Friday, May 04, 2007

Some thoughts on the future

The SNP are now the largest Party in Scotland, for the first time ever. Regardless of any other events, this is a big thing, fifty years of Labour certainty has evaporated, and the fact that Labour came second in the Constituency Vote but still ended up with a majority of Constituencies shows why we need to be thankful for PR, why electoral reform for the Councils was right, and why change for Westminster can't come soon enough. But now they have to form a government: they need the LibDems and the Greens, there is no way round this. Unless they can cobble together support for policies on an issue-by-issue basis with every other party except Labour, who would probably resist any SNP measure outright. The question now is: where goes the independence referendum? There are a few activists wondering if whether or not insisting on this is the wisest thing given the circumstances.

Labour could still form a government, but either way, Jack McConnell is coming to the end of his leadership. He is damaged: he will be viewed at the man who lost Scotland for Labour. But the Party is still in a fairly secure position. They still have a vice-like grip on Lanarkshire , and hold nine of the ten Glasgow Constituencies. They still control North Lanarkshire and Glasgow councils. They held on to Edinburgh Central and Aberdeen Central. The loss of three Constituencies in Mid Scotland & Fife was balanced out by winning three Regional seats there, maintaining a presence. They held on to their constituencies in the South, only lost one in the West and won back Strathkelvin & Bearsden. They still have all their big hitters in the Parliament. However, the spotlight will slowly turn to Westminster, where Labour's grip is looking like it will weaken. As things get worse there, that could affect the Party more generally, weakening Scottish Labour. The big problem is that just as the SNP were in danger of being seen only as a force north of the Tay, Labour is now primarily a force around the Clyde.

The Tories end this election with one MSP fewer than in 2003, but they potentially hold influence and Goldie has done well. Coming third in Stirling will be traumatic, as will Murray Tosh's failure to win Dumfries, but coming within a whisker in Eastwood, and holding on to Galloway & Upper Nithsdale, combined with the against-the-odds win in Roxburgh & Berwickshire, shows that the Party is stronger than we thought. The question is, given the 'lack of obvious talent' in the group, can new Members John Lamont, Gavin Brown, Liz Smith and Jackson Carlaw add anything? And with focus shifting, what prospects does the Party have for gains at Westminster?

This is an electoral disaster for the LibDems, the so-called 'Party of Real Momentum'. They have actually gone backwards, and the balance of power does not rest with them and them alone, as it might otherwise have done. Nicol Stephen clearly does not have the charisma and the persolnality for the Party to run a campaign around him. It's not even clear if their place in government is 100% guaranteed. Add to that the loss of Gordon (understandable), Argyll & Bute (where one of the Party's key members has lost out) and Roxburgh & Berwickshire and the story is one of a Party in trouble. The Party has a reason to cheer in Dunfermline West but even so, they need a period of reflection, and it's clear that Jim Wallace was right to leave when the going was good.

Then the Greens. This is not the disaster it appears. They may have lost a number of MSPs but the overall result gives their two MSPs influence and they could well make a deal with the SNP and LibDems. Patrick Harvie owes his continued MSP status to the split between the SSP and Solidarity (their combined votes were greater than the Green vote), but Martin Bartos managed to take 12.6% of the vote and third place in Glasgow Kelvin, while the Greens have five Councillors in Glasgow and three in Edinburgh. Harvie will probably be Co-Convener before long, with Robin Harper easing out of politics, though it's hard to see who will join him as the female Co-Convener. Shiona Baird's position is weaker now she has lost her seat, as is Eleanor Scott's. Ruth Cameron is seen as a rising star, but her rather steep gradient might not go down all that well with some. And in any case, with no national platform, what good is the Convenership? Nevertheless, the Greens will recover.

The same cannot be said of the SSP and Solidarity. They disappear into the night: even Tommy Sheridan has lost his seat. The parties have one Councillor each: Solidarity in Glasgow and the SSP in West Dunbartonshire. The SSP got 19,016 votes in Central Scotland four years ago; the two parties couldn't even manage 8,000 between them yesterday. Their 31,116 votes in Glasgow turned into just over 12,000 combined yesterday. What's worse is that had there been only one party, with the same vote, they would have got an MSP, at the expense of Patrick Harvie. The two parties combined lost more than two thirds of the SSP's vote in the Highlands and Islands. Their combined vote in the Lothians was just under 5,000, compared with 14,448 for the SSP in 2003, and the SSP this time, with their Leader standing in the region, came eleventh, behind the SSCUP, Solidarity, the BNP and the Socialist Labour Party! Neither Party could manage 1% in Mid Scotland and Fife or North East Scotland, Rosemary Byrne has sunk without trace in the South, and the two parties's support was less than 2.5% in the West. Tommy Sheridan has said that the Party will build up and work towards 2001, but the SSP are doomed and Solidarity is in danger of being strangled at birth.

The bigger picture is that we have no clear government, so I might keep this blog running, in case we have to do it all over again in a month...

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