Scots, wa-hey! The tedium of the UK regional and local elections was relieved when the Scottish National Party stormed to power north of the border with a phenomenal vote, beyond all expectations, and drawing all attention away from the referendum on AV (preferential) voting.
Led by the charismatic Alex Salmond — who did a last campaign tour in his own helicopter, nicknamed Saltire One — the SNP, increasing its vote from 31% to 45%, and its MSPs from 46 to 69 — giving them an outright majority in the 129-seat parliament. The losers contributing to the landslide were, well, almost everybody — Labour lost seven of its 44 seats, down to 37, a swing of 5%. The Conservatives, who had been slated to hold or even gain one or two above their current 20, instead lost a quarter of their seats, down to 15, off a swing against, of 1.5% (the disparities are due to the mixed constituency/list system). It was even worse for the Lib-Dems, who lost two-thirds of their seats, from 17 to 5. The Greens gained a seat, doubling their representation and had been hoping to be a junior partner, had, as expected, the SNP failed to gain an outright majority (presumably cos it worked so well in Ireland).
Now, Salmond and the SNP can govern in their own right, with votes drawn from each of the major parties. His overwhelming aim will be to stage a successful referendum on independence — a referendum he has said will not occur until 2015, for the extremely good reason that he would lose it in a heartbeat if it happened now, with at most 35% of the populace in favour of the move. Salmond is hoping that four years will give him time to talk the population around, chiefly by convincing them that the new country will get the oil.
A Scottish referendum, even if it were successful, would not create Scottish independence of itself, since British sovereignty is invested in Westminster by the 1707 Act of Union. Some have argued that a whole of UK referendum would have to take place for a legitimite Scottish independence to occur. That creates any number of nightmare situations — would a majority of MPs simply refuse to honour such? What of the Lords? Would there be challenges based on international law? And so on.
That is all a long way through the heather. Salmond’s greatest fear is that David Cameron will call his bluff — and call an all-UK Scottish independence referendum before Salmond calls a Scottish one, thus making any Scots-only poll moot. Meanwhile, Labour and also the Lib-Dems are terrified that the migration to the SNP will translate to Westminster, making Labour’s chance of outright victory yet slimmer. Mind you, if independence does occur, they may never be in power in their own right again. Scotland meanwhile, will be a social democratic republic in the EU. Wa-hey.
The Northern Ireland Assembly elections delivered almost no change at all — the Democratic Unionist Party gained two seats in the statelet’s 108-seat house (18 multimember constituencies with six members each), up to 38, Sinn Fein gained one seat to go to 29, and the Ulster Unionists and nationalist SDLP each lost two of their 18 and 16 seats respectively. The Alliance, a neutral, cross-social liberal party was the only real winner, increasing its vote by 50% (from 5.2 to 7.7%) and gaining an extra member, making eight in all. The Greens managed one member, as did an outfit called Traditional Unionist Voice, which opposes any form of power-sharing that gives the Republic of Ireland any say in Northern Ireland affairs. Since every other party accepts the St Andrews agreement on which this is based, the TUV should really be the official opposition. Instead Northern Ireland remains in a post-political phase, and the only thing that might have changed that would have been a larger flow of votes from the SDLP to Sinn Fein, to threaten the DUP’s domination.
Wales was shut. Oh, OK, let me look. Actually, it was a bad day for nationalists, as Labour gained four seats, to hover at the edge of a majority in its own right, with 30 of the 60 seats in the assembly. Plaid Cymru lost four of its 15 seats, and the Conservatives gained two seats, to take a total of 14. That makes the Tories the official opposition, and makes it entirely possible for Labour to govern in its own right. However, Labour leader Carwyn Jones has said he may seek a formal partnership with either Plaid or the Lib-Dems (who have five seats) — this last, mad, arrangement putting the Lib-Dems in alliance with both major parties. Plaid’s failure was put down to internal disorganisation, and not making it clear that it would not work with the Tories — a verdict strengthened by the fact that it announced it wouldn’t do so after the polls had closed.
And yes, of course that referendum, went down, like a lead prosciutto. On an overall turnout of 42% (larger than had been expected — thoughts were it would run about 30%), the “no” vote to any electoral change was 68%, to “yes” 32%. Only about 10 boroughs in the country voted “yes” — half a dozen in inner-London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Oxbridge.
When factored into the appalling local election result — the Lib-Dems lost nearly 700 of the 1800 seats they had up for re-election, and nine of the 19 councils they had control over — the whole thing has put enormous pressure on Nick Clegg to stand up to David Cameron, after a noted failure to do so over the absurd lies of the “No to AV” campaign, which Cameron failed to distance himself from. That looks likely to be manifested in a refusal to back the Tories plans to change the NHS into a GP-led structure drawing privatisation in by the back door. Whether he will be able to put up that sort of internal fight for four more years, or even one year, remains too be seen. As does whether he will be the leader at all in a year either.