As the dust settles on the May elections, I thought I should record my initial reactions to some of the results.
In really local terms, there was a good chance that in Keele the Labour candidate would win, and unseat the Liberal Democrat, who seems to have been there as long as I can remember! I’m glad to say that he won; congratulations to Tony Kearon on an excellent campaign and a well-deserved victory.
My views on AV have been recorded in my previous posts, and I was relieved that the proposal to introduce it was defeated so comprehensively. Hopefully that’s that for constitutional reform for the foreseeable future!
In terms of the national result, it’s a more complex picture, and I’ll deal with a number of points in turn.
In England, Labour did well and got an improved share of the vote. There is good reason to be optimistic that our support will continue to grow, and other things being equal, it looks promising for the next general election.
In Scotland, the SNP did very well, winning seats in the Scottish Parliament from both the LibDems and from Labour. I will attempt to rationalise that in two ways:
(i) As far as the LibDem held seats were concerned, some voters may have wanted to punish them for being part of a coalition with the Conservatives in Westminster (such is the dislike of Conservatives in many parts of Scotland). This factor was also suggested by the (resigning) LibDem leader in the Scottish Parliament.
(ii) Both Labour and LibDem voters may have been wooed by the SNP promises to continue to offer totally unsustainable ‘perks’, like free University tuition*, nursing home care, prescription charges and frozen council tax. (I should say at this point that I agree with the principle of free University tuition, but that the funding has to come from somewhere. Scottish Universities are already seriously worried about where their future funding for teaching will come from, as a result of these policies).
An interesting and detailed account of the Scottish election results has been posted by Johanna Baxter, who also mentions the influence of the SNP leader, Alex Salmond, on the outcome of the elections.
The SNP have stated that they will hold an independence ballot within the four-year life of the Parliament. I don’t think for one moment that this policy influenced the election result, as there doesn’t seem to be a majority in favour of independence in Scotland, but it does raise some interesting questions, which I’ll come back to later.
Completing the national picture, in Wales, Labour did well, although we got one seat short of the magic figure of 31 needed for overall control. Unlike in Scotland, we did much better than the Nationalists, and our position in Wales has improved since before the election.
I wanted to conclude with a discussion about the Scottish independence aspirations of the SNP. If they hold a ballot, as they promise to, they have to win it, and at the moment that seems unlikely. But even if they did, that would not be the end of the union. My understanding is that constitutionally, Scottish independence would have to be ratified by a vote in the House of Commons , and it seems unlikely that this would happen. So, all the talk about Labour losing 40 or so seats in Scotland (as a result of independence) is unfounded speculation at the best. Instead we have to ensure that we don’t lose seats in the next UK Parliamentary election in Scotland. It will be interesting to see if the SNP do as well then as they have just done in the Scottish Parliament. My feeling is that they won’t; voters may like the idea of the SNP representing them in Scotland, but may be less keen for them to do so nationally. Only time will tell if I’m right on this point.
And a final postscript: I write this as the ConDem plans for the future of the NHS are coming under serious attack. There is much concern about these plans, both in the medical profession and in Parliament. In a vote taken yesterday, the government majority was seriously reduced. I think the plans will have to be changed drastically. The first cracks are beginning to appear in the coalition!
* Before someone corrects me, yes I am aware that the Scottish Labour Party supported free tuition fees, but this seemed to me to be more in a rather last-ditch effort to win votes than part of a well thought out and costed economic policy.