David is studying philosophy, politics & economics at the University of Essex. In something of a response to Brian Monteith’s article, David argues that holding steady at third place in a two horse race counts as a success.
Prepare yourselves for a shock: the Scottish election results weren’t a total disaster for the Conservatives.
No, I haven’t gone mad. And no, I’m not hopelessly optimistic or wildly deluded – but given the circumstances, Annabel Goldie’s Scottish Conservatives did alright. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a huge success, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into making a victory out of defeat, but it was certainly far from the doom and gloom of Brian Monteith’s analysis.
The SNP won 47 seats (+20), Labour 46 seats (-4), Liberal Democrats 16 seats (-1) and Others 3 seats (-14). The Conservatives became the third largest party with 17 seats (-1).
But simplistic analysis like this hides what was in fact a far more unusual election.
From the outset, the election was billed as a Labour Vs SNP fight, and the polls made that clear from the outset.
Many unionists saw it a Unionist Vs Separatist fight, while others saw it as a Labour Vs Kick Labour fight. Sadly, Labour was the main standard bearer for the unionists, and the SNP was the standard bearer for all those wanting to kick Labour.
People saw it clearly as just two options – vote Labour to stop the SNP from being the largest party, or vote SNP to kick Labour. The Conservatives weren’t really anywhere in the equation.
As Labour voters so publicly defected to the SNP, there was immense “squeeze” on unionist parties as their unionist voters so vehemently disliked the idea of Alex Salmond as First Minister. Many held their nose and voted Labour to stop him. The result was lower Conservative and Liberal Democrat support, but Labour clung on just 1 seat behind the SNP – very nearly beating them.
Equally there was a separatist squeeze, helped by the overdue collapse of the Scottish Socialists, pushing the mostly far left separatist “Others” down by 14 seats in favour of the SNP.
In a two-horse race, parties not lucky enough to be one of those two horses do well to hold on to their original position, just ask the Liberal Democrats.
The fact that Hollyrood uses a proportional system makes no difference in an election that could be characterised by one question: “do you hate Labour enough to let Alex Salmond win?” With no one willing to share power with the two largest parties – the hated Labour or referendum demanding SNP – circumstances converted a proportional system back into a two-party one.
So the fact the Conservatives shed just one seat in a closely fought election where it was a peripheral player is a good sign.
Conservatives held Ayr, Edinburgh Pentlands and Galloway & Upper Nithsdale (where the SNP challenger in second place was down 4.7%). Plus John Lamont won Roxburgh & Berwickshire for the Conservatives from the Liberal Democrats with a 10.9% increased vote.
Now it wasn’t a huge success – many votes dropped and target seats failed to be turned blue – but it wasn’t a complete disaster either.
In Scotland, the Conservatives have a far larger mountain to overcome, but the well organised and popular campaign by Annabel Goldie has at least proven that the main ground work is being done and the media are willing to listen.
The challenge will be to make the Conservatives the standard bearer for anti-Labour feeling, instead of the SNP, and of unionism, instead of Labour. Given the success the SNP has had with leading anti-Labour feeling, and Labour’s success with being the main flag bearer for unionism, it could be a powerful combination. As the UK wide opposition to Labour, this Conservatives need to portray themselves as the Scottish opposition to Labour as well – it’ll take time, but is vital both to the Conservatives and UK.