Scotland: Labour rocked as Scottish Nationalist Party win

Necessity to build socialist alternative to big business parties is more urgent than ever

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 following last Thursday’s election. 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 outcome 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 also real anger at the record levels of ballot papers being ruled out as invalid as a result of confusion over how to fill them in and the use of two different voting systems 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 4 seats, with the Lib Dems and the Tories losing 1 each.

It was the smaller parties that saw their electoral position squeezed. The Greens lost 5 of their 7 seats while the SSP and Solidarity were unable to hold on to any of their combined 6 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.

This surge to the SNP and the desire to hit back at Labour affected the smaller parties. 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 figures. The SNP also effectively "parked" their independence for Scotland policy by promising a referendum in 2010 – hoping to undermine Labour’s and a majority of the Scottish press’s attempts to undercut the SNP’s support by warning of the dangers of the "break up of Britain".

What now?

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 1. 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 as an option. This means that either the SNP or the Lib Dems have to concede something. It is also possible that an Executive could be formed without an agreement on this 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.

However, there is also the possibility that a "government of the losers" – Labour/Lib Dems with the effective backing of the Tories could be cobbled together. This pro-union coalition would hold a majority – but would be seen by many as an illegitimate government if it excludes the SNP. The other option is for an SNP minority government. Whatever Executive is cobbled together, the pro-business agenda of the main parties will continue and the need to build a socialist alternative to the parties of big business is as urgent as ever.

Solidarity and the SSP

The absence of socialist MSPs in the Scottish parliament represents 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 – in September last year. 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 (1.6% of the national vote) votes to the SSP’s 12,831 (0.6%). In Glasgow, where Tommy Sheridan, was standing to be elected, Solidarity polled 8,525 votes which was 4.15% of the Glasgow wide vote compared to 2,579 – 1.25% for the SSP. Tommy Sheridan missed out on winning a seat by just over 2,000 votes – but it was clear that Solidarity suffered disproportionally from the thousands of rejected ballot papers in Glasgow, many of which showed that people had voted for Solidarity.

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 won a council seat in Glasgow Craigton when Ruth Black was elected. The SSP lost their only council seat in Glasgow. In the West of Scotland, where International Socialist (CWI Scotland) 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% 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 8 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 underlined by this result. The SSP is finished as a serious force in Scotland and the task now is to try and deepen the roots and influence of Solidarity as a socialist party 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. Whatever combination of big business parties form the new Executive, working class people need a fighting socialist party to defend their interests and we will work to build that alternative.

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