When you are beaten by a penguin in an election, you know you’ve had a bad night. Equally, when a penguin is the biggest news story of the day, you know that an election hasn’t been terribly exciting.
The story of the Scottish election, much like budget spending commitments, probably revolves around Glasgow. The SNP dreamed of an overall majority and had to endure that dream slipping from hoping for being the biggest party, through accepting Labour being the biggest party to the nightmare of yet another five years of Labour hegemony in Scotland’s largest city.
It is testament of course to the SNP’s ambition, and Labour’s lack of therein, that national election results that see the current governing party winning the most council seats in the nation as a disappointment. The SNP has overall control of Dundee and Angus, and made gains in Aberdeenshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Not too shabby for a Government forced into making cuts. Mind you, if you make an election all about one city before voting begins, don’t complain if journalists make the result all about that city even if the result doesn’t go your way.
The Tories cemented their position as Scotland’s third party and will enjoy being the kingmakers on many a council. Cue bread and butter issues, common sense politics and Ruth Davidson doing her best Annabel Goldie impression. It was far from a disaster for the new kickboxing leader, if a long way short of ‘kickass’.
Disaster is the only word that can be used for how the Lib Dems fared, dropping from 151 councillors to a lowly 71, wiped out in too many areas to mention. It is genuinely sad to see the ashen faces of those innocent souls who have lost their jobs as a direct result of the Faustian pact made by Nick Clegg and co. This is the front line of the mauling of the Liberal Democrats and there seems to be no end in sight of the resentment Scots feel for their propping up of Cameron’s government.
The flip side of this Lib Dem ‘ArmaCleggon’ is that the Greens are finding spaces to get eager bums on Council seats. Edinburgh Greens doubled in number to six, there are more Greens in Glasgow than Lib Dems and Tories combined, there’s a shiny Stirling Green in the shape of Mark Ruskell where Lib Dems were wiped out and Martin Ford returns as an Aberdeenshire councillor. A good night and an overdue foothold for a party that could yet push on from there.
So where does this leave things then?
The SNP has clearly not had the magic springboard from which it can take significant momentum into the independence referendum campaign. Given we are still 2+ years away from this referendum, I’m not entirely sure how important this is and have to wonder if this narrative was merely an angle to make an otherwise lacklustre council election more interesting.
That said, despite finishing first nationally, the strategy clearly went wrong somewhere – expecting three councillors in Govan and ending up with one doesn’t sit right and standing two councillors in Leith and only getting the more junior one in (possibly due to spelling order) is a gaffe. McVey finished ahead of Deputy Lord Provost Rob Munn and it’s very sad to not see Rob back in Edinburgh Council. Shooting for the moon and promising political earthquakes are one thing, but schoolboy errors can’t afford to be made in two years time.
For Labour, this has to be a good night for Johann Lamont. Whether the increase in Labour’s share of the vote was directly her doing or not, she has led a Labour party that has ruffled SNP feathers, if not quite rattled their cage. That, in the conext of the past few years, is clear progress. Furthermore, a Labour machine that looked like it was antiquated and running on fumes has clearly been bashed into shape and refuelled to such an extent that it got the vote out where it counted, delivering overall control at Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire councils. And Glasgow, of course.
It’s probably best to finish by reflecting on a point that the SNP is pushing hard, quite probably to move the news agenda away from the confidence-sapping, bruising defeat in Glasgow.
Mid-term elections tend to involve the public giving the governing party a kicking, that’s certainly what happened in England & Wales. Well, the SNP has governed Scotland for five years, most Scots consider Holyrood to be the primary Parliament and yet, they rewarded the SNP with more councillors than 2007 and the highest vote share.
So, a solid result for the SNP, a good night for Labour, reasons to be optimistic for the Greens, ambivalence for the Tories and penguin pie for everybody else.