#SP2016 Last Post: Final Post-Election Musing after 36 hours without sleep

IMG_0022Concluding this long day of reflection on the 2016 Election, which started 12 hours ago with Editor Mike Small’s observations, Guest Editor Douglas Robertson offers a concluding and eclectic take on explaining the challenging hand Scotland’s electorate have dealt its national politicians. Holyrood, over the next five years, will be very different place.

Just as this morning’s BBC Scotland election coverage was nearing an end it broke away to a short segue that reviewed each of the last Parliamentary Elections by unfurling a banner whose imagery encapsulated that elements of that particular event.

As the final 2016 one was unveiled, falling down down from the ceiling it was noticeable just how quickly the camera shot cropped to a close-up. It was clearly trying to obscure the BBC’s customised party political graphics which they had employed throughout that evenings program, which ran down in a row on the banners the right hand side. So in rank order the expected outcome was to be 1.SNP – 2. Labour – 3. Conservative – 4. Liberal – 5. Greens and, finally, 6. UKIP. Well as we all know, it did not pan out like that.

So how exactly did we arrive here, and what are the implications for the future? From what proved to be a dull, uneventful and tightly choreographed election, what the electorate have bust open is a Pandora’s Box of possible political futures.

The SNP won, but perhaps given they fell so short of that achieving another outright majority they are being encouraged to feel they lost. This narrative quickly emerged in the mainstream media.

And then, in contrast, the Tories who lost now think they won, but they did not. It is also odd that, despite scooping List Seats, they voice opposition to a proportional electoral system.

This is the exact reverse of the popular and contentious feelings that fell from the Referendum result. Yes lost, but clearly thought and acted as if they had won, while No, who won, adopted the demeanor of losers.

The late interjection of Devo-plus offerings, later packaged up by the Smith Commission into the Scotland Act, added grist to that feeling, given No was originally just plain No. Last night’s electoral outcome happily induced a sharp reassessment of both world views.

The ubiquitous Professor Curtice stated that the: ‘SNP suffered from overexpectations’. He had something there, given they were allured by consistent high polling, which had not let up since the spectacular GE2015 outcome.

This was supposed to be a re-run of last year – but they did appear to forget the electoral system this time was different. Given SNP were obliged to legitimize the electoral prowess of their new leader, not surprisingly they sought to replicate her predecessor’s historic achievement.

So Yes Alliance deals with other pro-Independence outfits were dismissed out of hand, and ‘#BothvotesSNP’ became the hashtag mantra. But why pile up tens of thousands of unproductive votes to secure but four list seats? Perhaps this realization might get the SNP to reflect on the worth of electoral reform, in the direction of proper and full proportionality.

But what really ‘done it for the SNP’, was not holding up The Sun, but its failure to take all Scotland’s constituencies. That’s almost what is needed to achieve that outright majority.

Taking all constituencies was an expectation, if not a plan, and while clearly a few would be stubborn and not fall (as it transpired), a range of them went to the resurgent Tory’s and deflated Liberals. But what must really have hurt was not to take both Jackie Baillie and Iain Gray’s scalps, especially given the SNPs overall electoral standing. And then there’s Edinburgh, which holds particular problems for the SNP.

Turnout was also down from GE2015, but not much has been made of its impact on the SNP strategy, because this election’s turnout was up on 2011. But clearly the loss of a few hundred thousand votes between elections hardly helps, and should also tell you the public were not actively engaging. Razzmatazz has a short shelf life, as the late Paul Daniels knew well.

Overall, the election as spectacle was hardly inspiring, coming as it did after both the Indyref and GE2015 sellouts. As Laurence Demarco put it in his Senscot social enterprise blog: ‘ Like many people, part of my reaction …  is one of relief that this tedious affair is over; there must be a better way of doing democracy than these presidential parades – five leaders, lined up shouting at each other. I find the general level of bad manners and unpleasantness unacceptable – a turnoff’. http://www.senscot.net/view_bulletin.php?viewid=21305

There was thus perhaps some complacency, encouraging a reliance on these presidential media opportunities, tied to a strong social media presence, which tightly controlled the few targeted messages and accompanying images. The shame here was that the manifesto, a solid political offering, never quite secured a proper airing.

