in support of (and let me clear it does definitely support people that need support). I'd like to see better treatment of LGBT issues and less transphobia but I doubt I'll get that change.

      Back to athousandflowers it is

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    5. Genuinely curious - what exactly was the "degree" of my "very severe reaction"? I posted an article by a young female activist who'd called me in floods of tears from the SECC and wanted the speech she hadn't been allowed to give aired. I posted it with a single tweet saying maybe the SNP shouldn't be driving people like her away. I had a few debates with people on Twitter which were perfectly civil, and if anyone screamed abuse I just blocked them rather than getting into a shouting match.

      Which part of that is extreme? Which part of that is "losing the plot"? Can you direct me to any particular examples of "raging" that you find troublesome? Would actually like to know.

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    6. Yeah, it's funny how quiet it always goes when I ask that.

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  17. Anyway, Scotland officially now has no Westminster MPs at all.

    We're free of the feeble 53.

    Nice.

    Broon has officially left politics (again). A Darling MP is no more etc...

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    1. Yeeeee Haaaw!

      Bonanza Time for SNP.

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