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.