So, as they say, the polls have closed and the results are in. How does the return to public office of once-disgraced ex-Tory Minister Neil Hamilton (capturing a seat for UKIP at the Welsh Assembly) reflect the political map of the country? Well, let’s start up at the top. The Liberal Democrats have embarked upon their road to recovery…by maintaining their reliable dominance in the Orkneys and the Shetlands. Not a great surprise, really. After all, former Liberal leader Joe Grimond held one of the most distant Parliamentary seats from Westminster at Orkney and Shetland for over thirty years and was a lifelong supporter of Scottish Home Rule. With the loss of their traditional fan-base down in the West Country, the faraway Scottish isles remain one of the last outposts of liberalism in the UK; had the Lib Dems lost there, they may as well have gone the way of the Whigs. Mind you, the Scottish mainland wasn’t as accommodating, where the party was pushed into fifth place by the Greens.
Nicola Sturgeon and her one pair of earrings (it took a woman to point that out to me) claimed a third straight win for the SNP in the elections to the Scottish Parliament on Thursday – even if, for the first time, the win didn’t give them an outright majority. That’s not really news, though; nobody expected a Nationalist collapse just as nobody expected the bad losers of 2014’s Independence Referendum to stop carping on about another vote on the same subject. One suspects they’ll keep carping on about it, however many times Scotland goes to the independence polls, until they eventually get what they want.
The biggest shock north of the border by far was the fact that the new opposition to the SNP is none other than the Conservative Party. Yes, you heard right. The Scottish Tory has been on the brink of extinction ever since the calamitous 1997 General Election, yet by building on their electoral disaster in Scotland last year, Labour have unexpectedly been replaced by the Tories in second place. It’s certainly a remarkable turnaround in Tory fortunes as well as an embarrassing indication of just how far Labour have fallen in what was once one of their key heartlands, with new Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale faring no better than her hapless predecessor Jim Murphy. Whatever the Labour PR machine says in the days following this latest kick in the tartan goolies, there’s no glossing over the fact that the party is perilously close to being completely finished in Scotland.
Labour remarkably failed to win any of the nine constituency seats in Glasgow, something not even Jeremy Corbyn’s fiercest critics anticipated. Yes, it may be true that the decimation of Labour in Scotland took place while Ed Miliband was at the helm of the national party; but Jezza has managed an impressive achievement by being even less appealing to the Scottish electorate than Red Ed. It’s certainly hard to imagine Labour returning to power without the strength in depth that Scotland traditionally gave them, so the council seats they retained in England seem little more than a mere short-term bulwark against Corbyn’s critics. The fact that HM Opposition tends to gain rather than lose seats between General Elections, a tradition even Michael Foot upheld (as the media keeps reminding us), leaves Labour stuck in an uphill battle to reconnect with voters beyond London and the big northern cities, with Sadiq Khan’s predictable mayoral victory over Zac Goldsmith in the capital reflective of the party’s metropolitan popularity.
At least Labour continues to control Wales, though a 24% swing to Plaid Cymru in the Rhondda leaves Labour facing a considerable hole in its previously-impregnable Welsh fortress. There were also seven regional Welsh seats won by UKIP, including the aforementioned return of Neil Hamilton, celebrating his triumph as usual with his minder…sorry, wife…by his side. The Lib Dems polled badly in Wales, losing all but one of their seats there as well as their Welsh leader Kirsty Williams, whereas the Tories were sandwiched between Plaid Cymru and UKIP, an unappetising snack if ever there was one. Mind you, at least the media focus on the local elections has enabled the Government to bury a bit of awkward bad news following one more post-Budget U-turn, this time on the plans to convert all schools to academies.
Have we really learnt anything from this batch of elections that we didn’t already know, then? The Conservatives suffered less than a party in government usually does; and Labour didn’t experience the national disaster some had predicted, even if falling behind the Tories in Scotland is a once-unthinkable humiliation. Not quite ‘as you were’ in that particular case, but more or less ‘as you were’ everywhere else. Roll on June 23.
© The Editor