Orcadian Column, 4 July 2024

4 Jul 2024

With Sanday’s premature exit from the Parish Cup at the hands of Rendall last weekend, this column has no option but to turn its attention to the General Election which concludes with polling day this Thursday.

In what looks like being a promising night for Liberal Democrats across the country, I’m keeping everything crossed that voters in Orkney and Shetland again choose to put their faith in my good friend and colleague, Alistair Carmichael to represent our islands at Westminster. Undeniable bias aside, Alistair has been, by any objective measure, a hugely effective advocate on behalf of our communities for almost quarter of a century (even while praising him, it’s possible to have a dig at his advancing years). Supported by an excellent local team, Alistair has fought an energetic campaign, taking nothing for granted and showing himself to be the candidate best-placed to represent our interests in the next parliament.

At this point, I would usually encourage anyone who hasn’t yet voted to make sure they do so, but am conscious that for some constituents this may be easier said than done given the overlap between postal votes being sent out and schools breaking up. Rishi Sunak certainly shoulders the blame for holding a General Election during the Scottish school holidays, but in a six week campaign surely this problem could have been resolved with a bit of flexibility around deadlines.

As for the anticipated outcome, all the polls suggest an election of change. The Conservatives are braced for the trouncing they so richly deserve after the lies of Boris Johnson; economic vandalism of Liz Truss; and weak leadership of Rishi Sunak. Post-election, the battle for the soul of the party is likely to be ugly, while here in Scotland, a similarly nasty internal struggle is expected in the event that Douglas Ross gets his wish and the chance to jump back aboard the sinking ship of his Westminster party.

While not on the scale of the Conservatives, the SNP also look to being going backwards in this election. Despite this, John Swinney has been insisting that almost regardless of Thursday’s result he will command a ‘mandate’ for negotiating independence. I appreciate this is not a message aimed at convincing the public, but rather galvanising activists and fending off Alex Salmond’s Alba insurgents, but it appears ridiculous and risks undermining his efforts to work across parties at Holyrood to compensate for the SNP’s minority status.

Of course, elections are taking place or looming on the horizon elsewhere too. In France, there’s now a very real prospect of the far right gaining power after President Macron’s gamble in calling a ‘snap’ election looks to have backfired spectacularly. In a two-stage election, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally won a third of the votes cast during the first round of voting last Sunday. Previously, moderates from left to right could be relied upon to put aside their differences to deny the far right in the second run-off vote. This time, though, achieving that majority consensus looks trickier.

As if the prospect of Marine Le Pen calling the shots in France isn’t alarming enough, across the Atlantic it suddenly looks odds on that US voters may elect a felon to the White House for the first time.

After egging on his supporters to storm the US Congress on January 6th 2021, resulting in the deaths of four people, it seemed the only West Wing likely to be housing Donald Trump was that of the Washington state penitentiary.  Yet recent polls have shown the former President edging in front in key ‘battleground states’ ahead of November’s presidential election.

Following President Biden’s disastrous showing in the first, and possibly only, head-to-head TV debate last week, it now feels like Trump’s election to lose. The performance confirmed the claim by Trump supporters and fears of many Democrats that this is an election too far for an 81-year old who has been a great public servant but is now ill-equipped for the demands of the world’s most powerful elected office. At this late stage, however, a realistic alternative candidate is not obvious.

It's now up to voters. In these precarious times, may they exercise that power wisely.

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