Election sea-change in Scotland, as UK divides politically

By staff writers
6 May 2011

The Scottish National Party (SNP) look to be on the threshold of a historic majority in the Holyrood elections, with the Liberal Democrats collapsing and voters delivering differential poll results across Britain.

With new boundaries in Scotland, the SNP made sweeping gains on 5 May 2011, reaching close to the 65 seats they need to win overall. Alex Salmond is now certain to be First Minister.

Labour's core support held firm in some places, but the party failed to gain from the huge rupture in the Lib Dem vote - which was repeated across the UK - and went down 10 points overall.

The Greens are projected to have moved up from two to three seats through the Scottish 'Additional Member' regional system. The Conservatives, who held up relatively well at their coalition partner's expense in the English local election results, also faired poorly. The feisty ex-SNP Independent Margot Macdonald retained her seat.

In Wales, Plaid Cymru will be disappointed that Labour increased its vote and share significantly, though not nearly as decisively as many were anticipating.

In Northern Ireland, the two main opposing parties, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein, came out well on top, as expected, But the nationalists are unlikely to have tipped the overall balance in their favour in the unique power-sharing assembly.

In terms of voting reform, opinion polls indicate that the negative tactics employed by the 'No to AV' campaign, combined with lack of public interest or understanding and an anti-Lib Dem protest on an issue close to their hearts, have cost the opportunity for a change to the dated and (many argue) unfair First Past the Post system at Westminster.

The results mean that Labour edges towards the Conservatives' position of being a party that secures its hegemony principally on the strength of English votes, in the north and the south respectively. The regional divide is "significant and worrying", said one analyst.

Labour will argue that its result in Wales and strong historic presence in Scotland means that it does not have a problem in this regard, but senior figures are known to be concerned about the lack of traction in significant areas under Ed Miliband's leadership. "It's a long road back," deputy leader Harriet Harman told the BBC this morning.

The Greens have made gains, up three to 13 by 12.20pm on 6 May, in the English councils, and remain hopeful of substantial progress in Brighton - where they have their first Westminster MP, Caroline Lucas.

Key English cities like Stockport and Hull have moved to No Overall Control (NOC) at the Liberal Democrats' expense.

Defeats for the far-right British National Party in seats where they were strong or hopeful have been welcomed by anti-racism campaigners, who have worked long and hard against them.

The massive shift in Scotland may presage further realignments within the wider British political scene, say analysts. But it is not yet clear how. The SNP will likely be forced into an independence referendum, but the consistent indicators are that t will not win this vote.

Simon Barrow, from the beliefs and values think-tank Ekklesia, commented that a significant factor in the development of politics in Britain remains "the overlooked 'English question'."

He added: "Viewed from the citadels of Westminster, and with the prosperous southern English electorate seemingly disposed against any major new deal, the future of the UK continues to be about ‘cohesion’ and functional majority identities. From Scotland, however, the emerging game appears very different. Wales is a mixed picture, Northern Ireland is developing a different kind of model, and the English local elections represent a shift against the policies of the coalition government. The key word is 'differential'."

Also on Ekklesia: 'Is Scotland charting a new political way after 5 May?' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14714

[Ekk/3]

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