We were told that the SNP would sweep to victory in councils up and down the land. We were told that they would sweep to victory in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Perhaps crucially, we were told nothing about Renfrewshire. But despite picking up over 400 council seats, the SNP may very well look back at the what if council elections.
It doesn’t really matter a jot in Renfrewshire, where the SNP were always likely to loose seats. Too many library closures, too many badly explained school closures and too many generally unpopular decisions were made by the previous Council Leader, some bloke called MacKay, for the people of Paisley to properly forgive. As a result, “Scottish” Labour took 5 seats, which gave them a 4 seat majority at Cotton Street. Surprisingly though for an election with very little in the way of campaigning, turnout was 42.5%.
Yet despite picking up a total of 424 seats, the SNP missed out on the two big targets of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Labour finished as the largest party in Edinburgh, two ahead of the SNP as the Yellow squeeze was at its most evident with the massive losses of the Lib Dems saw them bundled out of a position of power. In Glasgow, the SNP’s gains were not nearly enough to unseat Labour – who retain an 8 seat majority in the Glasgow City Chambers. So if everyone hates “Scottish” Labour, why have they made gains here?
Despite the apparent “successes”, the SNP need to look at what went right, and crucially why they lost out in Glasgow, Renfrewshire and in other places. An SNP strategist apparently said “Labour are in for a surprise again. Their vote seems to be holding up, but what they don't realise is that everybody outside the Labour vote hates them. Like last year there's going to be a tactical vote against them.” Since today didn’t quite pan out that way, perhaps something of a review is required at SNP towers. This must be all the more galling for SNP strategists because Glasgow City Council was really there for the taking – a mirror image of Renfrewshire no less. By all accounts, there was a lack of an organised campaign in Glasgow, and too many gaffs. The maxim that political leaders sometimes don’t need to be good, just lucky comes to mind here.
“Scottish” Labour though will be happy with what has happened today. They have gained a similar amount of seats to the SNP – even though they will finish behind the SNP in seats won, and also took a larger proportion of defecting Lib Dems than they did last year. They have also held on to Glasgow and gained Renfrewshire Council. They too have work to do though, principally in filling their policy vacuum and also getting rid of the person who keeps telling Lamont to wear blue. All in all, only a start for “Scottish” Labour.
The true hangover’s though belong to the Lib Dems, who have lost over half of their councillors. It will be interesting to see which mind set the activist base of the Lib Dem’s take with the “Orange Book” wing of their party.
However, this is an election that put paid to the lie that the SNP are about to become the party of government in Scotland. They might be masters of all they survey in Holyrood. Around the country, that effect hasn’t quite translated itself to council elections. This election though has continued the trend that has seen the two party Scotland emerge, it has also confirmed that the SNP have still got work to do to properly win over West Central Scotland. The question is, will the lessons be learned for the referendum campaign.