Once upon a time there was a minority government or coalition

By May 6, 2016Public Affairs

ballot box

Once upon a time it was assumed that every Scottish Parliament election would throw up either a minority government or a coalition. Yet among the quotations inscribed on Holyrood’s Canongate Wall is this from Andrew Carnegie: “Put all your eggs into one basket – and then watch that basket.” That’s exactly what voters in Scotland did in 2011 when they gave the SNP its majority, so the question all week has been, could they do it again?

Not quite, as it turned out – click here to read Indigo’s summary of the results. Ultimately, the SNP fell two seats short of a full majority and the big story of the night was the collapse of Scottish Labour’s constituency vote in former heartlands like Glasgow mirrored by a resurgent Tory vote that makes them the second largest party in the parliament.

The other headline, and one that will have a big impact for those of us engaging with the Scottish Parliament in the next five years, was the success of the Scottish Greens. Patrick Harvie’s party now look by far the most natural allies for the Nationalists as they seek enough votes to implement their programme for government over the next five years.

For voters hoping for more radical policy choices from Nicola Sturgeon’s party in its third term that could be a big result. Undoubtedly the Greens will exact a price for any support they provide, especially in areas like land reform and the future of the private rented sector, if they come back to the top of the political agenda.

Still, the presumptive First Minister still enjoys a huge mandate for implementing key manifesto pledges, many of which will take all her government’s wherewithal to enact successfully. Closing Scotland’s educational attainment gap without making reform too unpalatable to teachers and local authorities will be a challenge, while doubling free childcare by 2020 will take a combination of skill and enormous capital investment to get right.

An ever larger chunk of that investment now comes from taxes raised in Scotland and there will be a lot of focus in future budgets on the extent to which higher overall tax levels in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK affects business. Over the past weeks diverse business groups lined up to press the SNP for a swift recalibration of business rates for large companies and empty properties and those calls will continue.

In Ruth Davidson’s substantially expanded Scottish Tory group, which now forms the ‘official’ opposition to the SNP, they are likely to have a sympathetic ear. Whether the Conservatives reaped their success because of a clear stance against independence, their line against higher taxes for Scots or the sheer chutzpah of their leader on the campaign trail will be debated over the coming months. Clearly something worked.

For Labour nothing seemed to work, with the party shipping a third of its 2011 seats and facing an enormous task to recover. The word is that Kezia Dugdale will stay as leader, with one of her most likely rivals, new Glasgow list MSP (and former MP) Anas Sarwar expressing support for her messaging this morning. It’s a long way back though, and onlookers who thought a Labour recovery might be a tall order will have little reason to revise that view this morning.

With no seats for new parties on the night (RISE, Solidarity, UKIP et al were left out in the cold for another term), a last word for the tone of the campaign. It wasn’t exactly a recovery for Willie Rennie’s party, but strong returns in Orkney, Shetland and Edinburgh Western will have been a relief, as was the leader’s constituency victory in North East Fife. Rennie fully embraced the politics of the cheesy photo call and for that we salute his party. The otherwise dull campaign was certainly, in Indigo’s view at least, energised by the party leaders embracing everything from bull riding to rally driving to ‘breakfast cider’, all in the name of a shameless publicity stunt.

So what now? The EU referendum will, we’re told, have a huge bearing on whether we the people of Scotland want another ballot on independence any time soon. And even if the rest of the UK doesn’t drag us to European destinations that aren’t Scots’ choosing, we’re told that this summer the SNP will launch a campaign to make the polls swing consistently in favour of independence come what may.

There’s also the question of local government elections exactly a year from now, so, whether you’re enjoying all this or getting just a teensy bit tired of post-election all-nighters, there’s no shortage of opportunities to take the temperature of Scottish politics just around the corner.

Peter Smyth is Head of Public Affairs at Indigo