Wow. Elections are always significant for what they mean to a country, but some change the way in which politics is conducted and followed in a country forever and that’s what last night’s result was.
When the exit poll flashed up at 10pm absolutely everyone was calling foul. The Conservatives being 75 seats ahead of Labour was inconceivable to anyone who’d taken even a cursory glance at the figures that the numerous polling organisations had been pumping out on a daily basis for months. Seeing the SNP predicted to win 58 seats seemed like a theoretical exercise rather than a practical and very real poll. But just like 2010, when the exit poll was the first sign that the Conservatives would be in prime position to form a Government, this was just the start of what was a catastrophic night for Labour and a tremendous one for the Conservatives and the SNP too.
The Conservatives have earned their first majority government since 1992, increasing their number of seats and their national vote share in an unbelievable turn of events. In Scotland, the SNP swept the board taking 56 out of Scotland’s 59 seats, leaving one seat each for the three main Westminster parties.
Here are the full results of the election UK-wide:
|Conservatives||319 (+25)||1 (=)||10 (+2)||330||+27|
|Labour||205 (+14)||1 (-40)||26 (=)||232||-26|
|Lib Dems||6 (-36)||1 (-10)||1 (+2)||8||-48|
|Plaid Cymru||3 (=)||3||0|
|UKIP||1 (-1)||0 (=)||0 (=)||1||-1|
|Green||1 (=)||0 (=)||0 (=)||1||0|
|Sinn Fein||4 (-2)||4||-2|
|Independents||0 (-1)||0 (=)||0 (=)||0 (=)||0||-1|
|Other||1 (-1)||0 (=)||0 (=)||1 (+1)||2||0|
And here are the vote shares in Scotland:
You can find the results of my predictions and find every seat that changed hands in the election on the next page here.
The yellow tide across Scotland had long been predicted but the fact that it held so firm and was so emphatic in almost every single seat is beyond belief. They came within 4,255 votes of winning all 59. It was a massive vote of confidence from the Scottish people for the SNP’s vision for a fairer United Kingdom and a stronger Scotland. Although results elsewhere in the UK mean that the SNP’s influence at Westminster will be no more than a vocal opposition, Scotland will never have been represented by such a one-objective contingent that will make the traditional politics of Westminster change and change dramatically.
There are only three alternative voices of Scottish representation now to be heard on the green benches of the Commons. Alistair Carmichael holding on to Orkney & Shetland was perhaps the only given, with David Mundell’s hold being a result of the late Conservative swing in the polls and Ian Murray’s victory in Edinburgh South being the result of SNP candidate Neil Hay’s recent troubles over Twitter. The SNP came second in each of these seats, all by very close margins. Scotland has overwhelmingly rejected Westminster politics as usual.
The wheels have been in motion for over a decade now to deliver Labour’s annihilation in Scotland , with the referendum and its’ aftermath turning the screw on them for good. But what couldn’t have been imagined is how meekly they would perform in England and Wales. Rather than make gains in these countries they almost drew level with the Tories, picking up a few targets here and there while the Tories outflanked them and took some of Labour’s softer seats too. Despite running what was on the whole a reasonably good campaign, they didn’t manage to sway enough voters towards them. Ed Miliband’s poor public image didn’t help, and the threats from the Conservatives about the potential dangers of a Labour-SNP coalition probably scared off many too, but Labour failed in delivering their message to the voters of the UK and that’s what killed their chances of governing again. Labour didn’t offer enough of an alternative to leave the Conservatives and in some cases their alternative was so unwelcome that their voters went to the Tories. Labour now need to take a widescale and holistic view of what they are as a party, sticking to some guns of their own rather than modelling themselves off other parties or past versions of themselves. For me, that means becoming a party of the left once more rather than a less clear and less visioned version of the right-wing Tories.
The Lib Dems suffered more heavily than they would in their worst nightmares. Being left with only 8 seats puts them level with the DUP, who only stand in 18 seats in Northern Ireland. This is an extinction event for the orange party, which will leave them completely out of contention in the political life of the UK for perhaps a generation. They did not set their own agenda whilst in Government and lost to the Tories on some of the key traits that made the Lib Dems who they were. And in the end what cost them was that the voters didn’t see the point in voting in a Lib Dem MP when they could plump for a Tory who would do the same.
UKIP and the Greens have had their best national election results in terms of vote share in history, but both were left with only one seat in the House of Commons. UKIP are right to feel aggrieved that despite picking up 12.9% of the national vote, being the third largest party in that regard, they actually lost ground over their pre-election position. Their sole MP Douglas Carswell and now former leader Nigel Farage have both extolled the virtues of proportional representation in the wake of the results and despite many other differences the Lib Dems, Greens and SNP all agree with them. There is an appetite amongst the smaller parties and the British public too for PR, but the problem is that in the cruellest way the result of the election has delivered the Government that would be most unwilling to change things.
