See-saw Scottish election goes to the wire again

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 5 May 2011 in Diary
The SNP have surged, Labour are in chaos, and the Greens want independence - Caron Lindsay assess the possible results in Scotland, which looks to be the closest of today's elections

Four years  ago , the election to the Holyrood Parliament was decided by just 48 votes in deepest Ayrshire, allowing the SNP’s Alex Salmond to form an historic minority administration.

On the face of it, this election is not going to be so close. A poll for STV suggested that Salmond’s party would win 61 of the Parliament’s 129 seats, with eight Greens for the first time forming a majority in favour of independence.  

Salmond is by far the most popular party leader. People like his affable charm and humour, but while they respect his guile, they don’t trust him. He’s come unstuck in the leaders’ debates. It’s clear he hasn’t a clue how to pay for his flagship policies, including a five year Council Tax freeze. However, it was in this week's showdown that he may have scared people a bit too much by saying that if Scotland voted for independence negotiations, they would have no further say on the final deal. A separation would be complex. How do you split the tax databases? How do you sort out seamless pension payments? Scotland would want the most favourable possible terms, but sending the SNP to negotiate them would be like sending me to negotiate having dinner with Colin Firth, or unlimited supplies of chocolate. I would need someone to just check that I was not giving away too much at any price.

Labour’s campaign has been, as Malcolm Tucker might say, an (expletive deleted) omnishambles which has cost them 10 points in the polls. From a farcical game of hide and seek with protesters to being all over the place on how much their plan to lock up anyone carrying a knife for 6 months would cost, it’s been one disaster after another. Leader Iain Gray’s lifeless performances and a campaign based on the spectre of the Tories being back have failed to inspire. It would be unwise to write them off, however. They are very good at getting their vote out on the day and differential turnout in marginal seats could make all the difference. 

To say that the Liberal Democrats have had a challenging campaign would be an understatement. The backdrop of the UK coalition, the defection of one former MSP and the endorsement of Alex Salmond (while still supporting the local Lib Dem candidate) by another led to some fraught moments. The judgement of the media has been harsh, and inconsistent. The party’s record on tuition fees north of the border is unblemished, having stopped Labour introducing them, yet it is slated for events in England it doesn’t control. At the same time, the many promises the SNP broke, like dumping student debt, barely merit a mention. However, Tavish Scott’s passionate campaign against a national police force,  favoured by the other 3 main parties has been very well received and his assured performance in last night’s final debate has won him praise. 

The Tories’ biggest asset is their leader, Annabel Goldie, who’s made it her business to suggest that she will have the next First Minister “by the short and curlies.” However, I’m not sure Scotland will want that measure of control exerted by someone who wants to reintroduce prescription charges and charge students £16,000 for their degrees while giving rich pensioners a tax cut.

The Scottish Greens have been positioning themselves as the anti-cuts party, but their left wing policies and support for independence may cause people to think twice before voting for them.

The AV Referendum in Scotland has been overshadowed by the Holyrood campaign, but the leaders of all the main parties bar Goldie are in favour. There has been a small campaign by some nationalists who favour spoiling their ballots by writing independence but I expect that Scotland will vote in favour of AV. We are used to different voting systems and know AV is nothing to fear as we use it in Council by-elections. The higher turnout caused by the Holyrood election could be very significant.

It’s the Holyrood campaign which is the nail biter, though. Those considering  voting SNP and Green today should be clear that their vote could lead to separation. We’ll see tomorrow if Scotland is ready to embrace that possibility.

Tags: Alternative vote, AV referendum, Holyrood, Scottish elections

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