Sanjoy Sen is a chemical engineer in North Sea oil and was the Scottish Conservative & Unionist candidate in Aberdeen North at the 2015 UK general election.
This week’s Holyrood results have been widely described as another ‘stunning’ victory for the SNP. Given that this is the fourth strong result that the Nationalists have enjoyed in recent years (three at Holyrood, one at Westminster), it’s getting difficult to see where the surprise might actually lie, though.
They are getting quite good at winning elections. Rather than delving into semantics, however, re-assessing where the power balance lies might be a more fruitful exercise. (Note that in the interests of brevity, this short article excludes discussion of Scottish Labour who, in any case, are comatose as opposed to merely stunned).
Thursday’s result provides Nicola Sturgeon with plenty of food for thought. As the night wore on, the penny dropped that far from securing another widely-predicted overall majority (possibly with a whitewash in constituency seats), the SNP would instead be falling just short. Although little discussed so far, the ramifications of this are enormous; for the first time, Sturgeon needs to reach out to others. Logically, her natural allies would be the Greens who now find themselves in a fantastic (some might say stunning) position with their six MSPs arguably the most influential in the new parliament. Beyond a pro-independence agenda, common ground may prove hard to find, however. Big moments await the SNP yet pragmatism towards new taxation powers or boldness towards the fracking moratorium might not play out too well with Harvie and co. And this is no hypothetical construct: Green MSPs had no qualms in voting down John Swinney’s 2009 budget. Unionist parties can sit back with the popcorn and enjoy that show.
Not that the new opposition will be sitting back, of course. Ruth Davidson’s result is unquestionably a stunning one; the achievement in leading a party for years derided as ‘toxic’ to a strong second place cannot be under-estimated. Critically, unlike Kezia Dugdale, Ruth recognised from the start that this was to be another referendum re-run with success dependent upon rounding up the unionist vote. ConservativeHome readers may also wish to reflect on the grassroots supporters who helped to deliver this result. Their demographic reflects the generation lost to Conservatives in Scotland: plenty of retired folk plus an enthusiastic new intake in their twenties but relatively little in between. I’ve seen how hard they work, how little resources they have at their disposal and some of the hostility they run in to. If it’s hard being a Conservative where you are, think how it’s been for these guys. For years.
Nationalists could, in theory, go looking for support elsewhere to deliver their Holyrood agenda. But SNP tactics have turned Labour into enemies for life whilst Sturgeon herself has voiced her distaste for dealing with the Tories. And either approach might not go down well with a supporter base still looking towards a possible second independence referendum. Speaking of which, 1.1 million constituency votes (down from 1.4 million in 2015) on a vote share barely above the 45 per cent for ‘yes’ in 2014 means that Nationalists cannot be certain of victory even if next month’s EU referendum outcome favours their cause.
Straight after last year’s general election, I relocated to London having previously spent almost 15 years in Scotland. (I should stress this was for professional reasons and not a statement on the result). Scottish politics might be tribal, frustrating and sometimes downright unpleasant. But rather that than the insipid mayoral campaign Londoners have just had to endure. I stayed up all night following the Holyrood results but as I sat down to write this, I neither knew nor cared about the City Hall outcome.