By Alex Robertson
Wow, what a week! At the launch of the local government elections, Alex Salmond set his party two objectives: win the greatest number of council seats, and win the greatest share of the vote.
The results were better than that: over 60 gains, over 32% of the overall vote and 424 council seats. A clear triumph in achieving the goals set.
Yes, the ambition to wrest control of Glasgow City Council from Labour fell short of hopes, although the SNP did gain seats again. It was a very creditable performance and everybody involved is to be congratulated for a fine piece of work.
As the dust settles, it is early days for a full analysis, but it seems clear that the collapse of the Lib Dem vote transferred very largely to Labour’s advantage. Unionists sticking together perhaps, although it would be interesting to ask a few questions and find out what really happened. There are a few lessons to learn.
Now it is time to refocus. The election is over, and we must now look forward to the independence referendum. The local elections have little or nothing to do with the question of Scottish independence, but the SNP’s attempt to smash Labour’s strongholds has not happened. The Labour Party as a vote-winning machine has proved itself to be very much in fine fighting form, albeit a bit lumpy in the results produced.
The Scottish voters have proved themselves to be a canny lot, well able to make different choices for local, European and both Scottish and UK general elections. What happened last Thursday tells us only little about how the upcoming referendum vote will go. Scots have proved themselves very adept at making the distinction between what question they are being asked, and who is doing the asking.
Scotland may seem now very much a two party country, and to win our independence, our freedom to make our own decisions and choices about our homeland, we need to woo and persuade Labour supporters to vote for independence in the referendum. Reliance on SNP voters alone will not be enough. It always was going to be about bringing the entire Scots nation together, rather than splitting and dividing it, and this election result confirms it.
And the game has changed in mainland Europe as well this weekend. France is more in line with the Scottish government’s view that cuts alone are not enough to restore our economy. Greece is taking a fresh look at how we meet the crisis conditions in the Eurozone. We need action for growth as well. Actions are needed like lowering VAT, scrapping the crippling Air Passenger Duty, freeing up funds for capital investment, like infrastructure, instead of fighting in America’s wars or being a part of the US nuclear arsenal, are all pointers to the need for Scotland to take control of its own destiny.
The Salmond government is well aware that new markets for Scotland are there to be fought for in China, Asia and the Tiger economies of South East Asia. Westminster doesn’t get it, but France does, along with others, and this should be the time for Scotland to make alliances in Europe which are in Scottish interests instead of having Westminster do it in the interests of South East England..
Just look at the ludicrous situation forced upon Scots by Westminster control. The Lib Dems have a long history or support for Home Rule, and Lib Dem voters would be the natural friends and allies of the independence campaign. But Westminster says ‘no’ and Scottish LibDem voters are left with no home.
Our job now must be to win over Labour voters by appealing to their sense of nationhood, and their good sense to see the wisdom and case for Scottish independence. And we must do all we can to bring into our camp the many Lib Dem voters who have seen their natural home blown away and where a welcome awaits to those joining in the campaign for all Scots to support a ‘yes’ vote in 2014.
Only by reaching out to all Scots, of all political persuasions and preferences, persuading and convincing them that Scotland needs to have the power to make its own choices and decisions, in Scottish interests, and not to have our interests swamped by Westminster politicians, desperate for their political survival on English votes, will Scotland have a future all Scots can be proud of and share.