The other story is the reappearance of Tories in Scotland, who – like beavers – most people assumed were extinct. The Tories really did come through, but one wonders if this a special brew of plain, simple unadulterated Unionism?

Will they dare espouse, austerity and privatisation of all public assets, or will just content themselves with Unionist grumblings? Their voice, articulated in no end of novel antics – none of which involved pigs, though there was a lot of bull – found itself well reported though the obliging services of the BBC and other media outlets.

Watching the return of these suited men of varied vintages, and the very occasional woman, propelled me back to earlier times – my 1970s childhood in South Angus, where the County patriarch, one Sir Jock Bruce-Gardyn long lorded over us. It also provided a sharp reminder, especially to Perthshire SNP, that they might again be challenged in these once ancestral Tory heartlands. The heat has been turned on.

One way of framing the electoral outcome is a variation on an old, and over-used, electoral adage: ‘It’s the constitution stupid’. Both the Yes and No of yesteryear are now in tight political camps, with the old devolution parties finding themselves sidelined: Labour by trying to ignore that adage, still stating they are in the process of thinking about what they need to do about the constitution, a thought process which has dragged on since 1999, if not 1973?

And bang on queue Henry McLeish was on hand to offer ever helpful guidance on which path they should be taking. Given this I was especially struck by Irvine Welsh’s contribution: ‘Labour has been working relentlessly to make itself an irrelevance on Scotland’.

Labour’s old partners in devolution, the Liberal Democrats, now appear to be but a small island. That said, Willie Rennie managed to get elected for NE Fife, and in so doing convinced himself they had run quite the best of campaigns. Picking up Edinburgh West was a surprise, but both events offered another example of ‘back to the future’. The trouble for the Liberals is that their future finished with Gladstone in 1888.

The Greens ran a very useful campaign, again breaking loose of Edinburgh. But as they rightly argue, it could have been so much better – that is, if the SNP (whom Greens consider as somewhat tribal) had been more generous in lending them votes, instead of opting for cold storage.

Now, agreeing a set of demands with the SNP for their support is not on anyone’s table. Given the SNP’s numbers and previous solid experience of business managing a minority administration such partnering appears to offer them nothing. Blurred identities may suit movements, but they fail to impress political parties.

However, the Greens could still offer a useful addition to the body politic on a whole number of issues that are sure to arise over the next five years.

Finally, as so many have already said, Rise just simply just failed to do so. SNP concerns about lost votes proved to be misplaced paranoia. So what then is their future? A tie up with the Greens had hung in the heady air post-Indyref, but the dynamics never worked out, mirroring the ill-fated and short-lived Yes Alliance project. But in future alliances will be needed, so finding ways of working on joint projects in this Parliament might help develop such experience.

At Holyrood the SNP will be confronte by a bullish (sic) and pugnacious Tory opposition, who will burn brightly, at least initially. Having so many of them in one confined space offers novelty value, and should also produce a good few spectaculars’. The Parliament will change dramatically as these new untested battle lines are set down, now that the jacket holders have all but vacated the premises, before this new fight begins.

Comments (31)

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  1. bill fraser says:

    Is Edinburgh becoming a little bit of Toryism or was it always there waiting to come back to life>

    1. C Rober says:

      Your joking sir , its getting hard pushed not to find a Tory , and or a Scottish accent when buying my mochachocalatte with soya milk. Same with the southern shires and Aberdeen , but with the latter at least I can understand them more than the locals.

  2. David Allan says:

    I hope the Tory’s will treat their desks with a bit more courtesy than those that occupied them previously. I wonder who will take over the role of Presiding Officer. I nominate Tavish Scott it will keep him occupied .

    SNP 1 and 2, there was a winning strategy ! 6 Greens will have to do ,when the second INDY Bill is presented their votes will carry the day! Contrary to Tank Davidson’s pontifications that bill will need a majority not an SNP majority.

    Fracking ain’t going to happen now! and Andy ” The poor had no Lawyers ” Wightman and Ross Greer are welcome additions to the mix at Holyrood.

    A freshen up of the backroom team advising Nicola might be a good idea it’s now time to begin to make the case it’s YES versus NO THANKS all over again. Sarwar and Davidson back on the same side . The case can and must be made during every FMQ starting next week. Hope over Fear 2.

