A recent Guardian
headline caught my eye: 'Independents' day, How growth of micro parties could shake up local elections'. Why? Because describing the extraordinary rise in the number of political parties now registered with the Electoral Commission in the UK, the piece happened to echo an observation I had been making myself in recent days.
Given the way the pandemic has been dominating our lives, perhaps it's not surprising the election on 6 May has not, so far at least, been making much of an impact. The usual pamphlets from the major party candidates have come through the letterbox. There have been email postings from the same parties. But, for example, in my area of Glasgow's West End, window posters have scarcely featured. Only in one context has there been a change.
I'm very much a creature of habit. At 6pm, I sit down in my armchair and watch the news on BBC1. At 6.30pm, I accept the invitation to watch my local area news on BBC Scotland. And in the current period, I have regularly watched the party-political broadcast for the coming election that frequently follows. So I've sat through the appeals of all the main parties: the SNP, the Scottish Conservative Party, the Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Greens. (If I had to choose a winner it would be Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats.) But nothing new or surprising here.
What has come next though has surely surprised a great many viewers just as it has surprised me. More party broadcasts have followed – but this time for parties I've never even heard of.
Having failed to note down the party name at the time of broadcast, I've also been unable to discover a dated list of all the broadcasts that have so far been screened. One or two I'm sure of: Alex Salmond's new Alba Party got its five-minute slot, and likewise George Galloway's All for Unity Party. Also, I think UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) and perhaps the Scottish Family Party.
But what I have been able to establish is the quite extraordinary number of Scottish political parties that will be competing on 6 May. In addition to the five big boys, it seems that at least 16 other parties will be competing for votes in one or both constituencies. These include Reform UK, the Scottish Libertarian Party, Action for Independence, the Woman's Equality Party, Freedom Alliance, and many more. Last night (29 April), the Scottish Greens were back on screen – which suggests the SNP, Conservatives, Labour, and the Lib Dems will follow on the remaining four weeknights before the 6 May. In other words, we've already seen the last of the micro parties.
The issue that arises from all of this is how does the BBC Scotland decide which parties have the right to a broadcast? One point is clear: if a party has a sitting MP then it has the right to a broadcast. Alba, for example, has two MPs – both defectors from the SNP – and All for Unity has the former MP George Galloway. Contesting at least one sixth or more of all seats is another requirement. But there may well be other forms of evidence of the necessary public support. Perhaps BBC Scotland could be asked to clarify the existing position.
Whether any one of the micro parties manages to make a breakthrough into the Scottish Parliament – with or without a party-political broadcast – only the voters on 6 May will decide. I'll at least be prepared to check.
demonstrates a form of myopia when he says 'All of the main parties represented at the Scottish Parliament – with the exception of the Greens – advocate centralisation and have all been leading exponents of it when they have held office'. The Scottish Conservatives support localism. Where I live, in Fife, the Conservatives on the council have consistently proposed concrete measures to enhance local control but have been as consistently outvoted by the ruling coalition.
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