The Scottish Parliament Election 2016

By May 6, 2016Public Affairs


The votes have been cast and counted and the results are in. Despite winning the most seats the SNP fell short of the 65 seats required to form a majority government.

A hotly contested race for the opposition benches between Labour and the Conservatives ended with Ruth Davidson leading her party into second place. The Liberal Democrats were relegated into fifth positon by a strong showing from the Greens, who increased their seats from two to six.

After a long six-week election campaign filled with buffalo riding, volcano-slides and “breakfast cider”, Indigo brings you the results from across the country and takes a look at what the coming weeks will bring.

If you would like to request further information or insights on any of the issues discussed, please contact Peter Smyth on or call 0131 554 1230 for assistance.


The polls might have been calling it for Nicola Sturgeon for weeks, but there was still room for some surprises on the night:

As predicted, the SNP remains the largest party at Holyrood with 63 seats but just missed out on snpthe 65 needed for a majority, in spite of national polls predicting a second majority Government for the party.  The party picked up every constituency seat in Glasgow in a result Nicola Sturgeon has described as having “made history” and promised to govern in the interest of “every person and community” in Scotland.

Labour suffered some expected casualties with even big names including Michael McMahon andlabour 1 Sarah Boyack forced out of Holyrood. The party fell from 38 seats to 24 and have lost their position as Scotland’s second largest party. Kezia Dugdale has reaffirmed that she will not resign as leader as the party lost every seat in Glasgow to the SNP. Party stalwarts Iain Gray and Jackie Baillie narrowly held on to their seats in East Lothian and Dumbarton respectively. Former Leader Johann Lamont was successfully elected on the list, as was Ken MacIntosh who lost his Eastwood constituency to the Conservative Jackson Carlaw.tory 1

It was smiles all round for Ruth Davidson as she surprised everyone by winning her seat in Edinburgh Central, having switched her candidacy from Glasgow. Davidson reiterated her pledge to be a strong opposition to the SNP as the Conservatives increased their number from 15 to 31. The party made key wins in constituencies across the country, as well as performing well on regional lists.

It was a mixed result for Liberal Democrats, who stayed at five seats, having picked up big wins inlib dem 1 their previously held constituencies in both Orkney and Shetland. Leader Willie Rennie pulled off a win from the SNP in North East Fife and Alex Cole-Hamilton reclaimed the Edinburgh Western Seat. However the party was pushed into fifth place by the Greens after losing their regional list seat in the South of Scotland.

The Greens managed to avoid a concentrated squeeze campaign from the SNP and increase theirgreens 2 MSPs to six. The party could hold the balance of power over the next parliament. In the Lothian region they picked up two MSPs and 21 year old Ross Greer in the West of Scotland became Scotland’s youngest ever MSP.

Seat composition



Turnout was 55.6 per cent, down from the 71.1 per cent that voted in last year’s General Election.

Changing faces

The SNP’s major hitters have all been returned, as expected, and it will interesting to see which key allies Nicola Sturgeon keeps in the Cabinet. Jim Eadie was not re-elected in Edinburgh Southern and Dennis Robertson lost out in Aberdeenshire West. These stalwarts are joined by a number of new faces.

1Among those to look out for is Ash Denham (left), who replaces former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in Edinburgh Eastern. Denham is the head of campaigns and advocacy for the Common Weal think tank and served on the national committee of Women for Independence.2

In the neighbouring constituency newly elected Ben Macpherson (right) was described as one of the SNP’s future stars by Nicola Sturgeon. He is a trained solicitor and previously worked in renewable energy, financial services and for an international charity.

3Beyond the capital, it was a good night for Gillian Martin (left) in Aberdeenshire East who polled nearly 16,000 in Alex Salmond’s former 4seat. Martin previously work in media and acedmia and was the founder of a Women for Indy branch in the  region.   She is also joined by Gail Ross in Caithness, Mairi Evans in Angus North, Katie Forbes in Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch and Ivan McKee (right) in Glasgow Provan.


