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Experts Comment On 2016 Scottish Election Results

6th May 2016

Photograph of Experts Comment On 2016 Scottish Election Results

Commenting on last night's election results, the political challenges they imply for the Scottish Parliament and the diversity of the newly elected MSPs, Friends and Fellows of the Centre on Constitutional Change made the following observations:

Professor Michael Keating (1) said,"The main story is that the SNP did not exceed their 2011 performance but that that is disappointing only in comparison with 2015. The Conservatives have moved forward in gaining constituencies and Labour had a very bad night. Conservatives are now re-entering their old rural strongholds in North East, Perthshire and South of Scotland. Labour has lost the urban working class vote to the SNP and may be losing their middle class support back to a Conservative Party that has placed itself in the ideological middle of the road. Edinburgh is divided multiple ways."

Prof Nicola McEwen (2) said,"The result confirms the polarisation of political debate on either side of the constitutional question. The Conservatives clearly gained from presenting themselves as the defenders of the Union. But these short-term gains may create long-term challenges in trying to appeal to the breadth of opinion who voted No in the independence referendum"

Prof Ailsa Henderson (3) said,"The Scottish election results show an SNP consolidation of support and a tremendous surge for the Scottish Conservatives, who capitalised on a clear message of holding the SNP to account and a popular leader. Their electoral successes suggest a return to areas of support more typical of Westminster elections in the 1980s.

"The results also confirm what has been evident for quite some time now, that if the Scottish Labour Party wishes to improve on recent results it needs to find a way to convince voters that it can stand up for Scottish interests. Opinion poll results suggest its rivals fared better because of their clear constitutional visions.

"The results are not without their challenges for the SNP, who have access to new legislative powers but with the constraint of a minority government, and the Liberal Democrats, who fared better than expected in some constituencies but lost a number of deposits.

“Across the UK the results confirm the existence of distinct political cultures, with different centres of gravity on tax, Europe and constitutional change, but perhaps not always in directions that we might have predicted in 1999."

Dr Alan Convery (4) said,“The Scottish Conservatives had an excellent night. Ruth Davidson fought a focused and disciplined campaign and it has paid off. Not only have they held on where it was tight (for instance, Ayr); they've also started to make a return to where they have been strong in the past (Eastwood and Aberdeenshire West, for instance). Having been successful in their bid to be a strong opposition, the Conservatives need to seize the opportunity to show that they have changed and can offer a distinctly Scottish centre-right alternative. If they succeed, the bigger prize of course in the longer term is the question of government."

Richard Parry (5) said,“The SNP almost received the second part of a well-earned consolation prize after the independence referendum. Their constituency vote was up on 2011. But they lost their overall majority. Was their Westminster triumph last year a tantalising high tide of 49.97% of the Scottish vote?

“The SNP vote weakened last night in the heartlands they took over from the Conservatives in the 1980s and1990s. That party, from a very low base in the Holyrood system, has started to look more like a normal European centre-right party. They have crossed from the other direction with Labour, stranded like many once-formidable European socialist machines.

“Sadly for Labour, Kezia Dugdale failed to gain the leader boost that propelled Ruth Davidson, Willie Rennie and Patrick Harvie to personal successes. It was a night for personalities and showed the potential of local campaigning. Even Labour has survived and the directions of challenge to the SNP's extraordinary run of success have been delineated."

Dr Malcolm Harvey (6) said,“'Stands Scotland where it did?' asks Shakespeare's Macduff. After yesterday's election, the answer appears to be a categorical "No". Ruth Davidson's detoxified Conservatives hoisted themselves to second, doubling their representation. Herein a dual challenge for the now-minority SNP government: a reinvigorated conservative Unionism and a centre-right opposition.

“Labour's decline was at once shocking and expected - the former hegemon in Scottish politics reliant on regional MSPs to save face. Kezia Dugdale appears set to stay on as leader, but the rebuilding work looks substantial.

“Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone will be joined by 4 more Green MSPs, including Holyrood's youngest ever parliamentarian, and may find themselves courted by the SNP for support. And the Liberal Democrats, buoyed by Willie Rennie's surprising victory in North-East Fife, held steady with 5 MSPs, surpassing all expectations.

“Though falling 2 seats short of a majority, the SNP's maintained their dominance of Scottish politics, albeit they will be required to reach out across the chamber. The more things change, the more things stay the same.”


Dr Meryl Kenny (6) said,“At the start of the Scottish Parliament election campaign, it seemed that the tide had finally turned for women’s representation in Scotland. The past two years had ushered in change not only from the top down - evidenced in the ‘female face’ of political leadership in Scotland - but also from the bottom up, through the civic awakening that had accompanied the referendum.

“Expectations for women’s representation were high in the run-up to the 2016 Holyrood elections, particularly given that both Labour and the SNP (as well as the Greens) were using strong gender quota measures.

“In the end, however, the results are disappointing - only 45 women MSPs (34.8%) have been elected to the fifth Scottish Parliament, the exact same proportion as in 2011. While the SNP’s and Labour’s use of gender quotas have made a difference, Conservative gains have meant that the overall numbers have stagnated, while in the end the Greens only returned one female MSP. The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are now a men-only parliamentary party both north and south of the border.

“Thirteen years on, the 2003 Scottish Parliament elections remain the high point of women’s representation in Scotland at all political levels (at 39.5%). We can and must do better.”

About The Experts
1) Prof Michael Keating is Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change and Professor of Politics at the University of Aberdeen.

2) Prof Nicola McEwen is Associate Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change and Professor of Territorial Politics at the University of Edinburgh

3) Prof Ailsa Henderson is a Fellow of the Centre on Constitutional Change and Professor of Political Science at the University of Edinburgh

4) Dr Alan Convery is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of Edinburgh and a Friend of the Centre on Constitutional Change. Recent articles and books include:

a. ‘The Territorial Conservative Party: Devolution and Party Change in Scotland and Wales’ (2016),

b. 'Devolution and the Limits of Tory Statecraft’ (2014)

c. 'Conservative Unionism: Prisoned in Marble' in Torrance, D. (ed.) Whatever Happened to Tory Scotland? (with Prof James Mitchell) 2012

5) Richard Parry is an Honorary Fellow of the Centre on Constitutional Change and the University of Edinburgh

6) Dr Malcolm Harvey is a Research Fellow at the Centre on Constitutional Change and the University of Aberdeen.

7) Dr Meryl Kenny is a Friend of the Centre on Constitutional Change and a Lecturer in Politics (Gender) at the University of Edinburgh.

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