With only a few days left until voting closes for the regional list candidates, most SNP members should have had a chance to listen to their candidates and make an informed choice in which order to rank them. There is always contention over these lists as members want “their” people to be placed highest and others want the reassurance of constituency MSPs at the top as a safety belt in case they don’t retain their seat. This year, there has been more drama than usual due to the controversial decision to place a BAME candidate in the number 1 spot in four specific regions and a disabled candidate number 1 in the remaining 4.
While I don’t think anybody could possibly argue against the need to have more disabled and BAME candidates in place and to make reasonable adjustments to allow this to happen, the way it was done didn’t sit easy with many. The generic idea had been passed at conference previously but it was suddenly enacted, with no wider consultation, and many felt that there could have been an alternative system put in place that could have had the same result but by using a different process. When you add the furore over self-ID and people standing on lists in areas where they do not currently live, there must have been the most interest shown this year than ever before.
Social media behaviour towards many candidates has been quite simply, disgusting. Some candidates have been pilloried and degenerated with pile on after pile on. A politician is routinely rebuked regardless of whether they are men or women and the thickest of skins are required to do this thankless job but this year has felt more uncomfortable than any before. The anonymity behind a keyboard has long been an issue but this year, possibly fueled by the way that people are feeling with normality suspended, feels worse; far more individualised and targeted. Conflated by other legislative proposals, many people are experiencing terrible treatment from both known acquaintances and others hiding behind pseudonyms but I do sometimes fear that we are heading towards losing freedom of thought in an effort to curtail this unacceptable behaviour.
Names were slow to come from HQ about who was standing in the Highlands and Islands seat and indeed some more were added on the very day of the ballot papers going out meaning it was evening before we got confirmation. Some prior research had uncovered who these were likely to be however and we took the decision that we would love to have a hustings here in the far north. Emails were sent and we were overwhelmed with the response for a very short notice event in two days’ time and which would be the third in three nights for the candidates. That evening’s event, the Inverness one, was streamed and so all had an opportunity to watch. Candidates were knowledgeable and the event was enjoyable; I understood the Sutherland one to have gone down well also and then they came to Caithness. What was quickly apparent was the relationship that was developing between the candidates. Each fighting for the number one position, they were working together as a team, their confidence had grown being faced with the same questions each night – for it is the same questions and concerns that arise in this area of the region – and the atmosphere was relaxed and convivial. I really want to wish all of the candidates the very, very best, you all have exciting ideas and the qualities that are needed to hear and react to constituency concerns.
Much of the discussion was centred around the sheer size of the Highlands and Islands region and how it could never be represented in its entirety by one person. Whilst many from the north questioned how somebody from the Argyll south could possibly understand the issues here, equally the same could be said about somebody from the Northern Isles having an understanding of things affecting an area not too far from Glasgow. Workable solutions were proffered and one candidate reminded us of a special person who had managed to do this perfectly in Europe some years previously. As Highland council is too large and unwieldy, and change has long been mooted there, so is this list region. There is the case for it to be divided into north and south with more localised representation in each but quarrels would no doubt arise over where that dividing line would be placed and that is an argument for another day!