As you may have seen on social media last night, the list-only pro-independence party Action for Independence has unveiled Craig Murray as a candidate. In my view this is a potentially significant moment, because Craig is a relatively well known public figure - apart from his past life as a senior diplomat and a whistleblower, he arguably writes the most-read Scottish politics blog, exceeding the readership of even Wings Over Scotland (although there's always the problem of definition, because Craig writes about global topics and therefore has a more international audience). I'm not sure off the top of my head whether Tommy Sheridan is planning to personally stand for AFI, but I would imagine there's a chance of that, and if so, AFI can now boast two well-known candidates, which is two more than their rivals ISP will be fielding. So at the very least, it's starting to look like AFI are coming out on top in the AFI v ISP 'elimination heat', and may end up being the more credible option for Yes supporters who don't want to vote SNP on the list for a variety of reasons.
The problem is, of course, that AFI might generate just enough momentum to get them to 2% or 3% of the list vote, but no further. If that happens, it would be the worst of all worlds, because it probably wouldn't be enough to win seats, but it would be enough to cause harm to larger parties that actually do have a chance of winning list seats - ie. the SNP, the Greens, and possibly the independent Andy Wightman. However, we'll see. There's always the possibility of a snowball effect, with other big names crossing over to AFI in the wake of Craig's decision, and if that happens it's still possible that we might end up with a credible list party that can do good rather than harm - ie. that can actually win seats and potentially use its leverage in the Scottish Parliament to coax a reluctant SNP leadership towards Plan B.
But what I said the other day still applies - we need to jump decisively one way or the other on the list vote. We either need a list party with enough support to win seats, or we need to wholeheartedly get behind the SNP (or the Greens) on the list. Either is fine, but what we mustn't do is fall between two stools.
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We in the bloggers' union were beside ourselves with excitement on Thursday, because my fellow blogger Caron Lindsay was the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Livingston South by-election. For the uninitiated, Caron is the person who would have been editor of Pravda if the Soviet Union had been a Liberal Democrat dictatorship. But there's no sign of the revolution happening any time soon in Livingston (or at least not that sort of revolution), because the SNP won with an increased share of the vote, and with the Lib Dems limping home in a distant sixth place.
Livingston South by-election result:
SNP 43.9% (+3.0)
Labour 24.6% (-10.9)
Conservatives 17.6% (-1.8)
Independent 5.9% (n/a)
Greens 4.2% (+1.7)
Liberal Democrats 3.3% (+1.5)
UKIP 0.5% (n/a)
There was also a big increase in the SNP share of the vote in the Leaderdale and Melrose by-election - and indeed a net swing from the Tories to the SNP. However, you wouldn't have got that impression if you'd read the hysterical reporting of a "Conservative GAIN from the SNP". We've really got to find better vocabulary for dealing with the situation that frequently arises in STV by-elections where a party "gains" a seat in spite of having been well ahead in the popular vote in the ward last time around. It's particularly inaccurate to say, as Britain Elects did, "Conservatives GAIN Leaderdale and Melrose from SNP", because that implies the SNP previously "held the ward". They didn't - they held one seat out of three on the ward, and were miles behind the Tories on the popular vote.
What we should probably say in cases like this is "Party A picked up the seat on the ward left vacant by the resignation/death of Councillor X from Party B".