The Least Bad Option – Scotsman Article – 21 April 2022


Being the least bad option isn’t much of an electoral selling point. What does it say about candidate or party that they’re dependent on not being the other guy, rather than what they stand for or what they propose to do.  It’s also deeply damaging for democracy as it encourages abstentionism, as well as fuelling cynicism about politics in general.

Yet worryingly it’s becoming much more prevalent. The clearest example’s the current French Presidential election. To be fair the system resulting in a run-off between two candidates mitigates towards that but other systems and especially first part the post elections do likewise. That said much is also down to the absence of policies and the I’m not them position being taken.

For many French voters it won’t be a vote for Macron but a vote against Le Pen. Given her neo-fascist credentials that’s understandable. But there’s a growing weariness about being asked to support someone you neither want nor agree with.  It worked for Macron last time but it’ll be harder this time. 

That’s evident in recent polls and even voting directions by defeated candidates. The left candidate Jean Luc Melenchon who nearly pipped Le Pen for a run-off place has rejected any support for her but refrained from endorsing Macron. That’s understandable when polls show his support breaking almost three equal ways in the run-off. Only a third will vote Macron with the other two thirds either abstaining or spoiling their ballot. 

Drill down investigation also showed many going to do the latter options had in the previous presidential poll held their nose and voted Macron. But having tacked to the right, been hostile to immigration and even espoused sentiments interpreted as being hostile to Islam, Macrons crossed a line for many of them. 

Enough previous supporters whether of Melenchon or others will no doubt put Macron over the line and back into office, but it’ll be closer than before. Not being Le Pen simply isn’t good enough and turnout will accordingly decrease as contempt for the system increases. It’s damaging for democracy as alienation increases, leaving the way open for extremist politics and manipulation by influential oligarchs.

It’s not an exclusively French problem. Here in the UK and even in Scotland, Labour and SNP are both focusing on not being Boris Johnson and his Tories rather than what they stand for. Send a message to Boris as advocated by the SNP, and similar comments from Starmer, highlight the negativity. 

Of course, Johnson’s odious but Scotland knows that comprehensively rejecting him in 2019. But both SNP and Labour as with Macron have tacked to the right since then. Labours position on Brexit epitomises that and it’s matched by SNP endorsement of the free market in energy, where a failure to deliver a state energy company’s leaving many bereft. 

As in France many might just decide that there’s less to choose between them and little difference to be made with either of them. Democracy’s the loser with this vote against the other guy type of politics.