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Scottish Socialist Party

Still four weeks to go <em>Picture: estillbham</em>

Still four weeks to go Picture: estillbham

For many, this six-week election campaign is far too long. For Iain Gray, however, the length of the campaign is something of a blessing. In short: it offers the chance of redemption.

The Scottish Labour leader had such a bad week this week that, if this was a snap election campaign with a furious, three-week campaign, he would already be out of it.

The week started for Mr Gray with reports of ructions in the Labour camp over his leadership and murmurings of discontent over his performance in last week’s leaders’ debate. It ended in almost farcical fashion, as Mr Gray was barricaded by his minders into a sandwich shop in Glasgow’s Central Station in an effort to keep anti-cuts protesters at bay.

In between those two low points came the Labour manifesto launch. It wasn’t the worst Labour manifesto launch in living memory. No, there have actually been ones that were worse (the launches in both 2005 and 2007 spring unerringly to mind), but it was hardly a triumph.

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First there was the fire alarm that forced everybody – media, spinners and politicians – out into the rain. Then there was the gaffe over the line: “Scottish Labour is committed to scrapping failed Scottish Labour.” That generated hoots of derision from the press and necessitated a hasty rewrite before the online edition appeared.

But that wasn’t all. The Tories were quick to pounce on the appearance of a patient in chapter seven of the Labour manifesto who, they claimed, was actually railing against cuts imposed by Labour-run Glasgow council, not the Tory-led Westminster government.

Labour’s problems were not just confined to the frivolous edges, though. None of the senior figures appeared able to adequately explain just how the party’s new “go-to-jail-for-carrying-a-knife” policy would work or be paid for, given the thousands of extra prison places this would require.

If a manifesto falls or dies by the initial reception it receives, then Labour’s was interred pretty quickly. Even left-leaning commentators like Joyce MacMillan in the Scotsman questioned the credibility of relying on “efficiency savings” to generate enough money to create 250,000 jobs.

Labour leaders had decided to revert to a traditional, Old Labour approach, based on public sector spending. It was designed to appeal to the party’s core support, but whether it attracts those disillusioned Liberal Democrat voters who may decide this contest remains to be seen.

The SNP manifesto launch isn’t until next week and the Nationalists will be hoping to do better than Labour did this week. On one issue, though, the SNP has been caught out this week: local income tax.

It emerged last week that Alex Salmond has gone to Scotland’s highest civil court on two occasions to prevent publication of a document giving the financial assessment of the cost of his plans for a local income tax.

That document still has not appeared and will not do so until after the election, despite repeated opposition demands for the Scottish government to publish it. But today the Daily Telegraph published another, later, document which estimates a shortfall of almost £800 million between what the council tax would raise and the SNP’s suggested replacement.

This latest estimate, written by Dr Andrew Goudie, the first minister’s senior economic adviser, appears to cast serious doubt on the credibility of a local income tax – particularly at a time of public sector funding squeezes and pressure on family budgets.

This is the first real hit that the opposition parties have managed to score off the SNP and it is an important one because it concerns one of the party’s central policies: scrapping the council tax and replacing it with a local income tax.

The affair will drag on in the background throughout the campaign and, to the SNP’s dismay, it will generate the impression of secrecy, poor policy making and vulnerability, at least in this key policy area.

For the Tories, the week was reasonably solid. Their manifesto launch went off without a hitch – almost. Hidden away in the manifesto was a pledge to set targets for obesity, not for cutting obesity, which tended to suggest the Conservatives want us all to be fat.

However, in the scale of manifesto launch gaffes, it fell a considerable way short of the impressive standard set by Labour.

As for the Liberal Democrats, like Labour, this week could also have been much better. First, Tavish Scott, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, had to cope with the news that one of his former colleagues, former Highland MSP John Farquhar Munro, was backing Mr Salmond as the best first minister.

He then had to deal with a slight hiccup in his own manifesto. Someone, drawing up the manifesto, didn’t think about the effect of acronyms and actually came up with a policy for a Crime Reduction Action Plan…

Senior Lib Dems admitted in private that they are now just looking to hold on to what they have got, aware that their vote is crumbling across the country.