This election was as brutal as any other that could be imagined, with the four Westminster parties all losing some crucial figures after the results came through. All the main opposition leaders have resigned: Farage, Clegg and Miliband have all announced they’re to leave their posts. It’s hard to imagine an election where things went so badly for so many parties. The Lib Dems of course lost many, many of their leading lights: with Vince Cable, Simon Hughes and Charles Kennedy all turfed out of their seats. Labour lost big names in Scotland with party leader Jim Murphy, election campaign manager Douglas Alexander and prominent figures such as Anas Sarwar and Margaret Curran all losing, and losing badly. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls’ defeat was perhaps the biggest shock of the night, putting beyond any doubt that not only were Labour’s chances of winning demolished but their “New, New Labour” philosophy too.
The polling industry too has suffered an extraordinary defeat in this election, nearly on the scale of the fabled 1992 disaster. None of the polling companies were able to replicate the large Conservative lead that happened at the polling booth, with margin of error discussions completely academic amongst a widespread and deeply rooted methodological problem for the industry. Even the exit poll, while definitely much closer to the result than anything we’d seen before, still underestimated the scale of the Conservatives’ win. Without accurate polling election campaigns can be fought in entirely the wrong sort of ways, and I believe a real fire could have been lit beneath Labour had the polls shown the reality of the situation rather than give them a false sense of hope.
The story of this election then is a big Conservative win, but what it can very well and very correctly be spun us is a consolidation of power that has left their Government with a smaller majority but one they run completely. From a majority of 41 they now have just 7, but now they can set the agenda without any pesky coalition agreement to stick to.
What that means is that they will be able to deliver some of their key pledges from their manifesto. There will be a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union by the end of 2017, after the Government leads talks with the EU on the current terms of the UK’s place in the organisation. There will also be further cuts to public services, with the aim of running a budget surplus by the end of the Parliament which will help cut Britain’s enormous national debt. Moves will also be made towards “English votes for English laws”, with the process of denigrating Scottish MPs’ place at Westminster so they have less place in votes that do not directly impact upon Scotland.
A conundrum whose answer is far less certain though is what the Conservatives will do with Scotland. They have previously committed to delivering the Smith Commission proposals in full, but with the SNP’s overwhelming mandate to represent the Scottish people at Westminster it is clear that Scotland wants more than is on the table at the moment.
One of the key arguments from the Yes side during the independence referendum was that Scotland got governments it didn’t vote for, and once again Scotland will be governed by a Conservative government it didn’t choose. Even if every Scottish voter had plumped for Labour at this election the result would not have been different.
And with a referendum on the EU ahead, with Scots more supportive of membership than the rest of the UK, if Scotland’s will is ignored there once again there will be a perfect storm which will inevitably lead to a second independence referendum.
Nicola Sturgeon has been coy about her plans for the Holyrood elections next year, refusing to rule out plans for a new referendum being a part of the SNP’s manifesto, but she has already responded to the scenario above saying:
“If we end up after this General Election with another government we havenae voted for imposing more austerity cuts on our most vulnerable and maybe taking us out of Europe against our will it might be sooner than we thought.”
With the SNP riding the crest of a wave in popular support and some of the key arguments for independence being magnified by these election results, it would be a dereliction of destiny if Sturgeon did not go for another shot at independence in these conditions. There is almost no scope for the SNP’s position to improve from where it is now, and with Scotland being already more than fully aware of the arguments surrounding independence there would be less need for a long campaign to reheat the public’s interest in the subject.
Indyref 2 isn’t certainly on its way, but the next five years will almost certainly shape the future of Scotland’s place within the union. If the new Conservative government does deliver full fiscal autonomy to Scotland and is shown to make a considered effort at appeasing the “roaring lion” as Alex Salmond put it then Scotland might stay. But if not, then this election could prove to have been the next big step for Scotland towards the exit door.
This election result has been like a meteor, impacting from nowhere and throwing up hundreds of consequences that had been almost unforeseen beforehand. The UK has opted for another five years of Conservative government, Labour and the Lib Dems have been left to go back to the drawing board and start anew, and the SNP and Scotland have made it clear that we aren’t here to make up the numbers.
The last five years in politics have been utterly unpredictable and have seen changes in the way people perceive the political world like never before. The thing is though that the next five years could well be even more exciting. Bring it on!