So, in what I imagine and hope will be my last political epistle for a while, it seems the people have spoken.
Least important things first, they’ve spoken to say they don’t want AV. Which sadly will be taken as meaning there will be no electoral reform on the horizon at Westminster for at least a generation, despite the fact there’s some substantial movement for proper proportional representation, which of course wasn’t on offer.
One consequence of this is further humiliation for the Liberal Democrats, who have taken quite a kicking tonight in English local council elections. Its a shame for them in a way that they got hammered and the Conservatives (the major coalition partner) didn’t. But at least the Conservatives have been delivering precisely what they promised in government (ie cuts and nastiness), and the LibDems (despite some good and weakly publicised achievements) have been best known for going back on key manifesto commitments. It’s a harsh lesson in government – if you’re going to do painful things, at least promise that beforehand.
That further political reform in Westminster is now off the agenda now raises the serious alternative of getting the heck out of Westminster, which leads to the exciting developments in the Scottish Parliament elections, and the main headline of the night/day – the SNP not only returning as the largest party and increasing their majority, but achieving an overall majority, something the electoral system was designed to prevent and which no party has done since devolution began.
What an astonishing day it’s been, watching safe Labour seat after safe Labour seat fall to the SNP, in numbers that probably surprised even the most optimistic SNP strategists. With five years of a clear majority, the returning SNP administration can now get on with making an even greater impression on this country than they did in the previous parliament. And given they’ve strayed deep into safe Labour territory electorally, chances are they may be vulnerable to some hefty tactical unwind in 2016 – and let’s face it, arguably the only way for the SNP now is back down again, even if only slightly. So they have to make the next few years count in terms of their policy battles.
Perhaps we’ll see them bring in ideas that were defeated last time around, such as the local income tax, minimum alcohol pricing, and so on, plus renewed pressure to increase powers for the Scottish Parliament itself.
And then of course there’s independence. This will be if not the biggest talking point in the coming years then at least the biggest faultline in Scottish politics. There will be a referendum, that much is clear, and I heard one pundit suggest 2014 is likely because the eyes of the world will be on a number of big events in Scotland (eg the Commonwealth Games), it’ll be the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn, and it’ll be a year before the very real prospect of a returning Conservative government in the 2015 General Election. Conditions may be as optimum as they could ever be, though frankly it’ll take more than those factors to win the referendum: the SNP will have to do a lot of hard work persuading people that independence will be a good thing. As with AV, if the answer’s “no” there might not be a chance again for a generation.
I am sure I’ll return to this issue in the future, as it is something I care hugely passionately about. But for now, time to sit back and watch the early days of this historic new Scottish government.
What an exciting and proud time to be in Scotland.