When the United Kingdom next goes to the polls, the Scottish National Party (SNP) will struggle to retain office. Currently, the Labour Party has a better-than-even chance of reclaiming its crown as Scotland’s electoral darling. After 17 years as the dominant force in Scottish politics, the SNP is running neck-and-neck with Labour. The reason: it allowed itself to get seriously out of step with its voters.
The Scots are a well-educated and progressive people, but they drew the line at backing a premier, and a party, that saw nothing wrong with incarcerating a convicted rapist in Cornton Vale women’s prison on the grounds that she had subsequently self-identified as a woman.
Though the Premier, Nicola Sturgeon, responding to public outrage, removed the rapist, Isla Bryson, from Cornton Vale, the damage was done. According to The Guardian, Sturgeon’s predecessor (and political mentor) Alex Salmond accused her of “throwing away” the hope of Scottish independence (the SNP’s raison d’être) for the sake of controversial gender recognition reforms.
Things went from bad to worse for the SNP when, following Sturgeon’s resignation, she and her husband became the focus of a police investigation, and the SNP membership opted to reject the socially conservative candidate for Premier, Kate Forbes, in favour of the woke Humza Yousaf.
One instance of challenging the voters’ values might be forgiven – but two? It may, or may not, be relevant that the SNP’s fall from grace occurred while it was in coalition with the Scottish Greens.
Why allow a party currently polling at around 2-3 percent push you into backing reforms that most voters do not support? Why risk incurring the wrath of the electorate by allowing the perception to grow that the tail is wagging the dog? These questions are not restricted to the Scottish situation. There are people here in New Zealand asking very similar questions in relation to Act’s Treaty Principles Bill.
Not the least of these inquirers is Dame Anne Salmond who, in an uncharacteristically tetchy post for the Newsroom website, observes: “The process surrounding the Treaty Principles bill is a farce. With 8.6 percent of the vote at the last election, Act has no democratic mandate to advance a referendum on Te Tiriti.”
A perplexing observation which, on its face, suggests that even to “advance” the idea of a referendum (to resolve an otherwise irresolvable public issue) a political party must first secure 50 percent +1 of the Party Vote.
As that National Party gadfly, Liam Hehir, observed on X (formerly Twitter):
“Does Dame Anne Salmond have self-awareness enough to realise she is arguing against MMP and in favour of FPP? Is there an acknowledgement that you can’t construct a system where the Greens and TPM are allowed to ‘distort’ things but NZF and ACT are not?”
We shall come back to Hehir’s question presently. But, before we do, the pithy response of lawyer, and go-to guy on electoral matters, Graeme Edgeler, to Dame Anne’s commentary is worth citing:
“It seems like Anne Salmond is proposing a 15% threshold for MMP?”
Why 15 percent? Because, ever since the introduction of MMP 28 years ago, no minor party has ever secured more than 13.35 percent of the Party Vote (NZ First in 1996.) Hence Hehir’s quip about Dame Anne calling for the reintroduction of the First-Past-The-Post electoral system.
But, a return to the old system would not resolve the problem that lies at the heart of Dame Anne’s rather intemperate post. This, stripped of all its distracting rhetoric, boils down to one, key, question: how does one prevent the wrong sort of people, by which, presumably, Dame Anne means “right-wing” sort of people, from gaining access to the most important platform in the land – the House of Representatives?
The answer, as Hehir points out in his tweet, is that you can’t – not without abandoning democracy altogether. If left-wing voters, and Dames, are willing to accept the right of a party receiving 11.6 percent of the Party Vote, let alone one attracting just 3.08 percent, to materially shape the policy agenda of a Labour-led coalition government, then they must also accept the reality of Act and NZ First shaping the policy agenda of Christopher Luxon’s National Party-led coalition.
The problem is: “abandoning democracy” is exactly what a growing proportion of what passes for the Left in 2024 wants to do. Only by getting rid of democracy’s open-ended promises can the “correct” ideas be assured of winning through. Hence, the woke majority of the SNP membership’s refusal to acknowledge that the gender recognition reforms that they and the Scottish Greens were advancing would only end up sending a majority of Scottish voters in the direction of less radical electoral alternatives.
We see the same ideological intransigence at work within the American Left. The radical wing of the Democratic Party simply refuses to accept that a clear majority of Americans have grown alarmed and dismayed at the number of migrants making their way into the United States. No matter how damaging their opposition to closing the US-Mexican border might be to the Democratic Party’s electoral fortunes: no matter how many voters the Left’s uncompromising zealotry is driving into the wide-open arms of Donald Trump; their position is correct – and must prevail.
That same unshakable conviction that they are right, and must prevail, is especially evident in the New Zealand Left’s insistence that the Treaty principles identified by Te Iwi Māori, the Waitangi Tribunal, the Judiciary, the Public Service and Academia are the only ones that count. That a majority of the population might feel uncomfortable with the current, “official”, interpretation of te Tiriti simply does not signify. Under no circumstances can the ill-informed views of poorly-educated New Zealanders be permitted to decide the issue.
Hence the demands from left-wing (and even some right-wing) political commentators for Luxon and the National Party to put their feet down and insist that the Treaty Principles Bill not proceed. Presumably, they are of the view that Act’s David Seymour, and NZ First’s Winston Peters, lack the grit to challenge Luxon. Such people are guilty of, to paraphrase J.R.R. Tolkien, weighing all things to a nicety in the scales of their own malice. They forget that the Right, no less than the “Left”, can, at need, be impressively intransigent.
The opponents of the Treaty Principles Bill are also guilty of forgetting just how adroit a parliamentarian Seymour has already proved himself to be. His End of Life Choice legislation – the ultimate success of which few predicted at the time of the bill’s introduction – is now the law of the land.
Nor should it be assumed that it is only Act’s 8.6 percent of the electorate that are committed to seeing his bill proceed all the way to a referendum. In Saturday’s (27/1/24) edition of the NZ Herald a group calling itself “Democracy Action” inserted a full-page advertisement headed “We Stand With You”, which urged Luxon, Peters and Seymour to be steadfast in the defence of both their electoral mandate and the democratic process. Formed by Aucklanders Lee and Susan Short, Democracy Action has long had the official interpretation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in its sights. The wealthy couple insist they are not alone.
Nicola Sturgeon and the SDP discovered, to their cost, just how high the price of not keeping faith with one’s voters can be. The Coalition Government would be wise to learn from the Left’s mistakes. The most obvious of which is its truly bizarre belief that intransigent minorities will not be electorally punished for spitting the face of the majority.
This piece was first published at interest.co.nz.
Chris Trotter blogs at Bowalley Road