By most measures the 2016 Scottish Parliament election has been a very boring one. Excitement normally stems from unpredictability, such as the atmosphere around the independence referendum or even last year’s General Election. This year the result is already a foregone conclusion – the SNP will win, and win big.
This doesn’t mean though that the election is any less important. The Scottish Parliament is set to have more power than ever in the next five years and the decisions made at Holyrood will impact on the day to day life of every man, woman and child in the country. It matters who’s in charge at Holyrood, but also who represented there to hold the Government to account.
Therefore my criteria for who to vote for is who’s policies I agree with most and who’ll do the best job of representing my interests in Government.
Here’s what I thought after reading each party’s manifesto.
They may well come second in this election and they’ll do so by sweeping up those who identify more as Unionists than Labour voters. The Tories have made this election about being the official opposition, and know they’ll never be in a position to fulfill their manifesto. But still this has meant they haven’t reached out with the new powers the Parliament have at their disposal, opting to try and keep things the same as they are down in England. They are the only viable right-wing option in this election, but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily even manage their goal of making Ruth Davidson the leader of the opposition.
The Greens could well have their best election ever in Scotland and their manifesto shows that they have outgrown their image as simply the party of the environment to become a true left-wing alternative. Their advocacy of a Living Wage Plus for Scotland, local policing and a “People’s Parliament” that is more democratic than ever all sound like progressive and positive policies that could make a difference to the country.
Better late than never, Labour launched their manifesto yesterday looking to emphasise their goals for education and social justice that they believe go further than the SNP is willing to. Kezia Dugdale’s reign has come with a more coherent vision for Scotland, and their tax plans have certainly upped the ante on the SNP’s left-wing credentials, which is to their credit. The problem though is that Labour as it stands are poisoned in the eyes of the Scottish electorate and even if they did have the best platform on offer they would not be elected because the public simply don’t trust them. Labour’s problems are cultural, not political, and it will take a culture shift again to restore them to any sort of position of power. It’s a decent manifesto, but one that’s neither radical or wide-ranging enough to make the public take notice.
Despite their underdog status of late, the Lib Dems have actually produced a refreshingly modern approach to governing Scotland in their manifesto. Their focus on education is welcome and their technological savvy in arguing for contactless payment on public transport and super-fast broadband coverage across the country is also something that I really like. The problem for me though is that their policies don’t often go far enough, and would hardly mark a different era in Scotland’s history. Their tax plans are unambitious and they have very little detail in the way of how they would use the Scottish Parliament’s new powers either.
The SNP manifesto is exactly what you would expect from a party that already know it’s going to win. It doesn’t offer much in the way of bold promises but emphasises their record in Government and suggests how they’ll put the Parliament’s new powers to work. It’s safe and sensible, and it is a workable and achievable roadmap for the next five years, and would bring progress, however slight, to Scotland’s society.
The RISE manifesto is the most left-wing of all six at this election and works towards a real change in the way Scotland is run. With the goals of Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism – they have built a platform for a fairer and friendlier Scotland. A fairer tax system, public transport in public hands, 100,000 new homes, a Scottish Basic Income and a right to internet access are all bold policies that really represent a sea-change in Scottish politics. This is what I really want to see, and although it is perhaps a pipe dream to ask for it all I believe the representation of these ideas at Holyrood is important.
It was never going to happen really, but I did read the UKIP manifesto just in the vanishingly small chance that they’d have some policies I agree with. In fairness, I agree with their policy of cutting class sizes and about fighting mental health stigma but I disagree with their wanting to leave the European Union; cut taxes; end political correctness in schools (seriously); reinstate a higher drink driving limit; allow pubs and clubs to open smoking rooms and withdrawing Government subsidies for wind farming. They are almost polar opposite what I believe in, so they’ll not be getting my vote.
So on that basis, I’ll be voting SNP in the constituency vote and for RISE on the list. The SNP are the best party to govern Scotland right now, and so they deserve my vote for that – but for me the policies of RISE are more radical and in line with the Scotland I’d like to see. An SNP Government would hopefully do a good job for Scotland, but I believe that some RISE representation in the Parliament would also introduce several real left-wing policies to the country that would properly use the powers the Scottish Parliament have to build a better society for us all.
The dream scenario is that the SNP fall short of the majority they need but that a pro-independence coalition of the SNP, Greens and RISE could be formed to provide a real left-wing government for Scotland. This would be a Government with a track record of service and the necessary pragmatism to run a country but would also advance a closer society and a more environmentally-friendly Scotland that would provide huge benefits to us all. It would also ensure that the embers of independence continue to burn and that would surely be noted at Westminster where policies would need to be considered more carefully lest they drive support for independence to the tipping point.
This scenario would provide the excitement that this election has been missing and engage people in politics once more – and ultimately that’s what I think is the goal of democracy.
I’m voting for the SNP and RISE, but I’m more interested in the expression of the Scottish people’s will at the ballot box and our country choosing the direction in which it wants to travel for the next five years. The more involved people get, the better our country becomes – as all political parties are then judged on their merits and must prove to the masses that they really can make our lives better.
So no matter who you vote for, make sure you vote. It’s your Scotland as much as anyone else’s.