Scotland: local elections, national issues

May 14, 2017 at 9:28 am (elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, scotland, SNP, Tory scum)

Scottish Labour Party logo.svg

By Dale Street (also published on the Workers Liberty website)

In the Scottish council elections, the Tories did well, Labour did badly, and although the SNP won more seats than other parties, it failed to maintain the electoral momentum unleashed by the 2014 referendum.

The boundary reorganisation carried out after the 2012 council elections makes it difficult to compare the number of seats won in 2012 with seats won in 2017.

Labour losses can be calculated as 112 or 133. The SNP tally can be calculated as an increase of around 30 seats or a loss of seven seats. And whatever the precise figure for Tory gains (somewhere around 164), it was enough for them to overtake Labour as the second largest party in terms of council seats.

The Tories did particularly well outside of the Central Belt. What seems to have happened is that ‘traditional’ Tory voters who switched to the SNP in previous years as the best way to defeat Labour are now returning to voting Tory.

For a time SNP policies which benefited the middle classes and the better-off – such as the council tax freeze and no tuition fees for university education – had maintained the support of ex-Tory switch voters.

But Sturgeon’s announcement of plans for a second referendum, combined with her ongoing transformation into a latter-day Alex Salmond, have now resulted in large-scale desertions.

Although last week’s elections also saw a limited revival of the working-class Tory vote, especially in and around Glasgow, the SNP’s limited successes were mainly in the Central Belt.

They failed to win an absolute majority in Glasgow, for example, despite the resources they had poured into their campaign in the city. But they won enough seats to become the biggest party after 40 years of Labour rule.

And they overtook Labour as the largest council group in Edinburgh, but only because Labour lost more seats (nine) than the SNP (two). The Tories, on the other hand, increased their number of seats by seven.

The irony here is that the SNP vote held up or even increased in areas and sections of the electorate which have been the prime victims of SNP policies –falling literacy and numeracy standards, the growth of child poverty, major cutbacks in FE places, and cuts in council funding and local services.

(The Westminster block grant for the current financial year increased by 1.4% in real terms. But the SNP government in Holyrood cut local authority funding in real terms by 2.5%.)

Labour, the SNP and the Tories all claimed that they were fighting the elections on local issues. In fact, for all parties, the issue of a second referendum on Scottish independence was central, overtly or covertly, to the elections. It was also certainly the main issue on the doorstep.

The centrality of the issue of independence is also reflected in how political commentators have chosen to ‘analyse’ the results: unionist parties – 605 seats, up by 28, 57%; independence parties – 450 seats, down by 2, 43%.

Although some voting patterns are clear from last week’s election results, they provide little clarity about the possible outcome of the general election in Scotland in four week’s time. There was a low turnout in the elections, and Scottish council elections are based on Single Transferable Vote, not first-past-the-post.

Over the next four weeks Scottish Labour needs to make clear that the key question which should determine how people vote in the general election is not “who will stand up for Scotland?” but “who do you want to form the next government: the Tories or Labour?”


  1. Mick said,

    QUOTE> Over the next four weeks Scottish Labour needs to make clear that the key question which should determine how people vote in the general election is not “who will stand up for Scotland?” but “who do you want to form the next government: the Tories or Labour? <UNQUOTE

    Things like this are why I enjoy this blog and the left of late. I'm here to enjoy every last minute of this election. From the tone of this article, the issue of who stands up for Scotland is indeed better suited to the General Election than the local. But yet, Labour will inadvertently end up bringing Jeremy Corbyn to mind again if they try and replace the core issue with some anti-Tory, Westminster-focused line again.

    Labour can't help themselves. Jeremy Corbyn now says that a lefty manifesto is the direction to push. And if even Labour voters are put off, so be it.

  2. kb72 said,

    Dale – I really enjoy your posts on the benighted Scots political scene, stuck in a constitutional swamp. I have to say I voted in my local elections purely to send the message of No More Indyrefs though my SNP Cllr has been fine on a specific issue I’ve campaigned on (cycling provision).

  3. kb72 said,

    My constituency used to be Lib Dem until the Nationalist surge had the dodgy Michelle Thompson elected. The Lib Dems have been filling my letter box with No More Indy Ref flyers.

  4. kb72 said,

    Now I’ve got a leaflet from the SNP. Although Sturgeon has grudgingly admitted that this election is about the indyref, there’s not one word about independence in their leaflet – it’s Brexit Brexit all the way.

    • Mick said,

      Yup, Brexit Brexit.

      Watch Remoaners squeak with fury because they have been defied. A real treat, as long as those on the right side of history stops them killing Brexit.

  5. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Mick, Labour do not want to win. Responsibility goes with winning. The Tories will win and those really safe seat Labour will collect their salaries for five years. Wilson and Attlee would squirm at this incumbent bunch of momentum shit.

    • Mick said,

      Corbyn did say he prefers principles to victory.

      I prefer Labour choosing principles over victory. New Labour – or any Labour – struggled hard against incompetence and dogma to do much good.

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