A Revolution yes, but not quite what people expected

Gerry Hassan details a range of electoral statistics emerged from Scottish Election, and offers a critique of what is revealed

The Scottish election was a foregone conclusion. Everything was settled we were told. But it hasn’t quite turned out that way.

A third SNP term, but without the expected overall majority that the Nationalists and polls expected. A Tory revival beyond expectations. And a Labour nightmare implosion which makes it difficult to see a way back. Decent results for the Greens and Lib Dems.

All of this will throw up big questions about politics, power and legitimacy. Nicola Sturgeon has talked about ‘a clear and unequivocal mandate’, but is it really – when the Nats campaigned with the expectation of a majority? Part of this is failed expectation management, but it raises questions about whether Sturgeon and the Nats can adapt to a different language and politics in more difficult times, and a more contested politics? This is without getting into what this means for the longer term prospects of independence – which cannot now be seen as synonymous with the SNP.

Here are some of the bigger changes:

1. TURNOUT

The second highest Scottish Parliament election turnout since 1999. 55.6% is up 5.2% on 2011 – but way down on the indyref 84.6% and last year’s 71.1%. Some of ‘the missing Scotland’ which turned out in the Indyref – has clearly become disenfranchised again – look at the Dundee and Glasgow turnouts for example.

1999: 59.1%
2003: 49.4%
2007: 51.8%
2011: 50.4%
2016: 55.6%

2. NON-SNP SCOTLAND IS FIRMLY A POPULAR MAJORITY

The SNP will now, like Labour before them at their peak in Scotland, recognise that they are not a popular majority. That means non-SNP Scotland is bigger – and the Nationalists (unlike Labour before them) need to understand the politics and priorities of that majority nation (particularly if they are ever in the longer term to win any future referendum: plus it is also just good for your politics).

2011: 45.4% (FPTP)
2015: 49.97%
2016: 46.5% (FPTP)

3. THE ARGUMENT THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM WORKED AGAINST THE SNP

Maybe 2011 was the freak result considering the design and dynamics of the electoral system. The SNP won 41.7% of the regional vote – and a mere FOUR additional member seats – after winning 59 out of 73 FPTP seats. In 1999 Scottish Labour won 53 out of 73 FPTP seats – and because of this won only THREE additional member seats. This is how the system was designed – to pull back leading parties and the distortions of FPTP.

4. BOTH VOTES SNP/TACTICAL VOTING

This is a red herring on both sides. For the SNP to win seats on the regional list – to retain a significant overall majority – they would have had to win a much more impressive regional list vote. The SNP won 81% of FPTP seats on 46.5% of the vote – and 41.7% of the regional vote and 7% of seats. The party’s FPTP dividend – with six net constituency gains – was always likely to be balanced by the additional member system results.

5. THE TORY VOTE: THE 1980s ARE OVER!

The spin was already in place for this before the vote from non-Tories: any revival would be down to Labour decline with the Tories consistently flatlining since the wipeout of 1997 in which they won 17.5% of the vote.

It didn’t work out like that. The Tory 22.9% on the regional vote – and second place in votes and seats – is the highest Tory vote in any national election (Scottish Parliament, Westminster, Europe) since 1992 when John Major pulled of a surprise election victory and presented 25.6% in Scotland as a triumph.

This hasn’t stopped many dismissing this. SNP MP Tommy Sheppard said it wasn’t much of a Tory revival as it only took them back to the levels of popularity they enjoyed with ‘Thatcher in the mid-1980s’. That’s what is called generational change.

6. THE UNSTRANGE DEATH OF LABOUR SCOTLAND

It has been a long way down in Labour’s FPTP vote.

1999: 38.8%
2003: 34.6%
2007: 32.9%
2011: 31.7%
2016: 22.6%

Have Scottish Labour bottomed out? The 22.6% FPTP vote is only 1.7% below last year. But the 19.1% regional vote and third place behind the Tories in votes and seats is Labour’s worst showing since December 1910. Also the Tories have never finished ahead of Labour at a Scottish Parliament or Westminster election since 1955 – when the Tories won over half the popular vote (which was the high point of Unionist and unionist Scotland).

