Sunday, 7 February 2016

Urgent reformation of List system is necessary

Brian Wilson is right. There's a sentence I didn't think I'd write ever.

Not about everything, of course, but about List MSPs. We live in a country in which Anne MacTaggart and Willie Rennie are considered parliamentarians. 

In 1999, with a nascent democracy and a desire not to confuse the public between MSPs and Westminster MPs, the dual system of List and Constituency MSPs worked. 

Seventeen years on, though, and it is clear that the List system is being abused. Abused by microparties like Rise, Ukip and Solidarity, which seek to exploit a system intended to top up Constituency MSPs to sneak into Parliament through the back door; and abused by Scottish Labour, which seeks to use the system to effectively veto the decision of the electorate.

The latter is a manifestation of the arrogance of Scottish Labour. Their struggling leader, Kezia Dugdale, has carefully chosen to stand in the Edinburgh Eastern constituency - a once-Labour seat with a retiring Nationalist MSP and thus no incumbency factor. Even with all these advantages, Dugdale looks unlikely to win. She is widely viewed as incompetent and thoroughly out of her depth.

But on the Friday morning, the electors of Edinburgh Eastern, having explicitly and personally rejected Dugdale as their MSP, will wake to find that Scottish Labour has, undeterred, imposed her upon them anyway. This, from the party which - howling in rage about a second referendum no minister has proposed - demands we "respect the result of the referendum" and accept that no means no, is nothing but the most unbridled, breathtaking hypocrisy.

The List system exists to preserve proportionality, not to save the careers of tired party apparatchiks who are unelectable in their own right.

If it is to survive, it must be reformed urgently lest the public view it with the same outrage as it views the Lords. 

My solution is a simple one. No List MSP ought to be eligible to serve more than one term on the List. Nor should anyone who is defeated in a constituency be eligible to be a List MSP. And finally, no List MSP should be eligible for a government job. There may also be a case for reducing by half the salary of List MSPs as, with no constituents, they do substantially less work.

Nobody should be able to make a career out of unelectability. And nobody who is unaccountable to constituents ought to be able to exercise power over them.

As they stand currently, List MSPs are a democratic outrage. They must reform or risk damaging the reputation of the entire institutions of our still-new democracy.

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