Scottish Labour

The polls had predicted a bad night for Scottish Labour, which went from holding 38 seats at Holyrood to 24. Among those who lost their seats were Sarah Boyack and Michael McMahon, both long-serving Labour stalwarts.

There was some good news for the party in Edinburgh Southern, where Daniel Johnson defeated the SNP’s Jim Eadie. Johnson is Managing Director of a local chain and previously worked for Accenture.

Former MP and Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour Anas Sarwar was elected first on the Glasgow 5list. It is the second time Sarwar has stood for Holyrood, making a first attempt in 2007 before his election as an MP in 2010.  He lost his seat to the SNP’s Alison Thewliss last year and will be looking to make an impact from the front benches. During the election campaign there were reports that he may challenge Dugdale for the leadership following a poor election result, something Sarwar has denied.

Labour’s new intake may be strengthened in Central Scotland with the election of Richard 6Leonard. Leonard, who previously lost out to Adam Ingram in Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley in 2011, is a former chairman of the Scottish Labour Executive. Joining them will be Monica Lennon (right), who was elected on the Central Scotland list. The Labour councillor in South Lanarkshire is a former town planner who did not join the party until 2010 but has credited Kezia Dugdale with her decision to stand for Holyrood. Expect her to be an informed voice on infrastructure and development issues.

Scottish Conservatives

After a good result which saw the party more than double its position at Holyrood and with 7several former MSPs having retired at this election, Ruth Davidson is joined by several new faces on the Tory benches.

Among them is Oliver Mundell (right), the son of Scottish Secretary of State David Mundell. The younger Mundell pipped the incumbent Labour MSP Elaine Murray and the SNP’s Joan McAlpine to the post in Dumfriesshire with an over 1,000 vote majority.

In Glasgow, Ruth Davidson’s move to the Capital opened up a spot for University of Glasgow law lecturer Adam Tomkins. Tomkins is a noted writer on constitutional legal issues and was one of two Scottish Conservative representatives appointed to the Smith Commission. In West Aberdeenshire Alexander Burnett defeated sitting MSP Dennis Robertson and Miles Briggs successfully picked up a list seat in Lothian.

Scottish Greens

Patrick Harvie will lead a far bigger team in Holyrood this session. He and fellow MSP Alison 8Johnstone will be joined by four new MSPs, including land reform campaigner Andy Wightman (right) who was elected in the Lothians and the party’s Co-Convenor Maggie Chapman in the North East. Chapman was formally a City of Edinburgh Councillor, where she campaigned for tenancy improvements and convened the council’s first Petitions Committee.

In Mid-Scotland and Fife Mark Ruskell was successful in his bid to return to Holyrood, having previously sat in the chamber between 2003 and 2007 where he sat on the Environment and Rural Development Committee. He is likely to focus his voice on renewable energy projects. Ross Greer in the West of Scotland becomes the youngest ever 9MSP at the age of 21. Greer previously worked for the Greens and Yes Scotland.

In addition, former SNP and Independent MSP John Finnie, a star performer on justice and policing during the last parliament, will formally sit with the Greens following his election under the party banner in the Highlands and Islands.

Scottish Liberal Democrats 

It wasn’t all bad news for the Lib Dems despite falling behind the Greens.  Alex Cole Hamilton11 reclaimed the Edinburgh Western seat from the SNP, beating Toni Giugliano. Cole-Hamilton works for a children’s charity and claims to be focussed on child welfare policies and tackling climate change.

The party’s sole female MSP, Alison McInnes lost out on a return to the Scottish Parliament, having been outranked on the list by Mike Rumbles. Rumbles takes her place on the North East of Scotland List, returning to Parliament having previously lost his seat back in 2011.  Former South of Scotland MSP Jim Hume was also unsuccessful in his bid for re-election.

Forming a Government

The likelihood is that the SNP, given their dominance and large public mandate will form a minority government, and negotiate deals on an issue by issue basis where they can command support from other parties.  There is of course precedent of this as Alex Salmond operated such a minority government following the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections.  This is often referred to as a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement.  The Green Party, swelled by an increase in numbers, would appear to be natural allies for the SNP, however don’t discount support on some issues from the Conservatives who have previously offered support to the SNP, particularly on key budget votes.