This could help the Greens, it could also help the Socialists, but it is likely that the winner of this election will be whichever of the SNP and Labour can do best at winning over these disillusioned Liberals.

Mr Gray did not get off to the best start in trying to do so – but, for him at least (if not for anybody else in Scotland) at least there are another four weeks of this campaign still to run and that gives him the time to turn things around – if he can.

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Tommy Sheridan. <em>Picture: D Natanson</em>

Tommy Sheridan. Picture: D Natanson

TOMMY Sheridan was today jailed for three years for perjury.

Last month the former SSP MSP was convicted of lying during his successful defamation case against the News of the World in 2006.

Today he returned to the High Court in Glasgow for sentence.

Sheridan, who represented himself through large parts of the High Court case last year, delivered a 40-minute plea in mitigation this morning.

He said he had been convicted by the narrowest majority and insisted that the original News of the World story, which accused him of cheating on his wife and visiting swingers’ clubs, was a “pack of lies”.
But he was given a three-year jail sentence and is likely to serve 18 months of that sentence.

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SSP logoBy James Browne

And so the permatanned soap opera has trundled to its inevitable conclusion. Tommy Sheridan has been found guilty of perjuring himself in his court case against the News Of The World, which claimed he liked flinging his boabie about with partners various.

At superficial glance, this is the mildly entertaining comeuppance for a charming rogue in the Scottish political equivalent of Hollyoaks. And I could do a whole Shakespearean tragedy blah, blah, blah, fatal flaw, yadda, yadda, yadda, the loyal yet deceived wife but that misses the point.

Among all the sob stuff about Gail’s tears and Tommy’s tan fading in the showers of Barlinnie (or wherever), there is a genuine tragedy here. It is the damage wrought to the Left in Scotland by Sheridan’s shenanigans – and by that I do not mean his sexual activities.

In 2003, the Scottish Socialist Party won six seats in the Scottish Parliament, an astounding achievement. For years, “Trots” had been told to get out of the Labour Party and put their arguments directly to the electorate. They did so and were handsomely rewarded.

In 2006, Cupidsgate, or Tommy’s Todgergate or whatever they call it broke in the News of the World.

In 2007, the socialist parties – after the resulting split between the SSP and pro-Sheridan (doh!) Solidarity – were wiped out in the Scottish general election.

Most of the chatterati will not view this as a problem. The loony Left are an embarrassment, with their 1970s “what about the workers” guff and their insistence on subsidies for one-legged, lesbian, Iraqi, dwarf theatre groups. They don’t live in the real world and have yet to notice that the Berlin Wall’s come down. Who needs the lunatic fringe?

Well, actually, a healthy democracy does. We need other perspectives at the moment as global capitalism is in deep crisis and we are faced with swingeing ideological cuts. We especially need other perspectives as the main parties cluster round the Centre like flies round Tommy’s evidence.

Think how a healthy SSP would be faring at the moment, with the Tories and Lib Dems unleashing Thatcherism Mark II and Labour still in the post-New doldrums.

But it is not to be.

Murdoch did not do this.

MI5 did not do this.

The Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory did not do this.

The SSP and Tommy Sheridan were undone by Tommy Sheridan’s decision to lie. (Oh, and also by appearing on I’m A Desperate Z-lister, Get Me On The Telly, Comrade.)

What Sheridan should have done, and what he was probably the only politician in Scotland able to do, was say: “I reject your bourgeois morality and enjoy sexual relations with multiple partners.” He then might have mischeviously drawn attention to the private lives of journalists – not known for their vanilla natures. And that would have been the end of the matter.

But he didn’t. He lied. And his lies – countered by the courageous refusal of his SSP colleagues to back up his lies – damaged his cause for years to come. While Tommy, with his powers of oratory and track record of (political) commitment, will be sadly missed from our public life, there were some very able people on the SSP benches who are very unlikely to see electoral success again.

And our democracy is weaker as a result.

Tommy Sheridan. <em>Picture: D Natanson</em>

Tommy Sheridan. Picture: D Natanson

Tommy Sheridan was today convicted of perjury and is expected to go to jail when he is sentenced in January.

The former Scottish Socialist Party MSP and high-profile politician was found guilty by a jury at the High Court in Glasgow of lying during his successful defamation case against the News of the World newspaper in 2006.

