SNP to continue in a minority government, with one seat short of a majority.
|Scottish National Party
|Scottish Liberal Democrat
I first began this piece with a rather clichéd sentence: ‘An election like no other, a result like no other’. When I reflected on it, this is completely wrong in one sense, and yet completely right in another. So, rather than treating this election as one set of results, I think it is best to treat it as two.
Readers may be aware that there are in effect two different results anyway, constituency and regional, which may be why we have this quandary over what this election result means. The SNP won 62 out of the 73 constituency seats and two regional seats, one short of an overall majority. The Scottish Conservatives won five constituency and 26 regional seats. Scottish Labour won two constituency and 20 regional seats. The Scottish Liberal Democrats won four constituency and no regional seats and the Scottish Greens won eight regional and no constituency seats.
At first glance nothing has changed. The SNP remain the dominant party in Scotland and are still in Government, with the Scottish Conservative party having the same number of seats and still in opposition. When we turn on our televisions to watch the first FMQs, the SNP will be in the middle of the debating chamber with the Scottish Conservatives stage right and Scottish Labour stage left. In 2016, the Scottish Conservative move across the chamber from stage left to stage right, where the party with the largest opposition historically sits, was a big deal, and one that was met with resistance from Scottish Labour. There will be no such seating discussions this time. This is minor stuff, but the point being that little has changed in the overall optics, or in the make-up, of Scottish politics. It will look and feel roughly the same.
However, when we look a little closer a lot has changed. Yes, the SNP won 62 out of the 73 constituency seats but in every constituency it was the SNP versus the strongest unionist contender. There was no third party making a claim. Edinburgh Southern, East Lothian and parts of Central Scotland, once a three-way fight with Scottish Labour and Scottish Conservatives, are now simply Scottish Labour versus SNP. The Highlands and Islands and West Scotland regions, once a battle ground between many parties and the SNP, are now Scottish Conservative versus SNP only. This means that we saw gains on the regional list for the Scottish Conservatives in the Highlands and Islands (up four from three) and Scottish Labour losing one of their two regional seats (down two to one). It means we saw Scottish Labour and Scottish Conservative share the spoils in Central Scotland (three regional seats each), and we saw huge constituency majorities for the Scottish Liberal Democrats in Edinburgh Western and North East Fife. Overall, these changes represent a seismic shift in the electorate’s voting behaviour.
We also cannot ignore the surge for support for the Scottish Greens, benefiting from the regional vote in much the same way as the Scottish Conservatives did. The Scottish Conservative Party has become synonymous with the Union, whereas the Scottish Greens, because it is so hard for the SNP to get regional MSPs due to their constituency success, is a (regional) party for independence. Therefore, a vote for the Scottish Greens is a means to ensure an independence party majority for those that want a second independence referendum.
I do not foresee an SNP and Scottish Green coalition, the red line for Scottish Greens being for the SNP to close down Scotland’s oil and gas industry overnight – highly unlikely. I do, however, foresee agreements between the two being done to ensure budgets and legislation are passed. The SNP’s dependence on the Scottish Greens is subject to how radical their legislative agenda is, and how many, if any, SNP MSPs are elected to non-voting roles as Presiding Officer or Deputy Presiding Officer.
The programme for Government will be unchanged. We know from the SNP manifesto and statements in the last parliament that legislation on hunting, shooting, deer management and animal welfare will be pursued in this Parliament. We know that the next five years will be an incredibly challenging time for all our interests, and that the Scottish Greens, with the support of the animal rights lobby, will attempt to amend every piece of legislation it possibly can in an attempt to restrict hunting and shooting practices. It must also be noted that Scottish Labour share the Scottish Greens anti-shooting and anti-hunting policy positions. The question will therefore be whether the SNP, Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Liberal Democrats can defend the interests of those who live and work in the countryside.
It may seem that nothing has changed, but in reality, a lot has, and there may well be a lot more changes to come.
Read Party manifestos here.
Read Scottish Countryside Alliance manifesto here.