With six months to go to the Holyrood elections, Mark Devlin talks to John Mortimer, of the Abolish The Scottish Parliament Party, about the party’s progress and goals.
What is the aim of the party?
The party’s flagship policy, of course, is to abolish the Scottish Parliament, which we consider to be a divisive waste of money. We believe that the £100 million running costs each year would be better spent on health and education, and that the powers and funding that the Scottish Government has centralised in Edinburgh, should be returned back to local authorities. The grounds of the Parliament building should be turned into homes for veterans.
Who is behind the party?
The party was co-founded by myself and John Ferguson, who was a UKIP Candidate in 2016. My own background was with a small party called A Better Britain Unionist Party, which was involved in North Lanarkshire local politics. We did well in our local ward of Fortissat, in the Harthill and Shotts area, beating the SNP, but fell a little bit short, behind Labour. Our press officer is Mitch William, who most recently was in The Brexit Party. We have people from a range of different party backgrounds. From the Brexit Party, through the mainstream Unionist parties, to people with no party affiliation.
We will be standing multiple candidates in each region. We certainly have the public and media interest.
What triggered you?
There’s no party that represents an anti-devolution position, and that is the traditional Unionist position. I think it’s become more evident to an increasing number of people that Devolution is incompatible with the Union. So long as we have devolution, we’re going to have institutional separation from the rest of the Union, with pooling and sharing resources being taken away from the rest of the UK. It’s extremely important that there’s a party that can articulate that.
How are you growing your supporters?
On Facebook, we are reaching thousands of people each day, through our party page (Abolish The Scottish Parliament) and several others that promote our content. We’re really getting a huge amount of engagement, because our content is so visual and because the message is so clear and attractive. My background is as a freelance graphic designer, so that’s been extremely useful.
But mainly, we are getting the engagement because we’re the only party that’s articulating our position.
There’s a lot of talk of a coalition, but what if a coalition fails? Do you think a new, Scotland-specific anti-Nationalist party could take on the SNP?
I think a dedicated third party will increase division, because it will inevitably distance itself from Westminster. You can see that tendency in the UK level parties when they have a separate Scottish arm. For example, Douglas Ross and the Scottish Conservatives are now pitching themselves against the UK party, by opposing elements of Brexit and siding with the SNP on issues of immigration and House of Lords reform. This is all an inherent part of devolution. So long as there are Scotland parties, whether Nationalists or Unionists, it will diminish what we do as the United Kingdom.
Isn’t it just a protest vote?
We will pick up votes from a lot of different angles and different demographics. Our basic abolition position will attract a lot of unionist votes as well as protest votes. People are fed up with the political parties, especially this time when the liberal-left consensus seem to have taken over Holyrood.
Then there’s the Conservatives who believe in small government, and who are really outraged at the waste in Holyrood. And Labour voters who are concerned about public services, waste and lavish Holyrood salaries.
In terms of policy, we do have a number of positive policy proposals that we can implement, even with a small number of MSPs. The anti-devolution position is against the nasty, authoritarian policies that are a product of devolution. When you have a devolved assembly that doesn’t have real responsibilities of the national parliament, it will tend to make legislation to make itself appear busy.
We will support a Unionist coalition, against the SNP, to get the SNP out, working with Conservatives and Labour.
A common criticism of new parties, like Alliance For Unity, is that they will split the anti-Nationalist vote. Aren’t you splitting it further?
We wish all Unionist parties well, including Alliance For Unity. We actually set up our party in 2018, and have been going for a good while. I don’t think Alliance is so well developed yet. They appear to be having issues with registering at the Electoral Commision. They may have to rebrand, and it’s not long at all until the election.
I think Abolish is the ideal ticket for working within the Holyrood system. People will give first vote to the candidate best suited to beating the SNP and their second vote to Abolish.
Compared to, say, Alliance For Unity, Abolish has a clear, single policy. Alliance doesn’t have any policies; they’re going to sit as independents, so people don’t really know what they’re getting. With Abolish they know, it’s a clear policy…so I think it’s a stronger ticket and message.
The electoral pact that Alliance has been talking about has already been rejected by the major parties, so I’m not sure what they bring to the table.
Do you intend to push for a referendum on abolition?
We’re standing directly for a parliamentary mandate to abolish the Parliament. Our initial target is to win these seats away from the Greens, to take the last seats on the list. If we can win those, we can articulate the anti-devolution position, build that position and work towards a parliamentary mandate.
No referendum. The process of referenda is very divisive and inadequate way of dealing with complex issues. They reduce complex issues to a binary choice. The last thing Scotland wants is another referendum. Our ideal scenario is to get a parliamentary mandate to abolish.
How will you work as members of an anti-Nationalist coalition?
We are against any further devolution. At the moment, Labour and the LibDems both explicitly support more devolution, and even Federalism. The Conservatives, under Douglas Ross, are advocating for additional powers to be devolved.
Even if a coalition didn’t outright support abolition, we can bring a lot to the table, providing an anti-devolution perspective, and make it a condition of our participation in any coalition that there must be no more devolution of powers to Holyrood, and that power should be devolved from Holyrood to local areas, such as police and fire and rescue services that have been centralised by the Scottish Government.
It’s astonishing that the position of abolishing the Scottish Parliament can have the level of public support it has and not be represented in party politics. A Panelbase poll in 2019 showed that 57% of Conservatives support our flagship policy of abolishing the Scottish Parliament, yet we have the Scottish Tories, and other parties pushing for ever more devolution. We stop all that.
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