The jury of 12 women and two men took just over a day to reach the majority verdict that Sheridan was guilty.

Sheridan originally faced 18 allegations of perjury on two different charges but the prosecutor, Alex Prentice QC, later abandoned 12 allegations to “focus” the case on the key ones.

Of the charges that remained, one accused Sheridan of lying under oath about a SSP meeting where he was alleged to have admitted visiting a sex club, and one of lying about an affair with a former SSP activist, Katrine Trolle.

Leading his own defence, the 46-year-old left-winger appealed to the jury during a marathon, emotional five-hour summing-up speech earlier this week not to convict him, claiming the Crown’s witnesses were neither credible nor reliable.

But the jury chose to believe those Crown witnesses, not Sheridan, and came back with the guilty verdict when it returned today.

Sheridan’s wife Gail had initially also faced perjury charges but these were dropped during the course of the case.

In a trial that lasted three months – the longest perjury trial in Scottish history – Sheridan was accused by the Crown of lying under oath during his original 2006 civil case against the News of the World newspaper.

That 2006 case centred on allegations, printed by the newspaper, that Sheridan was a serial adulterer who had attended a swingers club.

Sheridan argued during that case that the claims were false and was successful in that case, being awarded £200,000 in damages at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Soon after that trial had ended, however, Edinburgh’s procurator fiscal ordered Lothian and Borders Police to investigate allegations of perjury. After the police had completed their investigations, Sheridan and his wife Gail were charged with perjury.

In many ways, this case was just as sensational as the first court case, with allegations that Sheridan had visited a swingers’ club aired again.

And, once again, Sheridan released his defence team and decided to represent himself.

Yet again, the case pitched SSP members against one another with some claiming Sheridan had admitted visiting the swingers’ club and others insisting he had not made that admission.

But when he summed up on behalf of the Crown earlier this week, Alex Prentice argued that although Sheridan had not been accused of murder or rape, perjury was still a “serious crime” because it challenged the foundation for the whole justice system.

“If we let perjury pass without action, we let ourselves down,” he told the jury.

However, the legal saga may not end with the conviction in this case. The News of the World has an outstanding appeal against the 2006 libel jury’s verdict and it could move to reopen its legal action very soon.

However, the result is expected to bring an end to Sheridan’s colourful political career.

<em>Picture: Steve Jurvetson</em>

Picture: Steve Jurvetson

That was a very political week for me: a welcome respite from thinking about bytes and notes. The two events I spoke at – the first at our still-glorious parliament building, the second in a piper’s hall in Glasgow – covered the bases of progressive politics in Scottish public life.

It was fascinating to speak at the “Politics of Devolution” conference in Holyrood – especially for someone who’s already crossed the line towards desiring a Scottish nation-state. I was most intrigued by those politicians attending who really wanted regional devolution to work, but expressed a tangible frustration that Westminster was deeply uninterested in the whole business.

Ex-First Minister Henry McLeish declared himself “a radically reformist Unionist” – but his anger at the condescension he received from his own party in the hey-days of New Labour was palpable. The former Welsh First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, told a fascinating tale of his assembly’s adoption of Scandinavian-style extended kindergartens for early-years education. Yet, as he put it, “London ministers would go to Finland to see how it works, and never realise that we had taken the same decision two or three hours along the motorway”.

The impressive Northern Irish ex-speaker Lord Allardyce – whose soothing manner was explained by his prior career as a medical psychologist – noted how early institutions like the Council of the Isles never really fulfilled their devolutionary potential: a new and inclusive “Unionism of the archipelago” had withered on the vine of London indifference, even antipathy. More than once, the politicians quoted the American Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis, who thought that American state legislatures could be “laboratories of democracy“, providing innovations for the federal government. But their general mood was that any innovation brought forth to the great palace would be either ignored, resented or patronised.

On the other side, some speakers complained – particularly in terms of Scottish economics – that devolution was too successful. In the go-go years of a British exchequer pumped up with the revenues from financial speculation, the “Barnett consequentials” – the proportionate size of the Scottish block grant – were automatically inflated by the speculative bounty. Economist David Heald suggested that the Scottish economy didn’t have enough “absorptive capacity” to deal with the billions of cash coming down the pipeline.

