Time for more grown up political debate

By Campbell Gunn, Strategic Adviser, 3x1 Group


POLITICS was brought to a halt this week with the Manchester bombing atrocity.

Grief and anger over the murders was felt particularly in Scotland, with the death of a young girl from the Isle of Barra, highlighting the fact that the evil of terrorism extends far beyond our towns and cities.

All the political parties, quite rightly, suspended campaigning, and the SNP cancelled the planned launch of their manifesto. This will now be unveiled in Perth, on Tuesday morning.

First Minister’s Questions, on Thursday, was a sombre and subdued affair. All the party leaders struck the correct balance of respect, while continuing to question the First Minister on matters of policy, such as mental health and cancer treatment.

Unlike the usual bad-tempered weekly exchanges, the questions and answers on the various subjects were handled well, with no raised voices, or scoring of cheap political points. That’s something that all the parties would do well to continue in the weeks and months to come.

The Scottish Parliament’s debating chamber was designed, with its U-shape, to distance itself from the chamber of the House of Commons, where the confrontational set-up lends itself to angry face-to-face encounters.

Frankly, the design hasn’t worked, and the more respectful tone we heard this week would be a good example to follow in future.

We’re now less than a couple of weeks from election day, and what once appeared to be a stroll for the Conservatives may not turn out to be quite as comfortable as they expected. Just a month or so ago, they held a 20-point lead over Labour. The latest poll shows that lead to have shrunk to just five points. There’s almost always a move back towards the incumbent party in the final days of an election, so the chances of Labour closing that final gap remain very slim. However, Theresa May’s hopes for a landslide victory do not appear as certain as they once were, and she may not receive the resounding mandate she demanded to strengthen her hand as she goes into the crucial Brexit negotiations.

As an interesting sideline, the Prime Minister and the leaders of the three biggest parties in the Scottish Parliament are all women. Yet there is a still a huge discrepancy in the number of women standing or being elected to either Westminster or Holyrood. In over 100 seats being contested across the UK on June 8, voters will have no choice but to elect a man, as none of the parties have selected women candidates. In contrast, there’s only one constituency in the whole of the United Kingdom where a woman is guaranteed to be returned to the Commons next month. That’s Glasgow Central, where the SNP’s Alison Thewliss is defending her seat against three female candidates from Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.