    And those SNP MP’s have a vital role to play. There must be clear understanding that a second Independence Campaign is now underway. Just not an official one.

    Well done to all that used their second vote wisely. Use it wisely on 23 June and vote to take first step on the road to Sovereignty by getting out of EU. A second Indy ref free of the threat of being ejected makes sense.

  3. James_Mac says:

    The SNP still got the best vote share of ANY party in Holyrood elections. The Tories got the worst for any opposition. The SNP did not win a majority because it is nearly Impossible to win a majority in this system.

    I am happy for the Greens but they could have had a much better night. The Greens got a 2% swing from the SNP on the list vote and are complaining it could have been more. The SGP is much more at risk of a vote collapse in 2021 if 1. they are seen to be anti-independence and 2. voting for them is a luxury that will bring in the Tories. The SGP could have been looking at bigger vote increases if they were unequivocally pro-independence. The parade of SNPbad articles do not help and you will continue to lose potential list votes by accusing the SNP of tribalism, stupidity and laziness. The SGP have some of the worst PR I have seen, and have still benefited from their role in Yes Scotland. Patrick Harvie understood that later. Edinburgh Central constituency could be a millstone around the neck of the party in the short-term, Ruth Davidson was leader of the Tories for goodness sake.

  4. James_Mac says:

    I am happy with the election results. The SNP won again convincingly. Labour are hopefully finished and the Tories are the voice of Unionism. Greens have a bit of clout.

    The Greens had a bad election. I find it surprising that SGP activists are still attacking SNP voters for not voting for them rather than looking at their own strategy. I am happy for the Greens getting a haul of MSPs. You are talking about one or two seats that could have gone to the SNP or Green on the list if there was a few thousand people switching.

    The SGP risk losing more votes if

    1. they are seen as anti-independence
    2. they are seen to cost the SNP votes to Tories

    Their activists spending the next few months arguing about whether 2,000 Green voters in Lothian list or 2,000 SNP voters in the Lothian List were to blame for the Tories getting 31 seats and not 30 seats probably won’t help them either.

    On a side – not mentioning the fact that the Greens more-or-less let Ruth Davidson in through the constituency is a bit of a joke in an article claiming that the SNP lost on the constituency. That was the Tory leader for goodness sake.

  5. Steve says:

    Given Dumbarton voted Yes, one can only assume some instinctive tactical voting there. The resurgence of the Tories in their traditional heartlands shows it is hard to appeal to every part of Scotland at the same time and that the anti-Tory tactical voting of the 80s and 90s is at an end. Anti-SNP tactical voting is starting to happen at last; no need for a voting wheel!

    RISE clearly has no electoral appeal whatsoever. Contrast that with the seats won in Northern Ireland by the anti-austerity focused People Before Profit. There is no Yes Alliance. Independence is not a priority for the Greens. Sturgeon has a difficult job ahead if she wants to achieve more than just occupying Bute House.

    1. Bryan Weir says:

      Steve, I live in Balloch and there was no tactical voting in the Dumbarton constituency as far as I could see. What happened here is that enough of the locals appear to have swallowed Jackie Baillie’s incessant propaganda about the run down of the Vale of Leven Hospital and her support for the renewal of Trident, upon which some local jobs depend.

      During the last few months Baillie’s face was a regular sight on TV and in the press. She never missed an opportunity for self-promotion. She would have supported an invasion of the Isle of Man had she thought there was a few votes in it. By comparison, Gail Robertson the SNP candidate, was relatively anonymous. (Perhaps not her fault.)

      The fact that Robertson failed to win was depressing as she appeared to be a shoo-in after the Westminster result in West Dunbartonshire last year. Martin Docherty won that one for the SNP with a sizeable majority.

      The problem is that the boundaries of the two constituencies are different. Dumbarton, which Baillie won, includes Helensburgh, where survival of the submarine base is very important to many of the locals. West Dunbartonshire drops Helensburgh and includes the larger Clydebank, where the survival of Faslane holds less significance.

  6. J Galt says:

    Yes the SNPx2 has backfired somewhat.

    However asking ordinary SNP/Independence voters (as opposed to the people who regularly read Bella, Wings and WGD) to take the risk of giving their list vote to another party is a big ask.