What I think Heald meant is that successive Scottish governments were able to expand the public sector and their services without any real connection to the country’s underlying economic capacity. Which, of course, is the business-leaders-and-SNP-and-some-Tories case for fiscal autonomy: they want a situation where all the elements of income, debt, investment and expenditure can be centrally managed in Scotland, rather than strewn opaquely across various reserved and unreserved powers. (In its contorted structure, the Calman proposals got pretty short shrift all round here).

I left the event feeling strangely sorry for the attendees. For all their smarts, they were unable to plot a path towards the German or American-style federalism (aided by more, but unlikely, English regionalism) that would somehow retain the political Union of Britain. Yet they were entirely unwilling to see Scottish nationhood in the context of any other “Union” – Celtic, Nordic, European or wider – that might allow for, perhaps, a clearer and more coherent expression of self-government.

A few days later, an entirely different event – where the experience was not so much that of swanning around the biomorphic spaces of Miralles’s parliament, but of unforgivng rows of seats facing the tartan-framed stage of the National Piping Centre in Glasgow’s Cowcaddens. The Scottish Independence Convention – a doughty attempt by the esteemed ex-Herald writer Murray Ritchie to create a broad, non-party space for independence supporters – was running its “Positively Independent” conference. With Elaine C Smith in the chair – funny and politically articulate – it was hardly going to be a dour affair.

But neither was it tub-thumping ur-Nationalism. What I’d forgotten (note to self: develop input from Holyrood politics beyond the pompous perpetual-student hustings of First Minister’s Questions on Patrick Harvie’s warning the other day, as George Galloway makes noises about entering the Scottish Parliament on a wave of libel cash and talk-radio fame, that the last thing socialism in Scotland needs is “another tanned ego hellbent on splitting the vote”.

But for the overall non-Labour Left in Scotland, it’s a gey sore yin at the moment. Friends of ours from Stuttgart told us the other week how powerful the German Greens are becoming. According to Business Week, Greens have become “sexy”, garnering the support of “the intellectual urban middle class – the latte macchiatos, the Mac users, the iPhone users”, and are now credibly vying to be coalition partners in the next German government.

If we briefly forget those events which conspired (and perhaps perspired) against them, we can propose a counter-factual history for the left in Scotland: an SSP-Green bloc gathering momentum in Holyrood from the mid 2000s. In this universe, they would have been in the position to exploit both the Great Slump of finance, and the Coming Storm of climate change, and become a possible coalition-partner to the SNP – which itself would, going by recent behaviour, have been hospitable to such an alliance (given their “Progressive Rainbow” proposals at the last Westminster election).

But with every sales-busting cover of the Daily Record at the moment, that alluring universe – like the briefest of events in a Hadron Collider – goes pop! if you even think about it.

So while many of the presentations were properly stimulating – Mike Small on a low-carbon prospectus for Scottish independence, Joan McAlpine explaining the relative aversion of women to independence, Mike Danton on a new small-banking sector for the Scottish economy, Kevin Williamson on e-democracy – for me there was a certain wistfulness to the whole day.

In my own contribution, I ended up wondering whether our invocations of the late Jimmy Reid in recent months were entirely in good faith. Was it currently imaginable that an occupational group – like the UCS workers-in – could constructively challenge the commercial or strategic logic of their organisation from the inside? How much of the debate about the Scottish future gazes vertically upon Glorious Leaderships of various kinds – and how lacking are we in horizontal activisms that could make independence seem more deeply rooted in everyday empowerment, and more than just a shuffling of the managerial elites?

I’m becoming increasingly interested in the Green perspective on local empowerment and self-production. But surely what’s inspirational about politics in Scotland is the “social concertation” that’s possible in a small nation: the way we can connect our micro-activisms and idealisms with our macro-policies and structures. That’s the vision of a land-reformed, democratically-intellectual, non-nuclear/pro-green, inventive and egalitarian Scotland which has motivated some of us for too many years to comfortably count.

And whatever national conversations we try to hold, if they’re not conducted between the well-padded governing classes in a near-enough state building, and the exuberant, do-it-yourself activists in a piper’s hall, they’re not worth having.

