The results are in, and for those of us who don’t believe in UKIP it’s as bad as we feared. Although the European elections are perhaps of the least consequence out of all the polls in the calendar, the results of this one frame the run-up to next year’s General Election and also have an impact on September’s independence referendum. It’s an interesting time indeed in British politics.
The UK Independence Party won the European elections with 27% of the vote across the UK, with Labour coming second and 25% and the Tories 3rd on 24%.
In Scotland, the SNP won the election although their vote share stayed almost dead level with their 2009 performance whilst Labour picked up 5 points to come a closer 2nd. UKIP came 4th ahead of the Greens and Lib Dems and picked up their first ever seat in Scotland.
UKIP are definitely the major winners of the elections, with their brash predictions of victory coming true and vindicating their bold campaign on the issue of the EU. It’s the first time in 100 years that neither the Conservatives nor Labour have won an election and heralds the dawn of four party politics in the UK as a whole.
Next year’s General Election is a different ball game all together. Not only are UKIP a largely one policy party, designed almost solely to participate in the European elections, but the voting system of the General Election does not lend itself well to UKIP success. People will be less likely to vote for UKIP next year and that will hurt them under first-past-the-post. Turnout will also likely be higher, hopefully meaning more people will engage with the political process in a positive way rather than a protest vote.
Although Labour managed to regain second spot in this election, their victory won’t be as comfortable as they’d have hoped. Labour were neck and neck in the polls with UKIP going into the election, although it was always likely to be the latter that would win, but to come 2nd by such a small margin ahead of the Tories will worry them with the General Election next year. Ed Miliband’s reputation has taken a little knock, as his campaign lacked personality and that will not be good enough to reclaim the House of Commons next year, especially if there are television debates as there was in 2010.
It’s interesting to look at the way in which the number of MEPs for all parties in the UK changed. It appears as though all 10 Lib Dem MEPs that were “lost” went to UKIP while all 7 Tory MEPs “lost” went to Labour, with the two BNP MEPs shared between UKIP and the Greens. This shows the scale of performance rather nicely, with UKIP and Labour making gains and the coalition partners being hit hardest.
The Lib Dems’ horror show continued in this election, as they were beaten into a mere 5th place, even behind the Green party. The party have suffered an almost unprecedented decline since going into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, with their supporters and voters deserting them because of their inabilities to check the power of the ruling Tories despite being in government. Going into the 2010 election, there was a real feeling that the Lib Dems could have their best performance ever and become a true third alternative in British politics. How times have changed. The Lib Dems now have to pull together and be ready to throw themselves into the fire again next year in an attempt to maintain some sort of relevance. They should still defeat UKIP in the race for 3rd place, with their traditional support bases more cemented than UKIP’s, but it depends a lot on how they approach the campaign. Nick Clegg should go. There needs to be a complete change of tack from them if they are to regain people’s confidence and interest.
In Scotland, it is perhaps the least jubilant SNP victory the party have ever had – with their win coming despite a very slight decrease in the number of votes. Although their main focus is on the independence referendum this September, one eye surely should be on the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, and the rise of Labour again will make it far harder for the SNP to get in to government for a third time in a row, let alone have a majority as they have for the last three years.
The European elections and this year’s independence referendum are two very different polls but they are definitely linked. UKIP had their worst result out of all constituencies in Scotland – coming in at least 2nd everywhere else but only 4th in Scotland. 90% of the voters on Thursday chose another option. Lib Dem losses were also tempered a little in Scotland. It shows the different electoral landscapes in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK and may prove to be a bonus for the Yes campaign. If they can convince enough Labour and Lib Dem voters of the threat UKIP pose to our position in Europe (and to sensible policy decisions) then Yes might just win on the day.
The turnout for European elections was exceptionally poor with a turnout of only 34% across the country. It’s worrying that the rise of the right across the whole of Europe has done so largely through apathy from the rest of the population. Thankfully, for the ideal of representative democracy, the turnout for the independence referendum and the General Election will likely double Thursday’s, so we get elected officials that truly represent the will of the people.
European elections might be of little consequence, but as you can see they have thrown up a lot of findings about the big parties in Scotland and the UK before two crucial votes in the coming year.