So, the day after the morning after (I had to sleep on Friday, hence the delay) and we can start to get a look at just what happened on Thursday night going into Friday morning. Like many, I stayed up through the night watching the results come in and, I must admit, the exit poll caught me off-guard – I was with Paddy Ashdown there and would have eaten my hat had I had one to hand. The election that was supposed to be too close to call, with Labour and the Tories previously predicted to each get around 280 seats, was going to see the Tories increase their share of MPs!
The original prediction put the Conservatives on something like 312 seats, but as the night went on that number was only going to rise until that fateful moment when the Tories predicted share topped 326, the line required for an overall majority. We had expected another hung parliament but instead we got the Tories with a majority – not the night many of us had hoped for.
The majority can partly be put down to the utter collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote with nearly fifty of their seats gone leaving them at only 8 MPs in the Commons. Labour also failed to win over voters in England and Wales, the tone of this being summed up as Ed Balls, the man many expected to be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer, lost his seat to the local Tory candidate. This was indeed a blow to Labour and much of their vote in England and Wales went the same way.
However, that was nothing compared to what happened in Scotland. The Lib Dem vote in Scotland caved in like nowhere else with ministers and long standing MPs losing their seats across the traditionally Liberal voting Highlands, among the casualties were both Charles Kennedy, the former Lib Dem leader, and Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who lost their seats in stunning landslide fashion. The only Lib Dem to hold his seat in Scotland was Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Secretary, but by a majority of just 817 votes.
But the real hiding north of the border was inflicting on Labour, who lost forty of their seats to the SNP in their tsunami style taking of Scottish seats. Some of the safest seats in the country were lost in truly brutal fashion with the likes of Jim Murphy losing his East Renfrewshire seat, Margaret Curran losing here Glasgow East seat and so on. One of the biggest stories of the night, though, centred around the Paisley and Renfrewshire South seat, where the Shadow Foreign Secretary and Labour’s campaign director, Douglas Alexander, lost his seat to Mhairi Black, a 20 year-old student of politics who was standing for the SNP.
In his concession speech, Alexander was quite truly gracious in defeat saying that Scotland had voted against a Tory agenda but “did not put that trust in Labour”, which really was the message of the night. Many Scots are fed up with continued right-wing Tory rule, characterised by harsh austerity and a demonising of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Moreover, many Scots want to make sure that the push for more devolved powers is heeded and that whoever had ended up in government would have to listen to that call. Sadly, disenfranchised and convinced of their stagnation, the Scottish people could not put that trust in the Labour party any longer.
What have ended up with now, though, is really a tale of two countries. It’s looking rather like a messy marriage at this point. There have been fights in the past and last year Scotland and England looked set for a divorce, but settled against it because it looked like too much of a fuss (and anyway, think of the kids, do Wales and NI really want to see us fighting like this?). But that marriage is still tense and is now more passive aggressive than ever – and as holder of an official award for passive aggression, that is a subject on which I am most qualified to speak.
No matter which way you look at it, Scotland voted left; they voted for the progressive, centre-left, anti-austerity agenda of the SNP. They voted for a party that they felt would make their voices on free healthcare, free education, investment in our public services and so on heard more loudly than ever before.
England, on the other hand, voted right. You can look at it how you like, but Labour fell apart in England, losing a number of seats to the Conservatives. Even if Scotland had voted Labour unanimously, we’d still have the Tories in power down south.
When you look at the results, the SNP polled a solid 50% of the votes across Scotland. Add Labour into that mix and the ‘left vote’ polled at 74.3%. Whilst Labour may only have held onto one seat in Scotland, the result was a pretty resounding left-wing vote.
Look now to England and the results tell quite a different story, the Conservatives and UKIP, making up the majority of the right-wing vote, polled at 55.1% of the total votes cast. A pretty clear right-wing vote in England.
So we now have a country that is deeply divided between right and left, austerity and investment, trident and nuclear disarmament, ‘Brexit’ and continued EU membership. The list goes on… It is no wonder now that all the major broadcasters are talking about a second Indy Ref (I know, will he ever stop talking about it?) and some are predicting the UK not actually lasting past the end of the next parliament.
I am elated by the sheer size of the block of SNP MPs that have been sent down south, I truly feel that they will make the voice of Scotland heard in Westminster and that they will do all in their power to fight against the Tories. But there is a key phrase there; “in their power”. Because, for all the power the SNP and Scotland now have, it may well not be enough, the Tories do, afterall, have a majority of seats and 56 votes may still not be enough to block certain pieces of Tory legislation.
This parliament really will highlight the deepening divisions in the UK and the raw deal that many Scots are getting. Yes, we have devolution, yes, Cameron has promised more powers to Holyrood, but, at the end of the day, all the big decisions, including the ones surrounding our public funds and welfare, etc., are still made down south. And with the Tories now in a majority in parliament it looks like they’ll be able to walk all over us while, as loud as our voice at Westminster may now be, we’re still unable to shake them off.
However, Nicola Sturgeon has noted all through this campaign that the SNP vote is not a mandate for another referendum, that would require a “seismic” shift in the political landscape such as, say, an exit of the EU. Whilst the SNP’s landslide may not be a direct mandate to hold another referendum, it will make the case for independence stronger and stronger.
With regards to another five years of Tory rule, however, there is a sliver lining – David Cameron’s majority is quite slim indeed of just four seats. To put that into perspective, Tony Blair’s government in 2005, as increasingly unpopular as it was still had a majority of 28 seats, which presented severe struggles for Blair, and later Brown, in securing votes.
With a majority of just four seats, David Cameron will have to keep every backbencher in check with his whips working around the clock on every vote. Any abstentions, rebel votes, or even MPs not turning up to vote, could hinder his legislation hugely. Any defections, resignations or lost by-elections could threaten to bring his government into minority.
Cameron may already be needing to look the UKIP’s MP (a former Tory MP) and the DUP and UUP for support – but with the extreme right of those parties and his own clashing with the more moderate centre-right of his own party, he may struggle to find agreements.
Whilst the result of the election looks bleak at a glance (i.e., Dishface back in Downing Street) there is a sizeable block of progressive MPs in the form of Paid Cymru, Labour and the huge block of Scottish Nationalist MPs who would do well to work together and hinder Mr. Cameron’s government at every turn.
It will now be interesting to look forward to the 2016 Scottish General Election as the SNP hope to maintain their success and go for a third term in Holyrood and a second as a majority. Labour, under their now seatless leader, Jim Murphy (who, despite no longer being an elected representative, refuses to resign), must look to rebuild and reshape their message to the Scottish people.
The Additional Member System used at Holyrood, as a proportional system, will guarantee the Labour party at least some seats, but how many is up to their campaigning and how they choose to review their policies. With only ten months until the official campaign for that begins, Labour will have to act fast if it wants to survive in Scotland.
I am saddened by Labour’s result as a whole across England and Wales, their more left message, moving away from New Labour, simply didn’t resonate with the voters south of the border. I am also disappointed to see Ed Miliband go; despite him not being a shiny ‘off-the-telly’ politician, he had some good ideas and had done well to bring Labour back to the left a little more.
At any rate, the next parliament will be interesting – we have an unpredictable five years ahead of us; A referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, the prospect of further devolved (but unspecified powers) to Scotland, Wales and NI, “fairness for England” (whatever that means), and the Union moving onto shakier and shakier ground.
Let’s just hope that our new block of SNP MPs are up to the challenge and the Labour is able to throw their dogma aside and work with the SNP to keep Cameron’s Tories firmly in their place.
Details on Scotland’s vote, including turnout and results by constituency can be found here.