So what’s next?

Scotland’s new MSPs may have been campaigning non-stop for months, but they don’t have long 12to rest. The Ceremonial Opening of Parliament won’t take place until 2 July, with the Queen in attendance, commencing with a procession of the Crown of Scotland down the Royal Mile. However, looking to the week ahead, the new intake looks set to hit the ground running.

Both returning and new members will have offices to set up and staff to appoint. On Monday the entire cohort of MSPs will descend on Holyrood for their induction and registration. New MSPs will be introduced to SPICe and the chamber desk, allocated offices and generally introduced to the workings of the parliamentary machine.

The Kirking of the Parliament, a multi-faith service at St Giles Cathedral, adds a sense of ceremony to a busy week. At the service on Tuesday, religious leaders will take part in the service, which is grounded in the traditional blessing of Scotland’s original pre-1707 parliament.

By law, the Scottish Parliament must meet within seven days of results day, and outgoing Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick has said that the first meeting will be held on Thursday 12 May.

Despite having stood down this cycle, Marwick remains Presiding Officer until her successor is elected, and so will chair the morning session, during which MSPs will take the oath and swear their affirmations. In the afternoon, MSPs will elect a new Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer from their number. The Presiding Officer resigns their party membership and becomes a neutral chair of proceedings for the next five years.

After the Presiding Officer, Parliament has to nominate members of the Parliamentary Bureau. The Bureau officially schedules the proceedings in the parliament and is usually made up of business managers (whips) of parties or groups of parties consisting of 5 or more MSPs, i.e. SNP, Labour, Conservatives, and Greens.

Once the PO and Bureau are installed, Parliament will still have to formally elect Nicola Sturgeon to the role of First Minister. This has to be completed by 1 June 2016. However, with a majority there is unlikely to be any serious contention for the role, though it didn’t stop Ruth Davidson challenging her for the role back in November 2014.

Cabinet and Committee Appointments

The First Minister will also have to appoint her new Cabinet nominations, and will likely do this 13soon after her election as First Minister. It’s early for speculation, but Nicola Sturgeon has spoken fondly of Glasgow MSP and former External Affairs Minister Humza Yousaf throughout the campaign, going so far as to mention him as a potential successor.  It therefore may not be too surprising to see him sitting round the cabinet table. Other close allies, such as Shona Robison, were key players in the previous cabinet but will their loyalty secure them a senior position this time round?

The First Minister will also have to appoint new law officers after Frank Mullholland announced before the election that he will stand down as Lord Advocate. Could the current Solicitor General, Lesley Thomson, follow him into the top job? Finally there’s appointments to the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body, currently in a faceoff with protesters about the use of Parliament land.

New committees, members and convenors will be announced in the coming weeks. Both the Greens and the Conservatives support the election of Committee Convenors by parliament and Labour’s manifesto called for a change to the rules to prevent a governing party from holding a majority of convenorships. Committee reform was a key priority for Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick, who faced significant resistance, and it will be interesting to see if her successor has any luck or significant interest in carrying reforms forward.

The SNP’s legislative programme 

The SNP will be looking closely at ways forward so that it can implement as much of its manifesto as possible in spite of its failure to win a majority government and September will bring a comprehensive Programme for Government.

While any major legislative activity is unlikely to happen before the summer recess, some early work on key policies should be expected. The party has pledged significant action on education and childcare, including doubling of free early years childcare and a new National Improvement Framework for schools which will likely gather support from opposition benches.

A plan in the manifesto to build 50,000 new homes and the promise of the introduction of a Warm Homes Bill may receive cross party support, and we might see early steps towards these.

Indigo will be keeping a close track of proceedings in the new parliament, updating clients on who steps into which ministerial posts and which pieces of legislative change are round the corner. If this briefing has raised any questions or queries, please don’t hesitate to contact the Public Affairs team on 0131 554 1230.

Eilidh Dickson

May 2016