Friday, 6 May 2011

History in the making

Politics is always a tricky subject to delve into, but I think it would be remiss of me not to mention the fact that yesterday's elections for the Scottish Parliament looks like it's going to bring the biggest win for the Scottish National Party since devolution. In fact, it's looking like there's the possibility that the SNP will be able to form a majority government in Holyrood for the first time ever - the first majority government in Scottish Parliament for any party.

I'd only just moved back to Scotland in 2007 when the SNP won enough seats to form a minority government in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, and that in itself was historic enough. In the wake of last year's election for Westminster, though, which resulted in a controversial and very uncomfortable coalition government between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, this election for the Scottish Parliament was always going to be interesting.

For the Westminster elections last year, the Tories and Lib Dems brokered their coalition deal mainly off the back of the fact that the previous Labour government at Westminster had lost support with people who were angry at the economy going down the toilet, and that the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, hadn't even been elected - he'd just taken over when Tony Blair stepped down and decided against holding a re-election (because, people said, he knew it was unlikely he'd win). Amongst other issues, of course.

Since the coalition, though, the Lib Dems have taken a hammering after being accused of many broken promises and failing to temper unpopular Tory policies, and so on. As such, their unpopularity off the back of the Westminster coalition was inevitably going to affect their performance in the Scottish Parliamentary elections yesterday (as well as the local government elections in England, and the Welsh Assembly elections as well).

Scotland has always, historically, been a Labour stronghold (although the north tends to vote Lib Dem), but the performance of the Scottish Labour party leader in the election campaign over the past few weeks, in particular, has proved an utter embarrassment to them. He's managed to hold his seat, scraping through with a majority of just 151, and the party as a whole has taken a bit of a hit in losing some previously safe seats. 

The SNP, on the other hand, have managed (they say) to perform impressively over the past four years considering the fact that they've been a minority government. As such, and considering their expectation of winning support from disaffected Lib Dem and Labour voters, they were expecting to make good gains in the election yesterday, and so far have been proven right. There are still results to come in, so a majority is far from certain as yet but some news outlets are already calling it as pretty much the expected outcome.

This means that one of their most cherished policies stands a good chance of getting the go ahead; they failed to get the support for it from the other parties in the last four years (mainly due to the fact that there was a disagreement on how the referendum should be phrased), but now - if they get a majority, or can get enough seats along with the Green party (who also support a referendum) - there is a realistic chance that they can push through a referendum on Scottish independence. The Scottish Labour party, in fact, have been running a scare campaign on this very issue, as a last ditch (and desperate) attempt at clawing back some support - it seems the negative campaigning hasn't gone down too well.

Alex Salmond (the leader of the SNP, and First Minister for Scotland) has said that the referendum is unlikely to go ahead until 2014, and of course there are no guarantees of a yes vote from Scottish voters. The campaigning over the issue is likely to get heated, especially given the fact that the Scottish media - newspapers especially - are generally anti-SNP, and pro-union. Even if there is a yes vote, however, there's no guarantee that it will get anywhere because ultimately it will be in the hands of Westminster. Their refusal to act on a yes vote would have huge implications, of course.

We live in interesting times, indeed.