Saturday, 7 May 2016

Holyrood 2016: The Tale of the Tape

Just before 9am yesterday morning the last of the list seats were allocated in the North East Scotland Region.  This confirmed the final outcome that had always been the highly likely outcome of this election - that of a first full term for the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon which will only be fully confirmed once the new Parliament convenes.

Nicola Sturgeon on the steps of Bute House, Friday afternoon.
That final result did not look as good as it looked as if it would be when the SNP took the seat of Rutherglen at about 1:30am this morning.  The swing that removed Labours James Kelly was 9% from Labour to the SNP – that uniform swing across Scotland would be enough to wipe out Labour in the constituency vote.  However, as constituency results started to come from the east and rural areas, a different picture emerged.  If Glasgow and the west of Scotland was a picture of the SNP laying waste to Scottish Labour’s heartlands, then the east & Edinburgh was a picture of the SNP advance being checked and, in some instances, being pushed back by resurgent Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. 

This pushback, among other factors, led to the SNP falling two seats short of another majority government with the final result of:

Votes – FPTP - % - Seats
Votes – List - Seats
Total seats
46.5% (+ 1.1%)
59 (+6)
4 (-12)
22.0% (+ 8.1%)
7 (+4)
24 (+12)
22.6% (- 7.8%)
3 (-12)
21 (-1)
Scot Greens
6 (+4)
Lib Dems
7.8% (- 0.1%)
4 (+2)
1 (-2)

The collapse in Labour’s vote was most apparent when the first tranche of results were coming in, when the SNP were taking seats from Labour in the West and around Glasgow.  I mentioned Rutherglen earlier, but that was only the first.  Previously rock solid Labour seats like Provan, Maryhill & Springburn, Greenock & Inverclyde and Coatbridge & Cryston fell to the SNP on swings of 15.6%, 15%, 13.9% and 12.6% respectively.  Those swings were not confined to SNP gains either.  Glasgow Anniesland was the most vulnerable SNP seat going into this election with a majority of 7.  Bill Kidd’s majority, after a swing of 12% is now 6,153.  Similarly, George Adam’s majority has been transformed from 248 to 5,199 via a swing of a mere 8.1%. 

The shift from Labour to the pro-Independence SNP is a huge problem for Labour and has serious implications for Corbyn’s attempt to unseat Cameron in four years time.  If Labour’s problems only stem from being pro-Union, you can understand calls for Labour to soften their line regarding the constitution.  However what the second half of the constituency votes showed is that there is still a large pro-Union constituency in Scotland – a voting bloc now empowered to use their votes tactically to thwart Indyref 2.  Those people who have switched rightwards from Labour will be, as I’d mused earlier, soft right voters attracted to Labour through Social Democratic values rather than out and out Socialism. Professional people who may, in a previous age, have been so called ‘Tory Wets’.  Think fellow bloggers Ian Smart and Kevin Hague.

More than Rutherglen, perhaps Eastwood was the real harbinger result of this election.  A three way marginal, where the SNP didn’t quite do enough to overtake both Labour and the Conservatives to win.  The Tories Jackson Carlaw only needing a swing of 5.7% to unseat Labours Ken McIntosh.  It was after that result that the shock results started to come in.  Those results hinted at pro-Union tactical voting.  The SNP lost North East Fife to the Lib Dem’s Willie Rennie and then Edinburgh Western.  Both seats were not exactly vulnerable – requiring swings over 4% for the Lib Dems to take the seat yet the Lib Dems produced swings of 9.5% and 7.8% to take these seats.  The biggest shocks came with the Tories constituency wins.

Davidson’s win in Edinburgh Central came from out of the blue, given the Tories were third in this constituency in 2011.  A swing of 9.7% to the Tories saw them home with a majority of 610.  A bigger swing came in the Tory win in Aberdeenshire West, when they took the seat on a 12% swing.

There was some relief for Scottish Labour when they took Edinburgh Southern from the SNP, coupled with holding on to East Lothian and Jackie Baillie’s…  ah… ‘popular’ win in Dumbarton.  Bearing in mind that Labour has traditionally gained far fewer votes on the list vote than the constituency vote, this left Labour with too much ground to make up on the Tories going into the list seats.  So, as a result of both the Tories aggressive re-positioning as defenders of the union and Labour’s continuing impersonation of Stretch Armstrong culminating in their two stools approach to the constitutional question, the Tories had their best share of vote in Scotland since the 1992 General Election and Labour finished third for the first time in an election in Scotland since 1910.

The SNP though serenely moved towards a third consecutive term.  Except that, in spite of their highest constituency vote in a Holyrood election and the highest list vote ever in a Holyrood vote, due to the vagaries of the list vote the SNP fell short of a second overall majority.  The gains in the constituency vote had a negative effect on their list vote, only 4 seats were picked up on the list system.  So much for the #bothvotesSNP effect and the architects claims that only both votes would guarantee a majority SNP government that craves an Independent Scotland.

Sturgeon has already said that the SNP will govern as a minority, as they did during their first term.  While the SNP would ideally have wanted a majority, the new parliament gives them options.  Funnily enough, I suspect that there won’t be that much love lost between the two pro-Independence parties in Holyrood given the SNP’s aggressive #bothvotesSNP campaign and their attempt to run the Scottish Green’s off the road (as they did with RISE).  One by-product of this election will be that I think that Indyref 2 will not happen in this parliament.  Not that this is a bad thing, when the SNP have still to come to terms with their own failure or to hold any sort of post mortem into how they failed.  Patrick Harvie’s sober but realistic view on Indyref 2 is certainly not what the hard line pro-Indy supporters want to hear, but they are views that should be listened to if people are to be convinced about Independence.

While Nicola Sturgeon is comfortably back in Bute House and no doubt planning for the next weeks and months of SNP government, the other big winners are the Conservatives.  Ruth Davidson’s tactic of running as the out and proud pro-Union party clearly paid dividends and made things much more difficult for Scottish Labour by targeting their indecisiveness over the constitutional issue.  Scottish Labour’s meltdown has also made things clear down south that there is now a Scotland shaped roadblock to their route back to government.  Sturgeon might have won, but in the longer term the spoils will go to David Cameron’s successor.

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