01 January 2007

2007: A fine vintage?

A number of commentators have already peered into their crystal ball to look at the possible shape of Scottish politics come the end of the year. I'm not going to start making predictions (except to say that Dundee United could beat Falkirk this afternoon) but I thought I'd consider the best and worst case scenarios for each of the parties in the Election and its aftermath.


Scotland has seen a Labour government at Westminster since 1997, and a Labour-led government at Holyrood since 1999, so it's logical that whatever happens, voters will be feeling tired of the status quo. Whether enough voters will feel that way remains to be seen, but coupled with the bad year that Labour has suffered at Westminster (the Holyrood group seems to have settled into dull anonymity in the main), it's inevitable that the party will lose votes and seats in May. The ideal outcome is for Labour to remain in both in first place and in government, but just keeping the latter will be enough I suspect. If that happens, McConnell's position as leader will be secure in the short term, though every seat lost will bring his departure date forward in the long term. If Labour end up in opposition, then McConnell is doomed. The candidates to replace him will include Tom McCabe and Margaret Curran's Hands. If Andy Kerr keeps his seat (and out of the possible Leadership contenders, his position is the most vulnerable), his hat will be in the ring as well. Wendy Alexander might pluck up the courage to stand this time but her best chance of victory was in 2001, so unless McConnell hangs on for 12 months, and gives her a frontbench position, she has no chance. Iain Gray's prospects are largely the same. Out of those candidates, Curran could do the best job. Kerr will probably be good at holding things steady, but McCabe wouldn't last very long.

A GOOD YEAR: For Jack McConnell to remain as FM thanks to an agreement with one other party, whether with Nicol Stephen as DFM or with the Tories supporting Labour's legislative programme from outwith the Executive.

A BAD YEAR: For Alex Salmond to be FM and Tom McCabe to be Leader of the Opposition.


Obviously the measure of total success for the SNP would be for them to get the most votes, the most seats, Bute House and an independence referendum, but for them to get Bute House and fail to secure agreement on a vote will be seen as an embarrassment for the Leadership. If they end up the largest party but Labour end up being able to form another coalition, then they'll be able to walk out of the Election with dignity (but nothing else), and Alex Salmond will stick around as Leader, awaiting a likely collapse of the Executive (likeliest around the time of the next Westminster election) and ready to take Bute House at some point before the 2011 Election. If they end up with the most votes but still second in terms of seats, they can attack the vagaries of the electoral system, but in these circumstances (or a failure to get even this), I don't see Salmond staying as Leader of the Opposition for long: he'll probably step down and be succeeded by Nicola Sturgeon, whose Deputy will be Kenny MacAskill - the original joint ticket for the Leadership in 2004. Of course, any references to Salmond are contingent on him getting back to Holyrood, which isn't set in stone.

A GOOD YEAR: First Minister Alex Salmond publishing his first Executive Bill: to hold a referendum on Independence.

A BAD YEAR: Leader of the Opposition Alex Salmond criticising Jack McConnell's Legislative Programme at his last First Minister's Question Time before resigning the Leadership.


What to make of the Conservatives? The 'Cameron bounce' seems never to have materialised in Scotland and activists have been expressing frustration with the Leadership from very early on in Annabel Goldie's tenure. Unless there's a massive sea change in Scottish politics in the next four months, I don't see Goldie making even the slightest advance and she might even lose a couple of seats. Whatever happens, Murdo Fraser is more likely to be leading the Party by the end of the year (or even by the end of the Summer). The only ray of light in this whole affair is the unlikely possibility that they may be able to prop up a Labour minority administration. This is unlikely not because of policy issues but simple arithmetic: for the two Parties combined to hold more than half the seats in Holyrood requires them to lose no more than two seats. I see Labour's losses being greater than that, and only Unionism would get the Tories to prop up a minority Lab/LibDem coalition. That might be enough, though.

A GOOD YEAR: Murdo Fraser directing his group of 18 MSPs to support the Executive's Budget, having gained policy concessions.

A BAD YEAR: Murdo Fraser directing his group of 15 MSPs to oppose the Budget, having been completely ignored by everyone.

