Reflections on the Scottish elections

Photograph: 'Voting' / Justin Grimes

The Scottish Parliament elections have shown a remarkable thing – the Conservative brand in Scotland has begun to detoxify. A few years ago, most would have argued that the Scottish Conservatives were in a state of terminal decline, poised to become a mere sideshow on a political spectrum that seemed firmly locked to the Left.

Ruth Davidson’s election in 2011 was the start of a modernisation process. Her work of modernising the image of the Party has taken time, and much works remain, but the Party reaped its reward after the meltdown of Scottish Labour. It does, however, remain to be seen whether the changes are superficial and if success was only achieved thanks to Scottish Labour’s failures.

The new Scottish Parliament that was sworn in last week is very different from the previous four. The proportion of ‘first’ generation MSPs – those elected originally in 1999 – has declined even further. Some of its greatest characters, such as the ‘singing baronet’ Sir Jamie McGrigor, has now left, giving space for a new crowd to fill their gigantic shoes.

Fifty odd new MSPs, alongside their re-elected colleagues, will quickly regroup and swap from election-mode towards policy-work and there is plenty to address. Education results in Scotland are falling, the NHS is facing significant troubles and the oil industry  is stumbling. A minority government will now have to reach out to other parties, and it will be interesting to see how the SNP will deal with the fact they no longer are untouchable.

Politically, the Parliament will potentially be very different too. The 2011-2016 Parliament with its SNP majority highlighted some of the dire design flaws in the setup of the Parliament that required urgent attention. One such flaw was the parliamentary committees that, in the absence of an upper house to scrutinise legislation, were the keystone in holding the Scottish Government to account.

The snag, however, was the fact that the committees reflect the composition of the chamber itself, ample proof that the designers of the Parliament never anticipated a single-party majority. The committees therefore were reduced to a mere rubber stamping capability, a development that the now former Presiding Officer, Tricia Marwick, wanted to reverse. It now remains to be seen if the new Presiding Officer will continue his predecessor’s work. For the sake of democracy, let’s hope so.

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  • Darren

    Usual pro Tory anti – SNP agenda nonsense article based on very little fact or actual analysis –

    a) The Tory share of the vote was still less than that achieved during the end of the Thatcher years in 1992 (25% as compared to 22%) and follows 15% in last years general election so I would say that the Tories are still pretty toxic within Scotland. As good as I admit Ruth performs on TV I fail to see any actual modernising but happy to be corrected with some factual evidence. 19% female representation well short of the 35% average would suggest not.

    b) ‘The SNP are no longer untouchable’ is another frankly anti-SNP biased statement that belies the lack of any fundamental facts. It implies in some way that the SNP performed badly in the election, which is untrue. A reduction in seats was as much due to their success than any failure.

    Here are a few facts that have generally been missing from much of the recent Scottish election commentary –

    * First time a party has received over 1 million votes and was an increase of 100,000 votes on the 2011 election.

    * The SNP actually increased their share of the constituency vote up 1%

    * The SNP got 41% of the regional vote compared to The Tories 22%. But the SNP ended with 4 regional seats compared to the Tories 24 seats. I’m happy that the system is designed to balance power but lets not use this deliberate bias to form incorrect opinions. If this had been a Westminster election then the SNP would have an overwhelming majority.

    * The SNP were the only party to perform solidly nationally. In only 3 areas did the SNP receive less than 30% of the vote whereas all the other parties were reduced to below 10% and even below 5% in some areas. Was this a sign of tactical voting by opposition? Have some parties, in particular the Lib Dems, given up hope of competing across the board and only focusing resources in certain areas. What does this mean for the SNP and the resources they have and is this a further demonstration of their overwhelming victory in the last election is up for analysis.

    Absolutely feel free to revel in a rebalancing of votes between Labour and Tory but try not to let your bias and your obvious desire to push an anti-SNP agenda distort facts. You make some valid points about the committees, about the issues that will face Holyrood and there is a question of how a minority govt will work but it gets lost in the failed narrative.