May 10, 2016 : Craig Wilson

Election analysis: a night of some surprises

SCVO's new Public Affairs officer Craig Wilson on the aftermath of #SP2016

I’m delighted to be writing my first piece as Parliamentary Public Affairs Officer for SCVO. Only a week after the Scottish Parliament election, I’d like to offer a concise post-match analysis of how the chips fell.

Having worked in the Scottish Parliament for seven years, it’s safe to say that no previous election has appeared such a forgone conclusion – at least as far as the overall winner was concerned. Following an unprecedented landslide at the General Election and a barrage of impressive polling data, there was broad consensus that Nicola Sturgeon would be returned as First Minister.

Indeed, the result seemed to have been conceded in advance, with Labour and the Conservatives openly jockeying for the position of main opposition party, and the Liberal Democrats and the Greens asking voters to put faith in them to wield significant influence.

With the still widely misunderstood D’Hondt voting system designed to prevent a popular minority forming an absolute majority, the scale of the SNP victory is striking and they came out of the election as very comfortable winners. Nonetheless, the loss of a majority and some impressive personnel will feel like a body blow to many within the ranks.

The Tories pulled off a result that many in the party could surely only have dreamed of – overtaking Labour as the main opposition party in the Holyrood chamber. Impressive in televised debates, Ruth Davidson was a clear asset to the Conservatives and their tactic of painting themselves as the only true Unionist party played well in an election dominated (again) by questions over Scotland’s constitutional future.

The Liberal Democrats, who have suffered heavily in recent years, saw their share of votes and seats stay steady. Whilst gaining two constituency seats obviously added legitimacy to Willie Rennie’s leadership and the overall standing of the party, it is hard to deem the result a comeback – especially when 48 candidates lost their deposits.

Labour suffered heavily, slumping to their worst defeat in the devolution era. Having already lost voters who perceived the SNP and independence to be more left wing, the Labour party was relieved of further support from those who considered the Tories to be more supportive of the Union. So, once more, the party enters a period of soul searching and re-invention. Unlike in previous years, it seems certain that vanquished leader, Kezia Dugdale, will stay in post – adding stability and allowing her to build on the strong standing she has within her party and a not insignificant section of the electorate.

The Green Party had a very big night, returning six MSPs – only one shy of their 2003 zenith. Like his Conservative counterpart, Green Party co-convenor Patrick Harvie shone under the spotlight and was able to attract many pro-independence supporters who didn’t identify with the SNP or were keen to add diversity to the make-up of the Parliament. The party also reaped the rewards of becoming a more professional outfit – hiring more staff, consulting marketing strategists and mobilising their vastly increased party membership.

With a more eclectic parliament, a changing of the guard on the opposition benches and an SNP stripped of its majority, the next five years are set to be very interesting. What remains to be seen is exactly how the SNP will go about securing the additional two votes required to pass legislation. Clearly there will be a great deal of horse-trading in the months and years ahead, and the price of opposition support may, on occasion, be high.

As our MSPs settle into their roles in the coming weeks, I’ll look at how the parliament is taking shape and scope out the likely battle grounds.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Craig Wilson