08 June 2009

As the dust settles

The results in Scotland:

SNP 321,007 - 29.06% and 2 seats
Labour 229,853 - 20.81% and 2 seats
Conservatives 185,794 - 16.82% and 1 seat
Liberal Democrats 127,038 - 11.50% and 1 seat
Greens 80,442 - 7.28%
UKIP 57,788 - 5.23%
Others 102,590

As we can see, the SNP have come first in this election, for only the second time in the party's history and the first time in an election where Scotland is one part of a UK-wide (and, in this case, EU-wide) poll. The party hasn't succeeded in gaining a third seat, but this result is symbolic: this shows that 2007 was neither a flash in the pan nor an aberration: there is now a real trend showing the SNP in pole position. This is augmented by the fact that the SNP came first in 22 of the 32 local Councils. This might not be the biggest vote share in SNP history (in fact, this result is the fifth best in the party's history, behind the 2007 Constituency result, the 1994 European election, the 2007 Regional result and the October 1974 election), but it's loaded with symbolism.

It's loaded with symbolism for Labour as well. This result is the worst for decades and the party leads in only three Council areas: Glasgow, North Lanarkshire (which both have Labour majorities in control at council level) and Fife (Gordon Brown's backyard). In Edinburgh, Labour are third. That's alarming for Alistair Darling and for Sarh Boyack. In East Renfrewshire - Jim Murphy's stomping ground - Labour are third. In East Lothian - Iain Gray's backyard - Labour are second. Tom Harris, the blogging MP, will be particularly perturbed: in Glasgow South, his Constituency, the SNP came first. Labour came third in South Ayrshire and second in East Ayrshire - bad news for Cathy Jamieson. In South Lanarkshire, Midlothian, they came second - bad news for Andy Kerr and Rhona Brankin. The one saving grace for Iain Gray's leadership - now that he's flunked his first nationwide electoral test - is that he's been overshadowed by Labour at Westminster so much, all of the blame lands at Gordon Brown's door. This would not be a good time for Gray to emerge from his den of insignificance.

For the Tories, it was another case of holding the line: Annabel Goldie seems rather good at this, but an actual advance seems a distant prospect. Do the Tories have anyone among them who could make it happen? Right now, it looks like Tory progress at the General Election in Scotland will come solely on the back of a Labour collapse. For the Government-in-waiting, that's not good enough and the Conservatives UK-wide have to do more than simply wait their turn.

For the LibDems, meanwhile, the result is indifferent: they've held on but they're missing opportunities to capitalise on Labour misfortune. If Labour do somehow manage to recover, the LibDems have a problem. Right now, their strong position at Westminster hinges on Labour being crap. Again, that's not good enough.

For the Greens, the result is neither a cause for despondency nor a cause for celebration. Compared with the knockback the party got in 2007, to make progress now is an excellent result and Patrick Harvie must be happy. However, there is one fly in the ointment: like in 2007, polls in the run-up to the election showed a major Green advance and real progress in terms of seats, only for that not to materialise at the ballot box. Greens can be happy at the result, but may wish to be wary at this tendency towards false dawns. Nevertheless, third place in Glasgow, 5-6% in the North East, 7% in Highland among other results shows the possibility of expanded Green representation once again. They are not there yet, but these results tell a broadly positive story and Patrick Harvie should be chuffed. All they need to do now is get beyond their False Dawn Syndrome.

Now a few wider points:

We really, really need to find a way of dealing with the BNP. Ignoring them hasn't worked. Going around telling people they're nasty hasn't worked. The reality is they've gone into places telling the (straight white) voters that the other parties have been ignoring them and they'll be their voice. So here's a nutty idea, instead of no-platform policies and leaflets saying that the BNP will eat your baby, why don't the other parties - and here's a radical proposition - actually propose, you know, doing things for the people instead of simply defining themselves in terms of not being someone else? Why not offer a positive agenda that gets people listening instead of trying to fight hate with hate? Is that too shocking for the main parties? Instead of wringing your hands about the presence of fascists, why not sidestep them completely, engage directly with the voters and get stuff done?

Also, we are once again hearing that old chestnuts that PR lets fascists in. Tell that to the people of Padiham and Burnley West, the Lancashire County Council ward where the BNP won on the First Past the Post system. The voting system doesn't let the BNP in. The voters let the BNP in when the other parties don't do enough to work for them. End of.

For Labour, things are particularly humiliating: they are first in none of the UK nations. That's a first for Labour since WW1, and it's something that happened to the Tories in their wilderness elections: 1997 and 2001. The immediate prospects for Labour UK-wide look very bleak indeed on that basis.

Meanwhile, in England, we have the situation of a right wing body politic emerging, with a majority for the right - the Tories, UKIP and BNP among others. Wales shows a three-way dogfight between the Tories (first for the first time since universal suffrage), Labour (second for the first time since WW1) and Plaid. Scotland, meanwhile, shows a clear SNP-Labour faultline with advantage and momentum firmly with the SNP. That's three different nations with three very different political outlooks. Even in the 1980s, Scotland and Wales had a lot in common with each other, and with industrial Northern England. No longer.

And that, for me, is the key point: people thought that the 2007 elections - with the SNP assuming the Government of Scotland, Plaid joining the Government of Wales, and the DUP/SF Executive in Northern Ireland - was the biggest marker towards independence. Some will see the SNP's victory this week in that light. For me, it's the fact that the three mainland nations of the UK are now pulling in different directions. That's where we are now.


James said...

A thoughtful analysis as usual, hard to disagree with any of it.

I note, also, that the SSP got less than half the Stalinist Scargillite vote (most of whose voters just want a more small-s socialist Labour Party), little more than a third of the BNP vote, and less than the Christians.

Still, they'll be pleased because they beat No2EU (i.e. Tommy, even though he was #2 on that list) by those crucial 711 votes.

Al Bundy said...

Good stuff Will, 2 thoughts/opinions to add:

The way to tackle the BNP is to step up ground level political activism in areas where they've filled that vacuum. Griffin's tactic has been to rip-off the LibDem pavement politics model, and in areas where no other party is on the doorsteps the fascists have been seen to be the party that stop dog shit and gets the grass cut. You add that support to the latent racist vote of 3-4% that's always there, and it's getting them over the D'Hondt finishing line.

Standing shouting 'Stop the BNP' doesn't work. The anti-fascist activists have to get involved in party politics, and the unexciting world of canvass returns and leaflet drops, and kick the Nazis' legs from under by beating them at their own game.

Re: Tom Harris and Jim Murphy - The worrying thing for them is the numerical increase in the SNP vote compared to 2005. This election had a turnout half that of those elections, yet the numbers of SNP voters actually went up compared to 2005 - Glw. South 4860 to 5192, East Ren from 3245 to 5475. That indicates an increase in the hardcore SNP vote (anyone voting for you in a Euro election should be considered ultra-bedrock!), and starts to make Glw South in particular look, at the very least, slightly iffy for Harris.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis..

The BNP is a problem but the way i see it is they are only strong because of labour incompetence..

If Labour do start to get there act together or the Torys win and the economy and immigration issues are fixed then the BNP will be nothing but a rump of dung.

Sometime people take desperate measures because they are desperate, in this case some desperate voters turned to the BNP.

Come a UK election they will win nothing...

Anyway great night for the SNP and although we never won the 3rd seat, beating Labour into second place and coming first in the majority of council areas has more than made up for it.

If it wasnt for the expenses or the SNPs, SFT then i think we would have won over 35% of the votes..

I agree with the SFT, just wish they would get some results from it..