7. THE WEE LIB DEMS REVIVAL

It is all about expectations. They did only win 7.8% of the FPTP vote and 5.2% of the regional vote – finishing fifth in this vote and seats. Yet, the Lib Dems haven’t just survived, they have indicated that there might eventually be a way back. Comfortable Orkney and Shetland victories draw some kind of line under the Carmichael debacle and disaster. Two impressive constituency gains – North East Fife and Edinburgh West – show the party may be able to resurrect and trade on its ‘local heroes’ record of constituency MPs/MSPs digging in. Willie Rennie was vindicated campaign-wise (pigs apart), and an element of middle-class Scotland still wants a liberal party to vote for.

8. THE SCOTTISH GREENS

The Scottish Greens with 6.6% on the regional vote and six MSPs made their best showing since 2003 when they won 6.9% and gained seven MSPs: then from six regional seats, this time from five. It is also the first time they have ever finished fourth in votes and seats ahead of the Lib Dems. The Greens highest regional vote was 10.6% in Lothian; as in 2003 when it was 12.0%. Yet this time the party’s Glasgow vote was closer at 9.4% – but only produced one MSP as opposed to two in Lothian.

The Greens also polled very well in a couple of the FPTP seats: Patrick Harvie winning 24.3% in Glasgow Kelvin; and Alison Johnstone winning 13.6% in Edinburgh Central (and for some contributing to Ruth Davidson winning the seat for the Tories).

9. UKIP

This election was a perfect storm for UKIP in Scotland: a contest held as the UK debates and covers the European referendum. The party won 10.5% in the 2014 Euro elections – which saw the election of David Coburn. The party’s support was derisory nearly everywhere – totaling 46,426 regional votes (2.0%). All very different from Wales where UKIP won 13.0% of the vote and seven seats.

10. RISE AND SOLIDARITY

A footnote to the evening. The final end of Tommy Sheridan’s political career. But that has been written before. And for all the energy of RISE and much more so, the Radical Independence Campaign, they have gone nowhere. The Glasgow regional result is a salutary warning: Sheridan won 3,593 and RISE 2,454 – their combined vote less than George Galloway in the city in 2011 when he did no campaigning and won 6,972 votes. Overall, they won 14,333 votes (Solidarity) representing 0.6%; 10,911 votes (RISE): 0.5 votes.

11. THE FIRST PARLIAMENT WITH NO INDEPENDENT MSPS

After Dennis Canavan in the first Parliament and Margo in the last three – this is the first Scottish Parliament with no independent MSPs.

12. A QUICK THOUGHT ON ELECTION CAMPAIGNS

In many respects the 2016 Scottish election was just another run of the mill contemporary contest. But there is the problem. It was, in its politics and media coverage, a sort of phony or bubble election – conducted by a series of photo-opps by party leaders and TV debates. That isn’t a real campaign: that’s a pretense and going through the motions – and politics as a closed circuit and set of manipulated conversations. Little wonder that after the 84.6% indyref turnout we are slowly heading back to business as usual politics with a 55.6% turnout.

The SNP have a mandate. But they will have to adapt and change how they do politics. Voters seldom get the overall result completely wrong: and this is a qualified endorsement of the SNP and their record. It also means that Nationalists and indy supporters are going to have rethink some things – and the obsession with process – and leaving the door open on indyref2 in the near-future. Even more, there will be little progress towards independence without a complete rethinking of the flawed Salmondnomics 2014 vision. There is it looks no gradual march to formal independence by stealth.

Final thoughts. Majority government didn’t serve Scotland or the SNP well – apart from the referendum. Many thought the SNP had a better attitude and style as a minority government. Nicola Sturgeon is going to have to learn a different way of leading. All of this provides opportunities – not just for Tories and Greens, but in the space provided by Labour’s implosion – and for more open, genuine debates about democratisation, the limits of centralisation, and the kind of Scotland we collectively want to live in.