- For more on Scottish Affairs, visit Pat Kane’s ideas-blog Thoughtland.

By John Knox

<em>Picture: Helico</em>

Picture: Helico

The party manifestos are more than just a list of policies, they try to outline a general philosophy.

Thus Labour’s 75 page manifesto is called A Future, Fair for All and it emphasises what the government can do to get the economy going again and sustain public services.

The Conservative manifesto, on the other hand, places the emphasis on what citizens can do for themselves. It’s a 130-page Invitation to Join the Government of Britain.

The Liberal Democrats take up Labour’s theme of “fairness” and, in 108 pages, spell out what it means for individuals as taxpayers and consumers.

The SNP manifesto argues the case for Scottish independence in the long run but, in this election, it wants as many “Scottish champions” elected as possible to protect public services in Scotland from what they say are £30b worth of cuts coming from the other parties over the next five years.

Taxes

The Conservatives say they will reverse Labour’s planned 1p rise in National Insurance contributions. That will cost £6b, which they say would be paid for by efficiency savings. They also want to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m and to give married couples a £150 a year tax break.

Labour have already introduced a higher 50 per cent tax rate on earnings of over £150,000 a year. The party says it won’t extend VAT to food or children’s clothes or books or newspapers but, like the other parties, it has not ruled out a general increase in VAT.

The Liberal Democrats say they would raise the threshold for income tax to £10,000 a year, lifting 3.5 million out of income tax altogether and making most earners £700 a year better off. It would cost £17b a year, to be paid for by a mansion tax, a 1 per cent levy on houses worth over £2m, closing tax loop holes for the rich and taxes on fuel and air passengers.

The SNP want control over taxation to be given to the Scottish Parliament. North Sea oil revenues, they say, should be put into a special Scottish Oil Fund for future investment in public services and infrastructure.

The deficit

Labour have promised to halve the £167b budget deficit over four years, starting next year, once the economic recovery is under way.

The Conservatives want to start reducing it immediately, saying an urgent plan to cut the deficit is the way to restore confidence in the economy. They say this can be done by using half of the £12b efficiency savings they expect to make by re-negotiating public contracts and a pay freeze in the public sector next year for everyone earning more than £18,000.

The SNP say public spending should be maintained next year to help Scotland climb out of recession. They say if the government is looking for efficiency savings, they should start by scrapping Trident and ID cards.

Labour also want to limit public sector pay rises to 1 per cent or below.

The Liberal Democrats want a cap of £400 on any pay rises for public sector workers. They say £15b worth of savings will have to be made if the government is going to get to grips with the deficit.

Services

Labour say they will maintain spending on the NHS, schools and the police in England but will have to look for cuts in other services. They have however outlined a new National Care Service for England which will provide free personal care for the elderly. They are consulting on how it should be paid for but have ruled out an earlier idea of a “death tax.”

The Conservatives have promised to protect the NHS from cuts but elsewhere there will have to be savings, notably a complete review of incapacity benefits.

The Liberal Democrats say the Child Trust Fund will have to be scrapped and tax credits will have to be targeted on the very poor.

On schools, south of the Border, all parties want better individual support for struggling pupils. Labour want failing schools to be taken over by their more successful neighbours and the Conservatives want parents to be given more encouragement to run their own independent schools.

In Scotland, none of these reforms to the public services apply. The SNP say they will try their best to protect public services from cuts but they warn that the Scottish budget will probably be cut by £500m a year, whoever wins the election – unless there is a strong contingent, of 20 or so SNP MPs at Westminster and a finely balanced parliament. They have pledged to keep free personal care and the guarantee of a maximum waiting time for NHS treatment of 18 weeks.

Jobs

Labour say maintaining public spending is the best to save jobs and create new ones. It wants to expand the youth training schemes and to guarantee that anyone coming off welfare benefits and into work will definitely be better off.

The Conservatives say reversing the planned increase in National Insurance contributions is the best way to save jobs. They want the government to do less and free the private sector to create new jobs.

The Liberal Democrats argue that thousands of jobs could be created in the renewable energy industry. For example, they would establish a £400m fund to help shipyards diversify into building off-shore wind turbines.

