From elation to sadness: my mixed emotions on the Scottish results

If you had told me six months ago that we would retain 5 seats in the Scottish Parliament and win mainland constituency seats from the SNP, I’d have laughed in your face. It didn’t seem possible when polls were giving us 3% and 4% in the polls. It’s a testament to the bright, bold and ambitious campaign he’s run.

@timfarron saying congratulations to @agcolehamilton and @willie_rennie for GAINING constituency seats. pic.twitter.com/c5PxBsf53l

I’m finally home now. I might be a little more flaky than usual as I have now been awake for approaching 34.5 hours. I’m desperately trying not to go to sleep for another couple of hours so I can just go to bed for the night then. I’m not sure that’ll work.

It’s been a while since I left a count or ended an election night smiling. For most of the last 4 weeks, I’ve been helping Alex Cole-Hamilton’s campaign in Edinburgh Western. Getting Alex elected to Holyrood is something I’ve tried to do for the past 9 years. In 2007, he topped the list in Mid Scotland and Fife but our success in Dunfermline stopped him getting in. In 2011, he stood in Edinburgh Central and was 2 on the Lothians list, but the coalition made that an impossible election for us. It was at that point that he made his tweet which was immortalised in Nick Clegg’s resignation speech:

In 2011, after a night of disappointing election results for our party, one of our candidates in Edinburgh, Alex Cole-Hamilton said that if his defeat was part-payment for the ending of child detention then he accepted it with all his heart.

Those words revealed a selfless dignity which is rare in politics but common amongst Liberal Democrats.

We will never know how many lives we changed for the better because we had the courage to step up at a time of crisis.

So this time, I really wanted him to win, not least to reward the huge effort he has made in building the team around him, knocking on 25,000 doors in the constituency and running a textbook campaign.

All the signs that we were making progress were there. We were getting really good reactions on the doorstep, people were complaining we were delivering too many leaflets and we were hearing our own messages being repeated to us. I was scared to believe we could pull it off, though, especially after most of my knocking up was patchy at best.

After the first stage of the count, we counting agents were gathered round, told that we had probably won by a whisker and warned within an inch of our lives to make sure we watched the votes being counted in case any of ours got onto the wrong piles. We did this diligently even when it became clear that that the whisker was very long indeed – kicking the backside of 3000 votes.

And when the result was finally declared he found the energy to make a barnstormer of a speech:

The other result which had worried the life out of me was Willie Rennie’s. Even the party nationally wasn’t prepared to say he was in the game for North East Fife even though they freely told everyone that Edinburgh Western was a potential gain. Knowing that he’d squeaked in on the list five years ago, I had more than a slight apprehension that he might have won the war to get us noticed but not his personal battle. I needn’t have worried as he won North East Fife in some style.

We should also remember that we were told on numerous occasions by the more excitable cybernats that we were toast in the Northern Isles because of the Alistair Carmichael situation. What did the local voters think? They both got 67.4% of the vote.

The party had put out a briefing just after the close of poll that turned downplaying expectations into an art form. As I write, we’re running on a net gain of 38 councillors, something we haven’t achieved since 2008. It’s nothing compared to the losses of the coalition years, but it is in the right direction.

Thee’s bad news, though. Our team will be without Alison McInnes, who was replaced at the top of the North East list by Mike Rumbles. Most of our record in getting the SNP to change policy is her work. We also lost Jim Hume, such a strong advocate on health, particularly mental health, issues. I really don’t want to imagine Holyrood without them and they deserve our thanks.

We’re also fifth behind the Greens, which isn’t great, but a few weeks ago, the Greens were being predicted to win 11 seats, but they only won 6. If Alex hadn’t won Western, he would have taken their second list place which would have left us with 5 each. It’s a bit of a psychological blow, but not a huge one – and certainly doesn’t cancel out our winning two bits of the mainland back.

Let’s look at the wider political context. The SNP has lost its overall majority in Parliament. They might try to annex the Greens and try to boss them about but I doubt that’ll work. The problem is that it is probably still free to do what it likes because finding issues on which all the opposition parties agree is going to be challenging. They should make sure that the SNP doesn’t do what it did in the Parliament and stitch up all the committees and whip its MSPs into submission.  The Committees have been a really poor scrutineer of the SNP Government and that has to change.

The cloud hanging over Scottish politics is that we have a situation where the party of Government Scotland now has as its largest opposition David Cameron’s representative on in Scotland. If you look at the Tory literature, the one thing you will find missing on much of it is the word “Conservative”. It was all, as Alex Massie memorably said on the Big Debate today, about “Ruth, Ruth and nothing but the Ruth.” ‘Ruth Davidson for a strong opposition” screamed her leaflets. Ruth has succeeded in decoupling herself in the public’s mind from the excesses of the Tory Government south of the border. Whether she can continue to do that for any length of time is yet to be seen, especially with the EU Referendum coming up.

Scottish Labour had for once had a decent campaign with a decent leader in Kezia Dugdale, but the voters weren’t listening. At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be any appetite for yet another leadership contest (they have had 3 leaders since the 2011 election) and that is sensible as Kezia actually has a combination of intelligence, political nous and sincerity that is a huge asset to them.

Over the next few days, I’ll be looking at where the Scottish Party goes from here, but for now, I’m going to bed.

 

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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4 Comments

  • Thanks Caron,

    On a personal note I would like to pay tribute to my good friend, Jim Hume, and say how sorry I am not to see him back at Holyrood. The same thoughts go to his PA, Fiona Milne.

    Not only has he been a good, conscientious and hard working MSP – but he is a man of great personal kindness who helps his friends when they need it most.

    Very best wishes, Jim & Fiona. Lang may yer lum reek.

    From David, Sue & Charlotte.

  • Ronald Murray 7th May '16 - 8:37am

    Due to ill health only managed to give a little help to Willie. The least I have done during an election for many years but delighted at the result. Also especially pleased for Alex CH where friends helped a lot. Only five but we can do it next time. If Ruth Davidson can achieve for the Tories what she has in SCotland we can do the same. The SNP had a great opportunity to do great things but as Willie said they were timid destroyed the police and fire service. Brought in airgun legislation then made all the firearms licensing redundant, leaving beat police to everything. With the fire service nationalisation we can also lose the Fire Museum at the old Lauriston HQ. Edinburgh created the first municipal fire brigade in Britain. All this so the building can be sold like all other HQ to continue the asset stripping.

  • Alex Macfie 8th May '16 - 12:13pm

    “Alex Cole-Hamilton [in 2011] said that if his defeat was part-payment for the ending of child detention then he accepted it with all his heart.”

    That was not a sensible thing to say, because it need not have been. It validated the discredited Cleggite position that we have to choose between “being in government” and “winning elections”, when quite obviously if you don’t win elections you can’t get into government. His defeat would not have happened if we had in 2011 run a campaign that emphasised the independence of our party in the regional assemblies/parliaments from what happens at Westminster, the way the Tories seem to have done successfully in Scotland, and as Sadiq Khan has done in his London Mayoral election campaign. His defeat was NOT “part-payment” for anything we did in government: it was the result of our cult-of-Clegg Westminster-is-everything campaignign non-strategy while we were in government in Westminster. Never do this again. Fortunately it looks like we are now moving back to decentralised campaigning.

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