Comments (25)

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  1. Duncan McFarlane says:

    I think you missed out one thing. As the Labour vote fell by about the same amount the Conservative share of the vote rose, i think it’s a pretty good bet that the increase in the Conservative vote was the result of tactical voting by some anti-independence Labour voters who were worried by Kezia Dugdale’s interviews in which she said she might back independence if the UK votes to leave the EU in the EU referendum in June. (Likely trying to win back some voters from the SNP, but lost some to the tories instead). Those voters might stay tory now, or they might still vote Labour in General Elections and council elections. Or if the Labour stance against independence hardens they might go back to Labour.

    1. James_Mac says:

      Tacticial voters would be Tories voting Labour.

  2. Wul says:

    Were you in a hurry writing this?
    A bit more syntax would make some of your points clearer. In many of your items I am left unsure which year/statistics you are referring to.

    Thanks though.

  3. Bert Logan says:

    You are comparing apples and helicopters here in some sense. The FPTP references covering 2015 are for an election so different, its hard to imagine why you don’t see it. The idea of a referendum pulling more of the disenfranchised back – general elections make them realise nothing will change – referendums are the helicopters also.

    Adding List, seeing some of the confusion it causes, the campaign issues raised and the MSM ultra misinformation. You are making MSM inferences. Imagine a media that was not wholly biased? I can’t to be honest, something gigantic needed to turn it.

    AMS is a joke in some senses. FPTP mixed with PR – distorts how people vote and even understand how they can impact – again, the MSM can drive it into lies.

    All I see at the moment is more sophisticated manipulation, careful teasing of the ‘obvious’ win for SNP, when they marshal the unionist cause and turn Labour into Tory. The saddest thing. The one thing I fail to understand is LibLiar support, but again the media those people consume said nothing of the reality.

    And here I am back at this analysis – almost as bad as the MSM.

  4. David McCann says:

    Sorry Gerry, but you got that wrong early in your analysis, so I have to doubt some of your assumptions.
    The SNP nor their foot soldiers assumed an overall majority.
    The media played this card to reduce the overall effect of the SNPs chances, and it worked a dream., which is why many chose to use their second vote for other parties, in the hope of gaining some more pro Indy votes, and it backfired spectacularly.
    Lessons to be learned methinks.

    1. muttley79 says:

      Correct. The SNP almost certainly knew fine well that they were not going to win anything close to all the constituencies seats. However, some prominent pro-independence figures, some closely connected to Bella Caledonia, were arguing for months that the SNP were assured of winning all the constituency seats. They had their own agendas and I hope that we now get some honesty from them about this.

  5. Marga says:

    My reaction to this article is that Scots know all this already, the SNP knows all this already, why the fuss? The SNP has already successfully been a minority government, why should “adaptation” back to this be a problem? And didn’t the referendum already prove that the (“popular”?) majority is (“firmly”?) against independence, and that independence is not just the SNP?

    Last week’s cry, now forgotten I suppose, of “Scotland’s a one-party state” was equally unhelpful. The elections are over, can people just get off their soap boxes?

  6. Alf Baird says:

    The 4 LibDem FPTP seats are entirely due to the unique specific make-up of the voting population in these respective constituencies; i.e. they are not typical ‘Scottish’ constituencies. That is why the LibDems will probably always be a small insignificant and largely pointless party in Scotland, as far as most Scots are concerned.

    1. MBC says:

      It’s odd that in Edinburgh Western and NE Fife that the Tory revival seen right across Scotland in every single constituency including the ones that the SNP comfortably took, was entirely absent. In fact, they were the only constituencies in Scotland in which the Tory vote fell.

      There was no change in the Tory vote in Shetland and a modest rise of 4% in Orkney, which is similar to places like Argyll and Bute where Tories secure third or fourth place.

      It’s as if there was an electoral pact or something.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        MBC, I would suggest for Edin-west and NE Fife it is the very large ‘academic’ (univ students and lecturers) vote, many born outside Scotland with little interest in Scottish nationhood, as well as the better-off retired vote that prevails, while the poorer folk dinnae bother voting. In the N. isles there is a likewise a very high incidence (20%+) of people coming from outside Scotland (‘professionals’ and retired), plus the farming community who stick with the LD’s for some obscure historical reasons. Many of these voters appear to have given their list votes to the Tories in a concerted and successful attempt to maximise the ‘No’ vote. If the Indy movement had any brains it would have therefore gone big on SNP1/Greens2 to counter this strategy, which has paid dividends for unionists.

  7. Mike Newth says:

    As a welsh voter (we have a similar system) I am intrigued by a particular point here. How did the Tories find an extra 22,000 votes at regional level? Both SNP and Labour lost votes, in large numbers, between constituency and region – as you’d expect with some tactical voting or expression of deep personal preference. But are either likely to have switched to Tory at the region? I’d really like to understand this.

  8. MBC says:

    I can’t agree with Gerry’s statement that the SNP don’t have a popular majority. They received 1,059,000 votes on the constituency FPTP ballot, which is more than all the others put together. And the highest constituency vote ever achieved in Holyrood elections.

    In terms of the constitution the combined Yes vote also pips the unionists.

    1. Mike Newth says:

      The SNP vote is not more than all the others put together – only the Tories( in 1955) have achieved that in my 68 years. You aren’t including the libdems who received almost 200,000 votes , I think. Wikipedia my source.

  9. pitchfork says:

    This is far from the only article to make the claim that the SNP assumed they would attain a second majority. Where the hell does that come from? That is the complete opposite of my recollection. The SNP spent the entire election saying a second majority was far from guaranteed.

    Whether you agreed with the SNPx2 campaign or not, it was based on the premise that a majority was not “in the bag” from the constituency vote alone.

    Again whether or not you agreed with the SNPx2 approach, the premise it was based on has been demonstrated to be correct.

    I do recall the argument being strongly made that an SNP majority was (all but?) guaranteed. However it wasnt the SNP making that argument. It was an array of commentators from 2 camps (a) those genuinely supportive of smaller pro-indy parties allowing the wish to be the father of the thought , and (b) mainstream mediaa commentators exploiting the argument cynically to prevent an SNP majority.

    Whether either, or both, sets of commentators actually influenced the election is impossible to know for sure. But the second group will be feeling rather smug, while the first should be examining their consciences (IMHO) and asking themselves if they allowed their wishes to over-ride their better judgement.

    before i post let me clarify. Whikst i personally voted SNPx2, i believe that SNP/ green and SNP/Rise were also good choices. I considered SNP/ green mysekf this time and in the past have mostly voted SSP or CPB. I have no issue with people voting withtheir conscience or for an increased green or socialist influence on the SG, i am very sympathetic to those arguments.

    what i did have an issue with during the campaign was the argument that the SNP majority was not at ridk (arguing that it was a lesser priority than eg increasing green representation OTOH i thought was fair eniugh though i disagreed). And what i have an issue with currently is the claim that the SNP assumed a majority was foregained when it was mainstream media and certain non-SNP radical voiced that promoted that expectation.

    anyway no recriminations over how people voted. Disappointed, but frankly unsurprised, that SNP just fell short if majority whike doing remarkably well. Delughted with increased green presence. Rise? Sorry guys this was on the card, please go back to being the SSP, i liked it much better (only my personal opinion and good luck for the future either way).

    labour? Despite still having some of my oldest freinds in that party, they had it coming big time.

    sorry for the length. Chris

    1. muttley79 says:

      As far as I am aware SNP politicians never said they expected to win a majority, nor did the members that I know. I think Gerry Hassan has just made that up to be honest. Why he and others have done so would be a good question to ask.

  10. Grouse Beater says:

    Another wish-list column from Hassan that somehow manages to miss the obvious, the last paragraph in particular half-a-dozen statements plus a veiled threat, that demand analytical essays to justify them as anything more than wild assertions.

