Guy Lavis and Lizzie Wills write…
Last Thursday’s Scottish elections provided the SNP with the best result in the party’s history, as it took control of Holyrood with an overall majority of nine seats. The party achieved the near impossible feat of securing an outright victory under a system of proportional representation that was arguably created to prevent one party from achieving overall control. The stunning SNP success left Labour licking its wounds and wondering just where it all went wrong. Within the space of a few short weeks, Labour has gone from being tipped to take majority control in Holyrood, to achieving its worst ever set of results in Scotland.
Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray only managed to retain his East Lothian seat by the thinnest of majorities, indicating the scale of the swing towards the nationalists. Labour has ironically blamed its poorer than expected performance on the "astonishing and complete collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote", which has shifted almost in its entirely to Alex Salmond’s party.
The results once again highlight the increasingly fragmented nature of UK politics. Elections to the devolved Scottish parliament continue to be unpredictable, delivering results once thought by most pundits to be beyond the realms of possibility. This was the fourth set of elections for the Scottish Parliament since its inception and the second in a row that leaves Labour, for so long dominant North of the border, out in the cold.
For the SNP, it doesn’t get much better than this. With a vote share of 45% it made an unprecedented 32 gains in the constituency results, taking seats from all its competitors, but perhaps most significantly from Labour, in its West of Scotland heartlands. The anti-establishment Liberal Democrat vote switched en masse to the SNP too, leaving the Scottish Lib Dems with a constituency vote share of just 8% and a seat total of two, down nine on 2007.
The unprecedented landslide has significant implications for health policy north of the border. With an outright majority, the nationalists will be in the position to pass their manifesto pledges undiluted, and to introduce far braver proposals, budgets and legislation than many were anticipating prior to polling day. Their pledge to introduce a £30m ‘Detect Cancer Early’ initiative and its promise to reduce the number of senior managers by 25% over the course of the next parliament are now likely to pass without difficulty. Expect also an acceleration in the shift towards health protection and public health initiatives, a significant theme of the party’s campaign promises on health. The SNP may even be tempted to re-introduce controversial legislation to set a legal minimum unit price for alcohol.
High-profile casualties of the SNP landslide included Ross Finnie, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Health and Deputy Convener of the Health and Sport Committee, who failed in his bid for re-election. The Labour and Conservative health teams fared rather better, with Richard Simpson, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Public Health, and Murdo Fraser and Nanette Milne, the Tory Shadow Cabinet Secretaries for Health & Wellbeing and Public Health and Sport respectively, being returned on the regional lists late on Friday.
The Opposition parties have been thrown into disarray and two leaders, Labour’s Iain Gray and his Liberal Democrat counterpart, Tavish Scott, have already announced their resignation. How the parties respond under new leadership to what is undoubtedly a huge personal triumph for Alex Salmond remains to be seen, but Scottish politics has entered uncharted territory. Both commentators and the electorate respectively will be watching closely for clues as to how the First Minister intends to use his new mandate, particularly in relation to the SNP’s long held ambition for a referendum on Scottish independence.