Superlative followed superlative as one shock followed another; staggering, momentous, historic, and unprecedented. We watched events unfold and didn’t quite take it all in.
The rumours started at around midnight, the SNP had taken all five seats in Aberdeen. This was followed by news on the wires that Andy Kerr was in trouble in East Kilbride.
There was a sense that something was happening early on, but the scale of the SNP win has surely shook UK politics to its core. This result will resonate throughout Europe and further afield such is the sheer scale of the SNP’s success.
The first seat to declare was Rutherglen and it was held by Labour’s James Kelly, it was a false dawn though. All eyes were on the SNP whose vote had increased by over 16%; would the swing be replicated across the country – we were to find out.
When Linda Fabiani triumphed in East Kilbride at the expense of Labour’s Andy Kerr there was a feeling that history was being made. This ‘Portillo’ moment was followed not long afterwards when another Labour former Minister, Tom McCabe, fell to the SNP’s Christina McKelvie in Hamilton.
The Hamilton win was a symbolic re-run of Winnie Ewing’s famous victory in the same constituency in 1967. Ms McKelvie gained the seat with a 12% swing and there was suddenly a very surreal feeling about the evening. It should not go unmentioned that Mr Tom McCabe gave a particularly gracious losing speech, Mr McCabe’s good grace was matched later on by LibDem Mike Pringle who lost Edinburgh South to the Nationalists.
One month ago the media were of the opinion that this election was Labour’s to lose. Sadly it is the only thing that Iain Gray managed. His narrow win by 150 votes in East Lothian ended with a comedic fist pump from the Labour leader that showed the relief he clearly felt. Only moments before it was a red eyed Gray who looked a forlorn slumped figure as defeat appeared to loom.
If the current Labour leader breathed a sigh of relief at having kept his seat, his predecessor Wendy Alexander must also have breathed a similar sigh of relief having made her decision to step down. A prescient move given that her former seat fell to the SNP.
Three stories were emerging; the continued slow erosion of Labour’s old traditional vote, the SNP’s emergence as Scotland’s party of choice and the LibDem’s humiliating demise. Oh how the LibDems must have wished they could turn back the clock to 2007 when they spurned the opportunity of coalition with the then fledgling SNP government.
Jim Wallace lamenting the fact that LibDem votes had not gone to Labour exemplified the stunned shock that the former coalition partners felt at the devastating result. Images of Labour’s Pauline McNeil, learning she had lost to Sandra White, trying to hide her face from cameras as she hurried out of the count exemplified the evening for the once proud party.
Any thoughts that Labour might opt for sober reflection after such a devastating night were dispelled as Margaret Curran launched an appallingly undignified attack on STV’s Bernard Ponsonby blaming the defeat on the media for not pursuing the SNP.
Curran’s outburst was indicative of all that is wrong with Labour in Scotland; a stupefying refusal to acknowledge responsibility on the part of Labour for the devastation the party had suffered. Curran’s defiance was at odds with the events that were unfolding across the nation as Labour suffered devastating defeat after defeat.
When Alex Salmond arrived in Aberdeen at 4am to receive the vote in his own constituency the SNP leader described the SNP’s performance as “reasonable” – an understatement. Moments later James Dornan took Glasgow Cathcart from Charlie Gordon, mirroring John Mason’s win in Shettleston where he defeated Frank McAveety. The First Minister described the SNP as “Scotland’s National Party”, and few would argue with him this new day.
The most dramatic result of the night was Glasgow Anniesland where the SNP won the first count by just four votes. A re-count saw the Nationalists ahead by just one, a third count resulted Labour eventually conceding to the SNP who won by just seven votes.
It was a night when ‘Portillo moments’ were scattered like confetti around the nation and the smiling bride seemed always to be the SNP. David McLetchie’s loss was evidence that the shocks weren’t just restricted to Labour and the LibDems, the Nationalists took seats from all.
One result went against the trend with Labour’s Jackie Baillie holding Dumbarton and increasing her vote by more than the SNP. Every election throws up one bizarre result and this was it. But successes like that were few and far between with Labour also losing formidable figures such as David Whitton and Sarah Boyack.
One other noteworthy point was the failure of George Galloway to win a seat as a list MSP, a loss to Holyrood or a relief – we’ll never know.
When the SNP triumphed in 2007 it shook the political world and handed Labour their first Scottish defeat in fifty years. Holyrood 2011 will be remembered as a watershed moment and a change in the tectonic plates of Scotland’s political landscape.