Glasgae Says Nae

By DeusExMacintosh

You might want to sit down for this.

Labour have just been trounced in Scotland.

I know, hard to believe but in local elections on Thursday it seems the previously minority Scottish National Party government have been returned in the Scottish Parliament, this time with a proper majority – holding 69 of the 129 available seats (a theoretical impossibility in a single chamber with allocation via a mixture of Westminster-style constituency seats and Australian Senate-style regional lists). Training wheels off, then. Every party leader except the victorious Alex Salmond has now fallen on his or her sword. Conservative boss Annabel Goldie is only still in Holyrood courtesy of the regional list and even the Labour party leader Iain Gray barely held his own seat of East Lothian by 151 votes. The only ones to do worse were the Liberal Democrats.

Umm, probably best not to mention their performance. It’s actively embarrassing (like, deposit-losingly embarrassing, ie. less than 5% of the constituency vote in the UK, in at least 20 seats). “Total collapse” barely covers it and they’ve been driven back to a tenuous hold even in their Norse stronghold of Shetland, having lost 20% of the vote there. Orkney and Shetland islanders traditionally describe themselves as falling “north of the tartan curtain” so the kilt and kirk sort of Scotland typically associated with the SNP doesn’t go over so well with voters there. However, Gaelic-speaking Skye and the Western Isles was surrendered to the SNP this time. It may only be having Scottish party leader Tavish Scott as the MSP that saved the LibDems in the Northern Isles.

That 20% swing away was mirrored England-wide where they are estimated to have lost over 300 councillors and control of several north of England city councils, including Sheffield, Hull and Stockport.  Nick Clegg, who is the national party leader and currently Deputy PM in a coalition government with the Conservatives, claims this is because his party is being blamed for the spending cuts, but there’s no sign of a similar backlash against the Tories even though they’re the senior partner in the London coalition. Labour have simply been slaughtered, with several high profile former ministers booted out of former Glasgow heartlands in the process by their SNP alternatives. They lost Shettleston FFS! That’s like Labour losing the Rhondda Valley in Wales or Australian Labor losing Oxley in Queensland. Funnily enough, Wales has actually gone the other way with gains for Labour over nationalists Plaid Cymru, winning 21 of the 29 Welsh Assembly seats announced so far.

So what’s happening?

In the 1950s Scotland was about 50% blue, then after the Poll Tax was brought in up here a year earlier than the rest of the UK by Margaret Thatcher, Conservatives became the endangered species of Scottish politics. The SNP then stood on the gas (but couldn’t free the oil) to deliver devolution and the restoration of a Scottish Parliament after nearly 300 years. A complacent “old” Labour Party under the late John Smith had little reason to oppose this thanks to the healthy Scottish stranglehold that even its rebranding as “New Labour” couldn’t break. In fact you could argue that it was this north of the border dominance (and the West Lothian question) that kept Tony Blair and his party in power in Westminster for the next thirteen years despite a couple of wars, plenty of terror and instances of outright political corruption.

As even the Labour rose eventually went on the nose, the only thing keeping the SNP out of government in the Scottish Parliament was a far too cosy little coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats to block the Nationalists (who’d taken more votes than labour but apparently the LibDems couldn’t bring themselves to been seen with Alex Salmond). Being the kind of country that takes its democracy pretty seriously – there’s never been a ‘divine right’ of Scottish Kings, so why should there be one of Labour Government? – meant that the yellow vote slumped to a level where they could barely prop-up themselves (a bit like their then leader, Charles Kennedy) and we saw a minority SNP government north of the border.

And despite what Labour have said, as a voter, the SNP have provided perfectly competent administration in Scotland, even as a minority government. All the cross-party negotiation to get bills through has made the chamber look remarkably Australian, and the dodgy architecture helps, but perhaps most importantly the SNP have been squeaky clean, despite the expenses scandals that caught all three of the major parties in Westminster on the hop (Jim Devine the former Labour MP for Livingstone is currently in gaol along with three others from England whilst a fourth awaits sentencing. The Conservatives had a couple of peers sent down but the worst of the sleaze in the UK, even in the bright new Westminster coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats [choosing to support the party with the larger share of the popular vote this time], still belongs to the Labour party).

With the LibDems having screwed over the electorate at both devolved AND national level, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the Conservatives have just become the third party in Holyrood (on the plus side, it was getting confusing having two viable political parties in Scotland who both wanted to be yellow) but the shock to almost everyone was that every single disenchanted voter north of the border seems to have gone just one way – straight to the SNP. 

