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09 May 2012

SNP take control of Scottish Parliament

SNP take control of Scottish Parliament

The Scottish National Party (SNP) dominated elections to the Scottish Parliament on 5 May, winning an outright majority which many believed impossible in a proportional electoral system. Described as a "historic result", the SNP saw its vote increase by 13 per cent, gaining more than the 65 seats needed to run as a majority government for the next five years. The SNP took seats right across the country, transforming Labour and Lib Dem heartlands in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Scottish Liberal Democrats, reflecting results in the English local council elections, were hit the hardest with most of their vote transferred to the SNP.   

The number of Lib Dem MSPs dropped from 16 to five, resulting in the resignation of their Scottish leader Tavish Scott. The Scottish Labour Party was unable to capitalise on the Lib Dem demise, instead seeing their vote dramatically reduced.   

It is now more than likely that the SNP will bring forward a referendum on independence in the second half of the parliamentary term which the UK government will not block, says the UK secretary of state for Scotland Michael Moore MP. But the result does not translate into a dramatic change in Scottish opinion towards independence, with polls consistently showing a large majority in favour of remaining part of the UK.  

Instead the win largely reflects a very successful campaign run by the SNP and its leader Alex Salmond which at its heart was positive. The SNP did not make independence a core issue of its campaign but chose to focus largely on their own records and achievements in government over the last four years rather than the policies of other parties. In contrast, the Labour campaign was criticised by many as scaremongering, focusing on the Tory-led coalition government and the threat of independence if the SNP won. It is clear that Scottish voters were not convinced by these tactics, causing the Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray to declare that he will stand down as leader in the autumn.   

Iain Gray and Tavish Scott were not the only party leader casualties. Having only lost two seats, the Conservative leader Annabel Goldie also felt it was her time to step down. All the of the main parties will now spend months in internal negotiations and politics, and electing new leaders - a gift to the SNP who will move into government without a stable opposition in place. 

The result will no doubt see a radical change in the way politics is conducted within Scotland. Throughout its last four-year term the SNP government was ever ready to remind us that, as a minority government, it could only govern through effective negotiations and the conciliation of others. With a majority, the new SNP government will be able to push through its legislative agenda, having only to worry about keeping its own members in line. Consequently, the smaller parties and the one independent candidate Margo MacDonald will have much less ability to influence and act as a swing vote in key parliamentary votes.