The Scottish Parliamentary election is over and the dust is still settling. Each side is manoeuvring about mandates, and there is some spectacular hypocrisy and strategic double standards flying around. In amongst all this are some historic and positive developments. The election of the first women of colour to the Scottish Parliament, the election of the first permanent wheelchair user, and some other tremendous additions to Holyrood. Overall, this is a new parliament that has moved forward in some ways, perhaps not so much in others.
The SNP and the Greens have a majority in the parliament, and by any standards of democracy, have the mandate to enact their overlapping manifesto commitments. This of course includes an independence referendum. The Conservatives are employing some almighty, space time continuum shaking logic and hypocrisy on this. In an amazing turn of events, Conservatives arguing that the SNP cannot enact their policies because they failed to achieve over 50% of the popular vote, have now paralysed their government at Westminster. After all, their party only achieved 43% of the popular vote in 2019. Unless they’re hypocrites of course. Either way, it is an untenable position.
They also argue that “the SNP softened on indyref2 during the campaign, so they can’t act on that manifesto pledge”. Are we suggesting that only the most talked about policies of any party’s campaign can be enacted? It is untenable.
Back to some positives. I am delighted that Scottish Green co-leader Lorna Slater has won a seat. She was the standout of the campaign for me. She brings a freshness, likeability and conviction to the parliament. She is a great communicator and performed excellently in debates. She was particularly effective at explaining Green policies in a way that can convince sceptics. We will need people like that to ensure public buy-in as we take bold decisions to tackle the climate emergency.
The elections of the SNP’s Kaukab Stewart in Glasgow Kelvin and the Scottish Conservative’s Pam Gosol on the Glasgow list is bittersweet. At last, women of colour have been elected to the parliament and that is something to be celebrated and championed. But, it is scandalous, and a damning indictment, that it has taken 22 years to get to this point. The parties all could have, and should have done far more. Scottish Labour’s Pam Duncan-Glancy became the first permanent wheelchair-using MSP elected, representing Glasgow region. This is another addition to be celebrated. It has also taken too long and I look forward to Duncan-Glancy giving a much needed voice for disabled and wheelchair using people going forward. The hope is that these three trailblazers are just the start of a more representative parliament in future.
So far, the spin from both the Scottish Government and the UK Government suggests that a referendum is more likely to happen than not. The language from the likes of Michael Gove suggests that they will stop short of taking it to court, and so the phony war negotiations begin in earnest. From a strategic perspective, the SNP must engage internationally to build support for the mandate they have to hold the vote. If they do not start now and get their mandate accepted by the international community then it risks diminishment. While a referendum isn’t immediate, it needs work in that area now.
The benefits of this international engagement is that, if it yields results, it legitimises the idea of an independent Scotland. Much in the way that external voices helped give confidence to Brexit voters about future relations. The Nordic countries is the obvious starting point given the long held connections between Scotland and that region. You can do this subtly, by having them merely opine on the mandate. Accepting the premise of the question is all you need. The constitution will be put even closer under the microscope now so don’t expect things to be settled any time soon.
The Conservative results threw up an interesting proposition. Their vote share dropped 0.1% from 2016. What the Tory vote appears to show is that Ruth Davidson wasn’t actually all that important to the Tory election fortunes in Scotland. Not as much as the media liked to portray, at least. She rode the constitutional wave, as did the the less popular Douglas Ross. Yet he has achieved pretty much the same result as she did. That puts a different context through which to view the Ruth Davidson years.
We’ve got a lot more to unpack over the coming days, weeks, months and years. Settle in folks.