This is despite joyful scare stories like the one my (now) former Labour MSP gleefully told me, about the SNP support for joining the Euro (I’m really hoping that has now changed) but strangely, the traditional anti-SNP spectre – Independence for Scotland – has failed to raise a scare this time around anywhere north of London.

[David Cameron] said: “I passionately believe in our United Kingdom, so I congratulate Alex Salmond on his emphatic win, but I will do everything obviously as British prime minister to work with the first minister of Scotland, as I always do, and treat the Scottish people and the Scottish government with the respect they deserve.

“But on the issue of the United Kingdom, if they want to hold a referendum, I will campaign to keep our United Kingdom together, with every single fibre that I have.”

After the results this week, I’m just not entirely sure that Scotland in any way agrees with him.


  1. Posted May 11, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I suppose the Lib Dem support night be splitting? Perhaps the anti-Tory Lib Drms are so angry with Coalition policies that they’re staying home or shifting votes? There are possible parallels with the split and decline of the Australian Democrats a decade or so ago.

    I was reading Spiked last night on the Scottish results; one interesting point they made was that even of Scotland becomes legally independent of London it will still be part of the EU, which has been quite contemptuous of national independence and democracy recently.

  2. Posted May 11, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    While born in Australia, my grandfather was a proud Scot. One of the books that he gave me as a primary school kid was Flag in the Wind, the story of the Scottish Nationalist Movement.

    Later when reading his papers, I found a series of letters from a Scottish friend. One complained about Westminster introducing rationing on oatmeal, linking this to the need for self government!

    Perhaps my and my grandfather’s support for New England self-government has Scottish roots!

    Over twenty years ago, I was at a Canberra British High Commission cocktail party. The Scot nats had just had a high vote. I found myself explaining the history of the Nats and its implications to a friend in the High Commission.

    From London, he had no idea of the history, indeed very little idea of Scotland. he was quite polite!

    Ian Rankin’s crime novels sometimes have a fair bit of Scottish politics, including SNP. An earlier writer, John Buchan,has characters from the days when the Libs were dominant in Northern Scotland.

    Just a historical meander.

  3. Posted May 11, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    As an outsider watching the Scottish election (I’m registered to vote in Oxford still), the whole thing became increasingly bizarre. The oddest thing was Labour insisting on fighting the election against the Conservatives, not the SNP, despite the fact that at that point the Tories were running 4th in Scotland. Okay, the Tories are now third, but that’s not because they’ve gained ground, rather that the LibDems and Labour have lost more.

    It was like Labour was trying to pretend the Nationalists didn’t exist. Apart from being incredibly rude, it’s turned out to be Labour’s undoing.

  4. Posted May 11, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    … one interesting point they made was that even of Scotland becomes legally independent of London it will still be part of the EU, which has been quite contemptuous of national independence and democracy recently.

    Elsewhere I’ve seen it suggested that Scottish independence would eject the UK, or rather its newly separated parts, from the EU and force them both to reapply for separate membership as the country that joined would no longer exist. IANAL so I don’t know if this was said more in anti-EU hope than realistic expectation, and I’d have thought that the various treaties would include something to cover the possibility of member states breaking up and daughter-states or whatever we call them taking up instant EU membership. But if it was true the SNP would probably get instant support from millions south of the border. 😉

  5. derrida derider
    Posted May 11, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    … I will … treat the Scottish people and the Scottish government with the respect they deserve.

    – Cameron

    err, was the ambiguity intentional or not?

  6. Posted May 11, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if there’d be pleasure in an independent Scotland using their vote in the EU to give grief to Westminster.

    and a question: you mention the nordic areas, and I’m wondering if there was any region in scotland with a very different legal tradition akin to the areas in the south that either were or weren’t Danelaw.

  7. Patrick
    Posted May 11, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Why is this a surprise?

    Europe is busy voting in nationalist parties left, right and centre, north, west and east (the south is on the verge of not having a vote anymore, but for the record nationalists are doing swimmingly in both Italys).

    It is pretty obvious why when you consider the ‘more Europe/more Islam/less jobs for poor people’ unanimity of the traditional parties.

  8. Posted May 11, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] – I think there is a difference between the nationalist parties which I’d say as following a “One Nation” policy set, and the SNP which wants independence from a traditional enemy. I suppose a Basque independence party would be the best equivalent elsewhere in “old europe”.

    As I understand it, union wasn’t formally in place until England bailed out a disastrous commercial adventure that hit the Scots for six.

    I’m wondering how independence would be handled – UK government debt, military (do the scots get any regiment with a tartan thingy in their uniforms?)…

    I’d also imagine that the archetypal hard-working thrifty Scot would love to ditch the City and concentrate on more productive, less crash-prone activities, and given the traditional liberalism from the Scottish Enlightenment, roll back the Big Brother surveillance that’s so rife in England.

    anything similar happening in wales?

