ON 3 May, Labour lost their first election in Scotland since 1955 as the Scottish National Party (SNP) made history by becoming the largest party in the Scottish parliament. For the first time in a Scottish election the SNP won a bigger share of the vote than Labour winning by 33% to 32% on the constituency vote and 31% to 29% on the regional list vote.
The SNP now hold 47 seats, one ahead of Labour on 46, with the Tories on 17, Lib Dems on 16, Greens 2 and Margo McDonald elected as an independent.
This outcome means that no one party holds a majority in the parliament. Even a two party coalition would not command enough Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to run the Executive. As a minimum, a three way agreement between the parties would be necessary. This means that it is likely to be days and possibly weeks before any deal over the political make up of a new executive can be agreed.
There was real anger at the record level of ballot papers being ruled as invalid as a result of confusion over how to fill them in and the use of two different voting systems (for councils and parliament) on the same day. Incredibly more than 100,000 people had their votes invalidated – many of them in working-class areas. This scandal brought comparisons with the flawed election in the US in 2000 when the result in Florida was effectively stolen by invalidating the votes of many black voters.
THE ELECTION was extremely polarised with many people using the SNP as a way of hitting back at New Labour and their record of war, privatisation and increasing inequality. The run-up to the election had been completely dominated by the Labour/SNP head-to-head battle. For many people, the election became a referendum on not only the record of the Scottish Executive, but also on Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and the New Labour project, including the disastrous Iraq policy.
The SNP were the big winners, increasing their number of MSPs by 20 to 47. Labour lost four seats, with the Lib Dems and the Tories losing one each. The smaller parties saw their electoral position squeezed. The Greens lost five of their seven seats while the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and Solidarity were unable to hold on to any of their combined six MSPs.
The SNP vote, compared to 2003, increased by 9% in the constituencies and by 10% on the regional party lists, with Labour's falling by 3% and 5% respectively. The SNP were able to pick up support as an 'anti-war' party and effectively used their opposition to Trident and the hated council tax to pose as being to the left of New Labour. However, the SNP also spent a large part of their election campaign trading blows with New Labour. Both parties wheeled out one millionaire after another to show their support from Scottish big business.
The SNP also effectively 'parked' their Scottish independence policy by promising a referendum in 2010 – hoping to undermine Labour's and a majority of the Scottish press's attempts to undercut SNP support by warning of the dangers of the "break up of Britain".
ALEX SALMOND and the SNP will try and form an executive, but they need the support of the Lib Dems and the Greens to achieve a working majority of one. Before the election, the Lib Dems insisted that there would be no deal if the SNP pushed ahead with their plans to hold a referendum on independence in 2010. Salmond offered the proposal of a multi-option referendum including a question for more powers for the parliament, short of independence. This was also rejected by the 'democratic' Liberals whose leader stated that they would always oppose a referendum if it contained a question offering independence. This means that either the SNP or the Lib Dems have to concede something. At the time of going to press, the Lib Dems have said they will not do a deal with Labour (ie rejecting the possibility of a 'government of the losers' – Labour/Lib Dems with the effective backing of the Tories) and that they will not do a deal with the SNP as long as the intention of an independence referendum remains. Negotiations are continuing however.
It is possible that an executive could be formed without an agreement on the referendum question which would allow the SNP to move a proposal that would not be binding on the executive – effectively a free vote of the parliament. The other option is for an SNP minority government. Whatever executive is cobbled together, the pro-big business agenda of the main parties will continue and the need to build a socialist alternative to them is as urgent as ever.
THE ABSENCE of socialist MSPs is a serious setback. The responsibility for this lies with the actions and policies of the SSP leadership that led to a split and the formation of the new socialist party – Solidarity - last September. The SSP leadership were widely seen to have backed Rupert Murdoch's News of the World against Tommy Sheridan and they paid a devastating price at this election. Not only were the SSP wiped out in terms of parliamentary representation but it was Solidarity that clearly emerged as the main socialist force, winning 70% of the socialist vote. Alan McCombes, the SSP's policy spokesperson, described the outcome for the SSP as a "massacre."
Solidarity out-polled the SSP everywhere in Scotland, winning 31,066 votes nationally (1.6%) to the SSP's 12,831 (0.6%). In Glasgow, where Tommy Sheridan stood, Solidarity polled 8,525 votes which was 4.15% of the Glasgow wide vote compared to 2,579 votes, 1.25%, for the SSP. Tommy missed out on winning a seat by just over 2,000 votes. It was clear that Solidarity suffered disproportionately from the thousands of rejected ballot papers in Glasgow, many of which were for Solidarity. A legal challenge to the result (by an independent source) has been declared in this Glasgow constituency.
Nationally the SSP came behind the BNP and Arthur Scargill's SLP as well as the Scottish Christian Party. Even where SSP MSPs were standing as councillors they failed to be elected. Glasgow SSP MSP Rosie Kane came last in the council seat she stood in. In contrast, Solidarity's Ruth Black won a council seat in Glasgow Craigton. The SSP lost their only council seat in Glasgow. In the West of Scotland, where International Socialist (CWI) member Jim Halfpenny was the lead candidate, Solidarity polled 4,774 votes (1.8%) while in Central Region, Solidarity won over 5,000 votes (1,8%). In South Scotland Solidarity polled 3,400 votes, a very creditable 2.3%, but which was not enough for MSP Rosemary Byrne to be returned to parliament.
A combination of the squeeze on the smaller parties and the inevitable disappointment at the split in the socialist movement meant that Solidarity just failed to gain an MSP. However, as Tommy Sheridan commented: "From the launch of Solidarity eight months ago to being the biggest socialist party in Scotland is no mean feat." The decision to launch Solidarity in an effort to rebuild a viable socialist force in Scotland was justified by this result. The SSP is finished as a serious force. The task now is to try and deepen the roots and influence of Solidarity by taking up the issues facing working class communities and young people. The International Socialists, whose members play a key role in Solidarity, will campaign to build Solidarity and the forces of Marxism in Scotland. Working class people need a fighting socialist party to defend their interests and we will work to build that alternative.