Friday, 6 May 2011


They say a week is a long time in politics but after the election results today maybe it should be revised to 24 hours being the definition of a 'long time'. The SNP have the first full majority since the Parliament was re-established in 1999, Labour has become a minority, weak and destabilised party and the Lib Dems suffered a severe drubbing.

The Scottish Election has been a complex one. The media like to reduce analysis to glib statements - it's the Westminster coalition that did it, it was a two party race etc etc. But you don't get the majority the SNP has under an additional member based PR system a year after a resounding vote for Labour in the UK general election without a number of intertwined issues coming together.

The first is that while I sometimes have pondered the logic of local communities unseating elected representatives who are clearly excellent both locally and nationally for the sheer hell of it [as it appears to me anyway], I believe the Scottish electorate are fairly sophisticated and have an understanding of politics in Scotland that is beyond that of most political pundits - you only had to see Nick Robinson on the BBC to realise that. It may seem to some that a strong vote for Labour at the Westminster elections last year would lead to a strong showing yesterday. But of course they are entirely different elections with different choices and different policy outcomes and that viewpoint belies the nuances of a devolved system. Voters may not articulate it as political anoraks would but they definitley 'get it'.

The second is that the collapse of the Lib Dem vote was expected but the depth of the Labour collapse was not. The Lib Dem losses in and of themselves did not create the unstoppable surge in SNP support. Why did the Labour vote collapse like this? Scottish Lib Dems are suffering from a coalition with the Conservatives - what's Labour's reason?

The third is that while the SNP has independence as a policy they have proven that they are a party with policies for all areas of Scottish life. They are not a one trick pony. You may not like all of the tricks but they are a full blown show - not a sketch. They have governed and by all reasonable measures have governed well. They have certainly disproved the predictions of not lasting more than six months in power.

The fourth is that voters views on independence are not the driving factor in voting for or against the SNP. People will vote for the SNP as a party for Scotland even if they are not fully for indepedence.

The fifth is Labour's inability to run a positive campaign and one that is about Scotland - and not about Labour's struggle to operate in the devolved settlement they enabled to happen. A campaign that focuses on using Scotland as a springboard to success in a future Westminster election, negative messaging and an inability to contain Labour's internal struggle to recover from last year's UK elections and the previous Scottish elections is not a vote winner. Scottish voters perhaps more than others are sensitive to being used and patronised to.

The Lib Dems are in a dark place - but at least they know why they are there and so have a head start on how to work their way out of it. Labour needs to figure out how the past 24 hours came to be and recalibrate accordingly. Do they have the mettle to do this? Given the losses they have suffered their intellectual and political capacity is significantly pruned.

Of course, this short blog post itself only skims the surface of a 24 hour period that will take days, if not weeks, to understand and analyse. But five years ago no-one would have predicted an SNP majority or that Labour would be in the position they are now in. Scotland is grasping devolution in a way that no other part of the UK is quite achieving and is stating and creating its own path. If there is a part of our United Kingdom that knows it's own mind it appears it is Scotland.

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