Analysis by Hugh Kerr
Writing on Friday daytime, the major results of the election are clear.
Firstly congratulations to my former party, the SNP, to have achieved a third election victory is unprecedented in Scotland and very rare at Westminster.To do this after nine years of government at a time of budget cuts and remain popular is indeed remarkable.
Yet there are warning signs for the SNP that they should not ignore. Popularity in electoral terms does not last forever and I remember well the 2003 Scottish Parliament elections when the SNP got only 20% of the votes and 26 seats.
Secondly, there are signs that the Scottish electorate who are quite sophisticated, have been forming unionist coalitions at constituency level to return the candidate most likely to defeat the SNP. This was the case in Edinburgh West where a Liberal was elected, replacing an SNP MSP, and the Labour vote was squeezed. In my constituency of Edinburgh Central, I find I am represented now by Tory leader Ruth Davidson who again benefited from a unionist push.
Similarly in Edinburgh Southern it’s clear that many Tories voted Labour to keep the SNP out as they did at the general election. That process can develop further by the next election particularly if there is a big focus on a second referendum in 2020.
People are surprised that the Tories have done so well by finishing second in the number of seats won. They shouldn’t be, in 1955, and that’s in my lifetime the Tories won a majority of votes and seats in Scotland and despite being eclipsed in the 1997 general election with no seats, they were saved by the proportional electoral system. Ironically the Tories initially opposed both the Scottish Parliament and the proportional electoral system, and now they have become the official opposition.
Incidentally there are some criticisms of the D’Hondt system that governs the list system and yes it has some problems, not least that the parties choose the list. In Denmark electors can choose their order on the list and over 70 per cent of them choose their own list. Maybe it’s time we reviewed the electoral system in Scotland but I suspect it’s still controlled from Westminster! Also Ruth Davidson was elected as my MSP with 30 per cent of the vote on a 60 per cent turnout – not very democratic, is it?!
If the result was good for the SNP and the Tories and the Greens it was a disaster for Labour. Down from 37 to 24 seats and the worst election result since 1955, indeed in vote share the worst since 1910. My Labour sources tell me there are deep divisions in the party over the way forward after finishing third to the Tories. Blairites like former MP Tom Docherty blame “dangerous left wing policies and Jeremy Corbyn” (personally I think Jeremy was largely irrelevant in Scotland) and the anti-semitism row never featured very much apart from maybe Eastwood where it may have helped a Tory victory. Ironic in a way since anti-semitism is much more prevalent on the right than the left.
The reformers like former leader Henry Mcleish and deputy leader Alex Rowley, favour a much more aggressive Home Rule position to take on the SNP and deal with the independence question. Indeed a number argue for a truly independent Scottish Labour Party with confederal arrangements with UK Labour, whether they can afford to go it alone is however open to question since they are heavily bank-rolled from London at present.However the Blairites who still largely control the party machine, and Kezia Dugdale who is likely to remain as leader, are unlikely to adopt this radical position and will just continue to focus on opposing the SNP. That way Labour will continue their decline.
That takes us to the socialist left ( the Liberals on 5 seats are largely irrelevant). RISE, as I predicted in an earlier article, failed to rise at all, recording derisory votes everywhere despite lots of free publicity in the Herald and The National. Also, as I predicted, Tommy Sheridan defeated RISE in Glasgow but without enough votes to get elected and if Gail gets her way it will apparently be the end of Tommy’s electoral career. So what will happen to the left? I suspect that the RISE alliance of the SSP and the SWP will break up and they will go back to their own parties. However there are a fair number of young independent socialists around RISE and Commonweal who are not sectarians, I would advise them to join the Greens and help them put pressure on the SNP government. For example the Greens could firm up the SNP towards an outright ban on fracking, which the majority of SNP members would support. Also Andy Wightman can use his great knowledge to toughen up the Land Reform Act, again something SNP members would agree with.
When I was expelled from Labour in 1998 as an MEP I joined the Green Group in the European Parliament, indeed I used to tease Robin Harper and Caroline Lucas that I was the first Green Parliamentarian in the UK. I resigned from the SNP two days before the election over Nicola Sturgeon effectively endorsing the Sun with her photo opportunity holding up their front page and I urged a Green vote for the list. When the dust settles after the election I will apply to join to join the Green Party. No doubt I will be accused of being a carpetbagger and an opportunist by the usual trolls on the net. Let me reassure them I have retired from active politics and I don’t want to become an MP, MSP, MEP or councillor,
At the age of 71 my main pursuit is pleasure and a bit of journalism. However as the great and recently deceased playright Arnold Wesker said through the words of Sarah Kahn in Chicken Soup With Barley, “if you don’t care you will die”. I have been in politics all my life and I do care, so I’m going to join the Greens and help to shape Scotland over the next few years.
Finally let us all celebrate the good sense of the Scottish electorate, not just in making the results of the Scottish Parliament much more interesting than the campaign. Also in having the great wisdom not to elect any UKIP MSPs – now if we could just get rid of that dreadful UKIP MEP!
Hugh Kerr was an MEP for Labour and the Greens until recently he was an SNP member, he now intends to join the Greens.