    What do say to SNP voters in Glasgow and the West for instance, “we’re absolutely certain to take all the constituencies so give your list vote to the Greens, but just in case analyse the polls in detail on a daily basis”?

    Its nonsense and I for one would not have followed such advice.

    Every single SNP/Independence voter would have to be “switched on” like the reader’s and posters on Bella and that’s just not going to happen.

    1. James_Mac says:

      The Tory revival was clearly Labour votes falling. Do not be so stupid.

      It only ‘backfired’ in two or three regions. Even then, the North East is seeing the old Aberdeenshire constituencies voting Tory so it’s anyone’s guess how those seats will fall in the future. I really hope we can move on from the election and counting votes.

      The reason the Tories are claiming there is not a mandate for indyref2 is because the SNP lost the majority.

  7. Alf Baird says:

    SNP2 was a great idea – for unionists. D’Hondt – how to make 1,000,000 list votes worth 100,000. SNP2 was like turkeys voting for Christmas. Do Indy voters really prefer 20+ Tories to 20+ Greens? This was all discussed on Bella prior to Thursday and it was made clear through various modelled examples the inherent weakness of a SNP list vote as simply giving the unionists a free run at list seats. SNP2 actually created this Tory ‘revival’. This only firms up the theory there are unionists within the SNP leadership at the ‘strategy’ level. The msm are now shouting out ‘the people do not want independence’, yet 20+ Greens seats and continued unionist party marginalisation would have made such a claim impossible.

    SNP (list)
    Votes 953,587 (41.7%)
    Seats 4 (7%)
    Votes/Seat 238,396

    Votes 524,222 (22.9%)
    Seats 24 (43%)
    Votes/Seat 21,842

    1. James_Mac says:

      Well done Alf, that has to be the worst analysis of the election I have ever seen. Either you are a Tory or just incredibly stupid. The Tory revival was clearly hardcore unionists switching from Labour. Some tactical voting in Edinburgh West and Fife North East returned Lib Dems, but they are still a dying party.

      The Greens will never get 20+ seats, and they certainly won’t counting list votes like a demented lunatic.

      1. Valerie says:

        Alf posts regularly. I have only seen him post incredibly stupid stuff. He could also be a Tory.

        1. Alf Baird says:

          Valerie, you and James seem to have a lot in common, lack of good manners being one.

          1. Bryan Weir says:

            There is some logic in what you say Alf. The SNP may have got it wrong about the SNP 1 and 2 but …
            “This only firms up the theory there are unionists within the SNP leadership at the ‘strategy’ level.” ?

            This is just a wee bit extreme.

            I do agree with you that the abuse you received was totally unjustified. We do not need that. We are all entitled to our opinions folks.

          2. Valerie says:

            SNP2 created this Tory revival is THE stupidest thing I have seen since Thursday. Get out of your tiny echo chamber, and go and read some of the good academic explanations of how the vote worked out, and how the votes cast actually reflect the Holyrood we now have.

            More people voted Tory! FFS.

            I’m as unhappy as anyone about that, but I understand how it happened, and its not because folk voted SNPx2.

  8. Paul Carline says:

    Laurence Demarco is right: there must be a better way of doing democracy. The necessary first step would be to abandon the idea that what we now have bears any relationship to real democracy. What we have is a system for transferring the legitimate power of the voters (the actual meaning of the word ‘democracy’ i.e. “people power” or “the rule of the people”) into the hands of the parties, which effectively say: ‘thank you very much for giving us power; now shut up and go away until we ask you to vote for us again’.

    People come before the state. Democracy actually means ‘popular sovereignty’. It necessarily implies the right of the people to decide what kind of state they wish to live in. Since in the UK the people have never been asked what kind of democratic system they wish to have, the one we have now is illegitimate and undemocratic.

    If we really want democracy, we have to start with a constitutional assembly organised by the people (not by the ruling system!) which would produce a people’s constitution. It would have to be endorsed by the majority in a referendum. The constitution would state as its first principle – as do the vast majority of the constitutions of the states of Europe – “all power in the state derives from the people”.

    Of course, the UK has a particular problem in the assertion that ‘we the people’ are the ‘subjects’ of whichever puppet monarch happens to be in place – and that the UK government derives its right to rule as representative of that monarch.

