There’s no getting away from the fact that the Scottish election results are heartbreaking and disappointing. Some very dear friends of mine, excellent, hard working Councillors, have lost. I’ve had a few very big sighs of relief as others managed to hold on. We now have just 70 councillors left. It’s not as bad as last year’s Scottish Parliament elections where we lost more than two thirds of our seats, but don’t let anyone tell you that there is anything remotely pleasant about it.
In East Lothian, North Ayrshire, Stirling, Midlothian and Clackmannanshire we were wiped out completely. Large groups in Fife, Perth and Kinross, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire sustained significant losses.
Here are some brief initial observations before I head out to drown my sorrows.
The scale of the losses
The papers will report that we went from 166 to 70. In fact, we only had 152 councillors, after by-election losses and defections. We did not defend all of those seats – in 14 wards where we had two councillors, we only stood one candidate this time.
The SNP stood more candidates this time
In 2007, there were some areas of the country, notably Aberdeenshire, where the SNP simply didn’t stand enough candidates under the STV system. If they’d stood two candidates then, they would have won at our expense. This is not offered up as an excuse, but it is worth mentioning that some of the losses would have happened anyway.
The Liberal Democrat group in Edinburgh was decimated. We had been the largest party with 16 seats and we’ve gone to fifth largest behind the Greens who now have six seats. The big issue was the massively over budget, delayed, curtailed new trams project. The group inherited a contractual minefield and with SNP coalition partners who were initially opposed to the trams, the challenges almost proved unsurmountable. The Liberal Democrats were the only party to show consistent leadership on the trams, but residents had had enough of disruption, uncertainty and huge great big holes in the road.
And before you own up for me, I have to mention the fact that in one non target ward, we received fewer first preferences than Prof Pongoo, a candidate dressed in a penguin suit. I am getting heartily sick of seeing him on the television, but it’s not the first time a novelty candidate has polled well. There will come a time when we start winning again and we’ll be able to laugh about it.
There are some things to take a little comfort from. The 3 seats we retained in Edinburgh were all in Mike Crockart MP’s Edinburgh West constituency, the only seat we hold in the capital. Similarly, the three wards where we stood two candidates and held them both were in held Westminster seats. Two were in Ming Campbell’s North East Fife and one in Danny Alexander’s. Our Highland Council group suffered comparatively few losses – which is positive given that we hold 3 Westminster seats in the authority area.
The shine has come off the SNP
The governing party of Scotland did not have the success it wanted, particularly in the West of Scotland. They won majority control in Dundee and Angus, and have the largest number of councillors as they did in 2007, but they failed to capture their prize, control of Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow. While they made gains, they expected to capitalise from Labour splits and to be in the position to form an administration. Labour retained majority control. It’s a sign that the shine is coming off them after they won a majority in Holyrood last year.
Rennie: This is a distressing day
Leader Willie Rennie offered his sympathy to losing candidates in a heartfelt statement this evening:
This is a very distressing day. We have lost many, many strong community activists who have stuck up for their area for many long years.
My message to them is this: I am sorry that you have lost out despite your tremendous efforts for the Liberal Democrats and for your communities.
These results should dispel any myth that the Liberal Democrats are only in the coalition for ourselves. We never were. It has always been about doing the right thing for the fortunes of the country.
Over this campaign I have helped fifty campaigns and met thousands of people. I have been listening and learning. I detected a change in the mood with people prepared to listen and consider us again. It wasn’t enough this time but I will be working to regain that trust and support.
We still have many strong Liberal Democrat Councillors who will join the rebuilding process for the party.
Scotland still needs strong liberal voices and we will continue to speak up for our strong liberal values.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings