On Wednesday evening the Scottish Parliament voted overwhelmingly to accept, in principle, a Bill which legalises gay marriage. The Bill will progress to be considered in detail, with opportunities for amendments. Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) voted 98 in favour and 15 against, with five abstentions. That's a ratio of over 6:1 in favour. By comparison, the ratio was nearer 2:1 when MPs in the House of Commons voted on similar legislation for England and Wales.
Why the far higher ratio in Scotland? Well it certainly wasn't because of public opinion. Before the Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government led by nationalist leader Alex Salmond held a public consultation. Anyone could participate - and a whopping 77,508 responses were sent in, the largest response to a consultation in Scottish Government history. How did the public view the proposals? Two thirds (67%) were opposed, that's a ratio of about 2:1 against the introduction of gay marriage.
The consultation isn't the only measure of public opinion (although with 77,508 responses it's certainly the largest measure by some considerable distance). There were numerous opinion polls which reached differing conclusions depending on how the question was put (shock). But no measure of public opinion ever got anywhere near a 6:1 ratio in favour. Nowhere near. So, however one looks at it, there is clearly a disparity between how the public views this issue and how the politicians in Edinburgh view it.
The Scottish Parliament is a quirky place and no, I don't just mean the architecture. One of the other quirks is that a sizeable portion of its members (56 out of 129) are elected by a list system based upon proportional representation. To avoid getting bogged down in an essay on electoral systems, let's just get to the crux of the matter: it means the 'list' MSPs are put there by their party's leadership. They are totally dependant on party patronage for their future electoral prospects. And even some of the constituency MSPs - the ones who are directly elected by those pesky people called 'voters' - are also on the party list as a backup.
The leaders of the four main parties (SNP, Labour, Lib Dem and Tory) are all in favour of gay marriage, so if you're an MSP who wants a good spot on the party list for the next election, you'd better be in your leader's good books - even for a so-called free vote. That's how it works, and that's partly how the Scottish Parliament is so utterly out of step with the ordinary Scottish public. To remind you of the ratios - the record-breaking public consultation showed 2:1 against gay marriage but the Scottish Parliament just voted 6:1 for it.
When the Scottish Parliament was instituted, it was supposed to give the Scottish public a voice. It was supposed to reflect the will of the nation. But, in actual fact, it simply reflects the will of the political elite. No wonder so many Scots are skeptical about full independence. Why bother voting to give this lot more power, when all they care about is themselves not the ordinary voter? That's how most regular people feel, and the colossal gap between politicians and the public over gay marriage reinforces that sentiment.