  9. Posted May 11, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m wondering how independence would be handled.

  10. Posted May 11, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    I’d have thought that the various treaties would include something to cover the possibility of member states breaking up and daughter-states or whatever we call them taking up instant EU membership. But if it was true the SNP would probably get instant support from millions south of the border.

    Except Scotland isn’t a ‘daughter’ state of the UK, it is part of the founding couple. Scotland was an independent nation up until the Act of Union changed it in 1707 (after an attempt to found the Darien colony in panama both fell apart and saw a massive ‘south sea’-style speculation bubble which came close to bankrupting the smaller country). The Act preserves the unique Scots Legal System, the Kirk and the ability to print its own money – on the latter point I would suggest that this was rather forced on the English on the grounds that the dodgy buggers would have done it anyway [if you are ever in Edinburgh may I suggest a visit to the Museum on the Mound, which contains the history of forgery in scotland history of the Bank of Scotland].

    As it would be restoration of something that already existed historically and the governing institutions are all still in place I daresay it’s just a matter of having a referendum on the matter, fighting with England over the north sea oilfields and sobering up from the biggest hogmany celebration in Scottish history. Any or all of these could take some time.

  11. Patrick
    Posted May 11, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Not really, they are all much the same. They all want (at least some) independence from a new enemy (Europe).

    Also in most European countries it is only the nationalist parties who offer any semblance of address for the ‘great unwashed’ who are losing their jobs and traditional culture to globalisation. Their solutions might be shite and illusory but at least they bother coming up with something better than ‘more ecologie, more europe’ (/berk).

  12. Posted May 11, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    No Dave, Wales (as mentioned) is going the other way with the Labour vote strengthening and Plaid Cymru weakening. With the Welsh Assembly now bumped up to a Parliament too, we may be seeing the jockeying for post Scottish Independence positioning already.

    Without Scots support to buoy them up (the “West Lothian Question” is why Scottish MPs get to vote on matters relating only to England, when English MPs don’t get to vote on devolved matters only effecting Scotland any more), Labour’s only hope in England is to dig in up t’north and in Wales – it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens in Northern Ireland – otherwise Britain may be blue forever, English politics does seem to have been more naturally conservative over the centuries.

  13. Posted May 11, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] I agree with P. The point is taking refuge and comfort in national identity. Whether the enemy is EU multiculturalist supranationalism or British supranationalism matters somewhat regarding whether they see the EU as the immediate enemy or as a way of seceding but still playing in “the big game”. But either way, it is still elevating an ethnic-national identity as the primary political identity.

  14. Don Aitkin
    Posted May 12, 2011 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    ‘Australian Labor losing Oxley’ — wasn’t there someone called Pauline Hanson who did just that?

    A better example might have been the NSW coalfields or Newcastle, but, um, those were lost in NSW a little while ago.

  15. kvd
    Posted May 12, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    [email protected] I think that was exactly DEM’s comparison point.

  16. Don Aitkin
    Posted May 12, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    KVD — fair enough, but the NSW results are a better one.

  17. Henry2
    Posted May 12, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Gday All,

    Im surprised that noone has criticised modern Labor/Labour parties for their policies or lack of them.

    The core values that deliver working peoples votes to the ALP are being eroded by the party. Initially this happened because they moved away from standing representatives of the core group in winnable seats.

    This was compounded by introduction of policy which actively works against the interests of the core constituancy.

    To take it one step further, ALP in government are showing that they are incompetent and making fresh policy on the run.

    A major revision of the party is urgently needed to provide a party that can truly hope to represent the working classes. Without it, Labor is destined to continue to fail.

    Regards, etc.

  18. Posted May 12, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure you’re right Don, keep in mind I’m now an Australian ex-pat and have been since the early 1990s so I don’t have the fine familiarity with more recent Australian politics that a local has.

    And kvd is correct, that WAS my point. When Oxley went to One Nation it was as big a kick in the guts as this Scottish result and prompted similar levels of soul searching (although being ‘new’ labour that’s more a search for a soul rather than of one). I’m sure there have been others since, but I have missed them.

  19. Patrick
    Posted May 13, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    DEM what soul searching did it provoke in the Labour Party? It provoked a lot of teenage angst, mainly.

    Whereas Howard figured it out in about six months and nailed them.

  20. kvd
    Posted May 14, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Plea to DEM. The title of this post keeps making me think of Highlander misquoted, but the picture puts me more in mind of this. So, can we move on please?

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