As the dust begins to settle on the general election, and a new parliament takes shape, parties both north and south of the border have been reflecting on their performances on what proved to be one of the most exciting elections in recent times.
Throughout the night, as returning officers delivered the results, heavyweight politicians from Labour and the Liberal Democrats fell, with it becoming simultaneously clear that the parties overall had been savaged at the polls. Big names and former cabinet members lost their seats in England while in Scotland Douglas & Danny Alexander, Charles Kennedy and, Scottish Labour Party leader, Jim Murphy suffered the same fate.
The parties with the most to smile about were the Conservatives, emerging with an unexpected majority, and the Scottish National Party who performed just as the opinion polls had suggested they would; by more or less wiping out the Labour Party in Scotland.
Polls prior to the election tipped the SNP to win anything between 40-50 seats with some even predicting a clean sweep. It seemed highly unlikely, and even when exit polls on the night of the election suggested it may well pan out that way, Nicola Sturgeon was quick to dismiss the news and advise caution. As it turned out the party emerged with 56 out of 59 Scottish seats, with one each going to the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour, and it subsequently took a majority of the overall Scottish vote.
A Democratic Revolution
The SNP had thus completed its stunning transformation from being one that was looked at as being a party of protest and on the fringes of Scottish politics, before the devolved parliament in Scotland was created, to that the of the biggest supported party in Scotland and the third biggest in the UK in terms of membership. The magnitude of this exceptional turnaround was not lost on political experts both before and after the election.
During an appearance on the Daily Politics in the days before the vote, Jeremy Brown stated that what was happening in Scotland was as close to a revolution as one could expect in a democracy. On the night of the vote Andrew Marr commented on the BBC election programme that Scottish independence was back on the agenda and that historical processes are in motion that may prove irreversible.
As voters in England moved to the right their Scottish counterparts seemed to move to the left, and the overall view was, and still is, that England and Scotland are slowly but surely heading in two different political directions. It was even suggested that David Cameron may be the last ever Prime Minister of the UK in its current form.
Cameron's Constitutional Gamble
Without a doubt the Scottish National Party and pro-independence campaigners will be buoyed by the result. In another blog prior to the election I wrote that the independence juggernaut showed no signs of slowing and the events of the last two weeks have shown that to be the case. Although the SNP were expected to do well, the strength of their performance has caught many off guard.
David Cameron was accused by his opponents of gambling with the future of the United Kingdom in his quest to remain in Number 10. His detractors say that he pursued a campaign that was intent on spreading fear among English voters of a possible Labour government propped up by the SNP. In fairness to him, it appears to have worked. But it seems also to be the case that he has played right into the SNPs hands.
The Conservative Party has, for years now, struggled badly in Scotland and its majority at Westminster will disappoint many. If further austerity measures and spending cuts have an adverse effect on the Scottish economy, on jobs and on people’s living standards then it is inevitable that the SNP will exploit this to its own benefit. It has already successfully won over a large swathe of ex-Labour voters and rendered the party unelectable in Scotland in places where it had held firm for decades.
Recommendations laid out by the Smith Commission, looking at extra powers for Scotland, may go some way to appeasing those ‘soft’ independence voters who would be happy to see a more autonomous Scotland. Indeed, one of the most controversial aspects of the referendum was the omission of an option for ‘devo-max’ on the ballot paper. Some in the no campaign argued that this would have stopped the independence movement dead in its tracks. Others even suggested that devo-max would be the most favourable outcome for the SNP.
The report advises making the Scottish parliament a permanent institution, handing more tax-raising powers to the Scottish government while giving it more of a say over issues like welfare, and even allows for the lowering of the voting age to 16 for Scottish parliamentary elections; just as it did for the independence referendum. Debate currently rages over the prospect of Scotland being granted Full Fiscal Autonomy and what this would mean for the country’s finances.
Another Independence Referendum?
With an EU referendum on the horizon, as promised by the Conservatives, another fault line will develop between Scotland and England. The pro-EU SNP has vociferously spoken out against a referendum. Prior to the general election, Nicola Sturgeon demanded that no one constituent country of the UK should be allowed to drag the others out of the EU against their will.
With this result, more powers have been promised to Scotland. The crescendo of voices demanding a fair deal for English voters is also growing louder. Unionists north and south of the border hoped that the no vote in the independence referendum last year would put an end to the uncertainty over the constitutional future of the UK. Another independence referendum looks a real possibility but how soon remains uncertain. A recent opinion poll looking at the Scottish parliamentary election next year shows the SNP maintaining its grip on power boosted, perhaps, by a possible strong showing by another pro-independence party the Scottish Greens. This along with the success of both the SNP and the Conservative Party in the general election shows that things are far from settled.
BRIT POLITICS Guest Writer - About Andrew
I live just outside Edinburgh and have had a long-term interest in History, Politics and Current Affairs.
I went back into full-time education in 2008 as a mature student completing an Access Course at Stevenson College, Edinburgh before being accepted to study Politics & International Relations at the University of Dundee. I graduated in 2013 with a degree in History & Politics.
I currently work in the energy sector, enjoy reading, travelling and socialising and have a huge interest in language.