    As long as people accept that situation there can never be democracy in the UK.

    1. Justin Kenrick says:

      Really interesting.

      This seems a much better way of moving the process forward. The Constitutinal Convention gathered steam but the recent Constitution writing process didn’t really take off because it was overshadowed by the IndyRef.

      However, kicking this off now as a citizen led initiative that brings together all Yessers who don’t wish to be caught up in the party political blame game makes a huge amount of sense – both in itself to create the constitution, and as a way of taking back the power and framing our own way of insisting on IndyRef2.

      In fact could IndyRef2 be framed as a referendum on the constitution that emerges? A referendum that includes the self-evident statement that Scotland needs to be independent for us to be able to enact the constitution and so flourish.

      1. John Page says:

        Well said
        A framework for a written Constitution for an Indy Scotland has already been published
        It needs to be built on……..Monarchy, banning nuclear weapons, land reform, environmental issues etc
        You are right……this needs a peoples initiative
        Parties constrained by politics won’t achieve that task.
        Thank you

  9. Dougie McCann says:

    On subject of West Dunbartonshire.

    Labour very cleverly used the uncertainty about the vales future the chucked everything at it had more visits and leaflets from them than any other party Helensburgh and Hospital were the key despite the vale hospital having lost A&E and it’s teaching facilities when Jackie was health secretary. She portrayed herself as saviour of said Hospital SNP were complacent and failed to convince on hospitals future.

  10. tartanfever says:

    The author is quick to recognise some bias in the BBC coverage:

    ‘it was noticeable just how quickly the camera shot cropped to a close-up. It was clearly trying to obscure the BBC’s customised party political graphics which they had employed throughout that evenings program..’

    However, when describing the SNP coming up 2 seats short of a majority describes it as:

    ‘The SNP won, but perhaps given they fell so short of that achieving another outright majority..’

    giving the impression that they had somehow fallen well below the majority target rather than the small margin of 2 seats.

    Then we have:

    ‘The ubiquitous Professor Curtice stated that the: ‘SNP suffered from overexpectations’. He had something there, given they were allured by consistent high polling…’

    Really, I can’t remember an SNP press release saying ‘ we’ve got this sown up’ nor the stream of SNP politicians on the TV saying the same thing.

    And another:

    ‘But what really ‘done it for the SNP’, was not holding up The Sun, but its failure to take all Scotland’s constituencies. That’s almost what is needed to achieve that outright majority.’

    That didn’t happen in 2011 and yet the SNP did win a majority.

    Here’s another:

    ‘Taking all constituencies was an expectation’

    Who expected this, the SNP ? Or are you talking about Curtice, other pollsters and the media ?

    Followed by,

    ‘Turnout was also down from GE2015, but not much has been made of its impact on the SNP strategy, because this election’s turnout was up on 2011. But clearly the loss of a few hundred thousand votes between elections hardly helps, and should also tell you the public were not actively engaging.’

    What ? I thought more people voted for the SNP in this election than the 2011 Holyrood election, by a number of 200,000 +

    That statement is even more questionable when you consider the author has already disqualified comparing UK General Elections and Holyrood elections by saying:

    ‘This was supposed to be a re-run of last year – but they did appear to forget the electoral system this time was different.’

    This analysis seems a little confused to me, and while highlighting a media bias, it’s pretty daft to then go on and produce your own.

    1. c rober says:

      Just how will those numbers stack up in the council elections , no list seats there , campaign or die.

      I notice a Labour increase in the list vote compared to last time , as snp went down 9 they went up 13. Pehaps the SNP should wonder why that is , and see if broad spectrum policy , or specific candidate personality , has a mitigating detrimental effect on the list in the locales since the previous election.

  11. Grant Buttars says:

    Just one point of issue – “Rise just simply just failed to do so”.

    We went from zero to nearly 11,000 votes in a matter of months with very little resource. True, our optimism hoped for more but we’re not downhearted, being still very much a work-in-progress, so don’t write us off too quickly. In a political landscape where movements inspire but parties don’t, there is much to play for.

    1. Christie says:

      Well said Grant – Rome wasn’t built in a day, and over a century ago but not as many as two representatives of the Labour movement started fielding candidates against all the odds. They were mocked, derided and misunderstood, but ultimately prevailed (or arguably one day could)

      1. Bryan Weir says:

        Ah yes, but the Labour Party was led by Keir Hardie.