The SNP agree that “green jobs” should be a priority, saying 25,000 jobs could be created in off shore wind, wave and tidal power. They are committed to creating 50,000 apprencticeships and to keeping free university and college education.

Banks

Labour say they have saved the banks from collapse and taught the bankers a lesson with a levy on bonuses. The SNP say the Royal Bank and the Bank of Scotland should be returned to independent Scottish ownership as soon as possible.The Conservatives would impose a “Robin Hood tax” on bank profits and would also try to sell off government shares in the banks as soon as possible to ordinary savers. The Liberal Democrats want to break up the banks, dividing them into retail High Street banks and riskier investment banks.

Environment

Labour have created a £2b green investment fund to encourage firms in the renewables industry. Like the Conservatives they want to see a new generation of nuclear power stations. The Liberal Democrats are against new nuclear and say the money should be spent on renewable energy and energy conservation instead.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have plans for a new high speed rail link – to replace air travel – between London and the North of England but disagree on the route.

The SNP say they have passed the most progressive climate change legislation in the world. They oppose new nuclear power stations, saying Scotland should put its money into becoming the “renewables powerhouse” of Europe.

The Green Party says none of this will achieve Britain’s agreed target of cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

Defence and foreign policy

Both Labour and the Conservatives want British troops to stay in Afghanistan until the Afghan army is able to take over responsibility for security. The Liberal Democrats say we should start talking to moderate Taliban leaders now. The SNP want a review of our role and strategy in Afghanistan, including the option of early withdrawal.

The Conservatives want a complete defence review but they have promised to renew Trident. Labour also want to renew Trident and build two new aircraft carriers. The Liberal Democrats say renewing Trident is a waste of £100b and they say Britain should be cutting its number of nuclear warheads.

The SNP want to get rid of Trident altogether.

None of the parties are placing much emphasis on the European Union. The Liberal Democrats are the most positive towards it, even wanting a referendum to decide, once and for all, whether Britain should play its full part in Europe or not. Labour did not think the recent streamlining of the EU was fundamental enough to hold a referendum. The Conservatives remain sceptical, promising a referendum on any future reforms. The SNP say Scotland should be an independent member of the EU and thus better able to defend its special interests in energy, farming and fishing.

On overseas aid, Labour say they have doubled Britain’s aid budget to 0.5 per cent of GDP. That’s well short of the 0.7 per cent target agreed, internationally, 40 years ago. All parties are still committed to that target. The Conservatives say they will protect overseas aid from the cuts but they will carry out a review of how the £9b budget is spent.

Constitutional reform

All parties have promised to clean up parliament after the expenses scandal. The Conservatives say they will give local voters the right to sack their MP mid-term if he or she misbehaves. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats both say they want to reduce the number of MPs from the present 650. Labour have promised to introduce fixed terms of parliament.

Labour have also suggested a referendum on a proportional voting system, the single transferable vote. Here they will have the Liberal Democrats’ support.

Labour have promised to introduce the Calman reforms to devolution, including more tax powers for the Scottish Parliament. The Conservatives say they will come up with their own devolution proposals.

The SNP welcome more powers for the Scottish Parliament but are planning a referendum on outright independence.

Other parties

The Greens: They want a big switch from economic growth towards a “sustainable” economy: more energy conservation, investment in renewables, local food production, better railways, no more road building. They oppose the public sector cuts, saying taxes should go up instead. They also want a basic “citizens income” for everyone to try to close the gap between rich and poor. They have about 300 candidates standing across the UK, 20 in Scotland, where there is a separate Scottish party.

UK Independence Party: also fielding around 300 candidates, 20 in Scotland. The party wants Britain to withdraw from the EU.

Scottish Socialist Party: wants Scotland to become an independent Socialist republic. 10 candidates standing.

Trade Union and Socialist Coalition: led by Bob Crow of the RMT. It wants no cuts and no privatisation. About 40 candidates are standing across the UK, including Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow.

British National Party: wants a stricter limit on immigration and wants “British jobs for British workers.” Running 300 candidates UK wide, 14 of them in Scotland.

Alliance for Democracy: an alliance of the Christian Party, the Jury Team and English Democrats. Contesting 360 seats across the UK, one in Scotland, in the Western Isles.