Liberal Democrats

The party of real momentum? If you're Nicol Stephen, yes. If you're anyone else, no. The Party ought to make gains and neither of the two Parties vying to lead an Executive will have the 50 seats currently held by Labour. This will give the LibDems added influence. The question is, will they gain enough seats to be part of a viable, two-party, majority coalition? That's not clear yet, but if it is they'll probably be able to secure a big concession from on of the Big 2. The most likely concession will be an assurance from Labour that the Executive will reject all planning applications for new nuclear power stations in Scotland (which will suit almost everyone in the Labour Party, with the exceptions of the Westminster group and any Labour MSP who has a nuclear power station in their Constituency). But it isn't yet clear that any of the optimistic predictions regarding the LibDems will come true: they were tipped to make major gains in 2003. They ended up with no more (but no fewer) seats than they won in 1999, but they did take a scalp in Angus MacKay when they won Edinburgh South. While the Tories won't advance, and the most likely positive outcome will be 18 MSPs, the LibDems won't go backwards and the most likely negative outcome will be 17 MSPs.

A GOOD YEAR: Nicol Stephen to stay as Deputy First Minister, having secured a raft of concessions from either of the Big 2, and more LibDem Cabinet Ministers.

A BAD YEAR: Nicol Stephen getting completely outfoxed by one or both of the Big 2, ending up as Leader of an Opposition Party.


Although the Greens will want as many MSPs as they can get, success for them depends not on their own strong performance, but on the weak performances of others. Five Green MSPs could wield more influence in a Parliament with no viable two-party majority than ten Green MSPs in a Parliament where either McConnell or Salmond has manged to form a stable, majority coalition Executive. Of course, they could have their cake and eat it (more MSPs and a veto on the Executive's formation and budget). Equally, it could still go badly wrong (fewer MSPs and their support only being needed when a small Backbench rebellion is looming in the Executive parties).

A GOOD YEAR: Green MSPs in every region, and the power to decide who leads the Executive.

A BAD YEAR: Fewer Green MSPs, who aren't needed for First Ministers to be elected, Ministers to be appointed and Budgets to be passed.


Assuming they have the finances to exist (which isn't set in stone), their days as a Parliamentary force are numbered. Colin Fox has no influence and no charisma, and even if he did, most of the Party's activists and key supporters have left. The SWP and CWI have defected to Solidarity, the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement has ended its formal links with the party and the RMT has decided not to fund it anymore. With this lack of support the future is bleak, and expectations should be low.

A GOOD YEAR: For the party to have any MSPs left come May 4.

A BAD YEAR: Financial ruin.


The latest division in the Left wing vote currently holds two MSPs, and is the destination of choice for many ex-SSP activists. They also have the charisma of Tommy Sheridan, guaranteeing them at least one MSP after the Election. This will give them the groundwork to go into the 2011 Elections as the SSP went into the 2003 Elections, with similar results likely then. Solidarity activists in the South are also optimistic of Rosemary Byrne's re-election prospects (and practically the whole South of Scotland Regional SSP has defected to Solidarity, thus giving her more chances than she would have if the split had been more even) but she only just scraped in last time, and her chances might have more to do with how many votes (or how few constituencies) the larger parties win.

A GOOD YEAR: Two MSPs, the only standard bearers of a Socialist party in Holyrood.

A BAD YEAR: Tommy Sheridan ploughing a lone furrow, with the SSP still in a position to take some of the limelight.


Yes, they do still exist. But we've heard very little of John Swinburne ever since he backed Pat Lally's By-Election campaign in Glasgow Cathcart. The good news for the party is that Lally is rumoured to be considering standing for them in the Election. he might just get enough votes to get a seat, which is good for them as Swinburne's position is not all that strong right now, and he could get crowded out by the other parties, unless we have a harsh winter, a spate of attacks on pensioners or a Budget which offers only a paltry rise in the State Pension. Even then, he might not be able to capitalise. How much have we heard from him on the subject of Post Office closures and the end of the Post Office Card Account, for example? They might be reserved matters, but even so, he seems embarrassingly quiet. In any case, the likelihood of him being able to repeat the feat of previous one-man Parliamentary Parties the SSP and the Greens is low.

A GOOD YEAR: A successful Pat Lally candidacy, and John Swinburne hanging onto his seat.

A BAD YEAR: Losing Parliamentary representation.

1 comment:

Mark McDonald said...

"I'm not going to start making predictions (except to say that Dundee United could beat Falkirk this afternoon)"

I see why you don't make predictions. :-)