        1. c rober says:

          With a core of home rule.

  12. barakabe says:

    It was always going to be rough for the SNP to gain a majority under the D’Hondt system. Having the Greens as allies may balance up the ideological short fall, maybe even pushing SNP a little to the left, if the SNP are willing to compromise when need be. Overall in terms of voting patterns there just seems to be various areas of Scotland, more or less rural to semi-rural areas, where voting rarely changes ( no matter how incompetent the party they vote for), such as Orkney-Shetland with Lib-Dems or the borders of Scotland with the Tories. There appears to be significant cultural differences between East and West Scotland. Low turn-outs always seem to benefit the Tories, whether in England or here, and 55% is relatively low; as older people are more likely to vote ( and vote Tory), added to the fact Tories rarely vote anything but Tory. The Tories played the “Conservation and UNIONIST” card really well during the campaign: there definitely was a large defection of loyalists from Labour heartlands to the Tories due to this strategy. Labour are mainly seen as a busted flush except among the blindly faithful or for the truly sheepish followers among their ranks. As we know people with established wealth and material comfort will always vote Tory, as in areas like Eastwood, as was the general pattern in the referendum. Add in the majority of a near half a million English voters in Scotland to Unionist parties ( majority Tory?) and the double whammy of an overtly Unionist media in propagandizing the Tory Unionist message, then I think it was always going to be tough for the SNP to gain a majority- the Tory Unionist card ( loyalist) worked a treat relative to a Unionist Labour implosion. In that sense it is true that the election results reflect a polarized constitutional rift in a post-referendum Scottish society still coming to terms with that result.

    1. James_Mac says:

      As for the anti-English stuff. I’d put money on the SNP English vote being higher than 22% (the proportion of the vote going to the Tories).

      Lets be very blunt about who is voting Tory. Bigots and bankers.

      The press are now desperately trying to big up Willie Rennie’s Liberal Democrats. That shows the real desperation now engulfing unionism.

      The election was a disaster for Unionism, but possibly a short-term success for Ruth Davidson. As the Unionists rely more on the so solid bigot crew to do their speaking and their leafletting, the less likely they will be to make any inroads anywhere else. Lets make sure they don’t forget that as the desperately cling on to Willie Rennie’s corpse on life support.

  13. James Doleman says:

    I can’t agree “RISE came from nowhere,” The SSP got 8,272 list votes in 2011, the Socialist Labour party got 16,000.

    So the electoral result of the RISE project is, at best, a very small rise or, if you count the SLP, a big fall, in the left vote in Scotland despite the experience of RIC and the referendum.


  14. Pogliaghi says:

    The basic trouble here has been the lack of co-ordination of tactical voting, and even, of a coherent post-facto analysis of tactical voting to prevent the entire the situation degenerating into mindless bickering and talking at cross-purposes. That stems directly from what the author notes — a Yes Alliance being dismissed out of hand. WHY was it “dismissed out of hand” – in favour of an SNP-chauvinist rhetoric that ‘getting behind the SNP’ was the ‘duty’ of rational seekers of a second referendum. The pump was primed with an anti-democratic notion of the suspension of party politics in the midst of the confusion and angst following the referendum, and this only played into the hands of careerist behaviours in ALL “yes” parties: SNP, Greens and the radical left minnows.

    I submit: it’s time to rectifty this mistake and stop the nonsense of infighting. For a completely fresh set of individuals to create a non-party political Yes Alliance on behalf of the Scottish public. They may not be able to co-ordinate the parties but they could (at a minimum) be able to make some kind of non-partisan analysis of the political situation and recommendations for tactical voting, next time.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      A “Yes Alliance” is probably the best option. Party politics confuses and diminishes the Indy agenda and goal. Political parties all end up behaving like selfish tribes trying to gain advantage over each other. This whole election was largely fought over possible tax changes amounting to just a 2-3% adjustment in Holyrood’s annual budget, which basically implies 97% of expenditure will still be heading for the same departments and NGO’s as before; i.e. very, very little will actually change.

  15. Andrew Morton says:

    Who are these Tory’s? And what is Henry McLeish queuing for?

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