    Once again, engrossed by the sound of his words, he fails to remind his readers the “flawed Salmondomics” he tosses out carelessly was composed and endorsed by Nobel economists.

    Not much honesty or truth, but a hellova lot of shallow conjecture.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      “Nobel economists” who completely ignored the need to expand trade, or advocate measures on how to do that, in order to achieve economic growth.

      1. Grouse Beater says:

        You didn’t study anything of the economics, did you? You just held tight to your prejudices.

  11. Frank says:

    This was an awful piece of writing and frankly it’s embarrassing to read lines like this coming from the pen of an academic:

    ‘There is it looks no gradual march to formal independence by stealth’.

    In regards to political analysis, I’m never sure where Hassan is coming from, although that’s possibly the intended effect because he wants to market himself to all corners of the political market. On issues relating to political strategy he comes across as the typical ‘know it all’.

    1. Hannah says:

      I’ve spoke to him in person and trust me, his writing, bland as it is, beats his even less interesting conversation.

  12. Gavin C Barrie says:

    In our region the SNP polled +40% in both constituency and list. We have no SNP MSPs. Explain please.

    1. Mike Newth says:

      I can’t see any region without SNP MSPs – do you mean at regional level? If so, that’s how the system was designed, SNP swept the board in constituencies in the North East which makes it all but impossible to pick up extras , Tories swept the borders so SNP got most of the regional list.

  13. punklin says:

    “… the expected overall majority that the Nationalists and polls expected. A Tory revival beyond expectations”

    and “when the Nats campaigned with the expectation of a majority?”

    Too many expectations, there. As one of thousands of extremely active SNP campaigners, I had no expectations and certainly not of an overall majority – that’s why we worked so hard to persuade people both votes SNP.

    Gerry, you’re parroting the assumptions of the unionist media and the lazy pro-indy voices who assumed it was all a foregone conclusion. Please think harder – or deeper, at least.

  14. Bill Melvin says:

    Reading this continued guff from Gerry Hassan in Bella is enough to make you just switch it off. What country is he living in, Alex Salmond no less made the point about an SNP majority being far from certain on the pre-results coverage, and the FM repeatedly uttered that they were taking nothing for granted during the campaign. Ruth Davidson’s increased confidence in her recent interviews is blatant over statement of what she achieved. Her election and that of Rennie have much to thank the MSM for, because without the kind of coverage they got they would more likely have lost. Our proportional system is right in its objective if maybe open to some scrutiny in how it might be improved. The reality is that Davidson very carefully chose the constituency in which she stood and managed to squeeze in, but her success has as much to do with the make up of the electorate in that area as it does anything she represents. The Tories impose their unpopular policies on us all with 35% of the UK vote so its no surprise that she sees 22% as something more than it is. Independence is a marathon and not a sprint and the massive support for the SNP with this turnout is indicative of continued progress because a significant number who didn’t vote will have been supporters thinking it was a foregone conclusion as so readily reported in MSM pre-election.

  15. Gerry Hassan says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    A couple of quick observations:

    1. An independence and self-government movement worthy of the name – as distinct from the self-interest of political party – has to be able to discuss calmly difficult issues and challenge orthodoxies.

    2. The indy offer of 2014 is dead. It was of its time, fatally flawed, built on vote maximalisation originally on the assumption indy was going to lose (the only way the currency position made any sense). No Nobel Prize winner in economics endorsed the SNP’ version of indy. Thats inaccurate: Joseph Stiglitz said the UK Govt & WM parties were bluffing on the currency position and that the Scots Govt had a number of options. But he didnt endorse indy.

    3. Any forthcoming indy campaign by the SNP and possibility sometime in the medium term of indyref2 requires serious work/revising of the indy offer. At the moment that isnt happening in the Scot Govt or SNP. Without that the SNP are engaging in a bit of a mirage – of using the allure of indy to keep activists and the base happy, without being serious. Why is there no work going on anywhere developing a better, more coherent version of indy? We should at the minimum point this out.

    These and many more questions need a culture where such such issues can be brought up: not by people not wanting to debate such things and close down debates.

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