The dust is settling from last week’s local government elections, and it’s clear that they delivered very good results for the two largest pro-independence parties with both the SNP and the Greens gaining seats. Although the Labour party has been excitedly hailing its great success, the truth is that they did not gain as many council seats as the SNP . Labour gained 20 seats whereas the SNP gained 22. However it’s understandable that Labour in Scotland is going to be euphoric as this is the first election since 2014 which has not been an utter humiliation for the branch office.
Without a doubt the big losers in this election were the Scottish Tories. The apologists for Johnson’s lies and law-breaking suffered the loss of 62 council seats and saw their share of first preference votes plummet from the 25.3% they won in 2017 to just 19.6%. Labour have now overtaken the Tories as the second largest party, both in terms of seats won, Labour is on 282 compared to the Tories’ 214, and in terms of percentage share of first preference votes, Labour is on 21.7% , comfortably beating the Conservatives.
The SNP took 34.1% of first preference votes, up from the 32.3% it won in 2017, and with 453 councillors it remains by some considerable margin the dominant force in Scottish politics. This is now the SNP’s 11th election victory in a row.
Meanwhile the Scottish Greens also did well, gaining 16 council seats to take them to 35, and increasing their share of first preference votes from 4.1% to 6%. Between the Greens and the SNP, this was without a doubt, a positive election for hopes of independence and a vindication of last May’s Holyrood election which delivered an unarguable and unconditional mandate for a second independence referendum.
Since both the pro-independence parties which contested the 2017 elections improved on their previous performances, it is not possible for the anti-independence parties to use this election to claim that support for independence is in decline and to try and weaponise the council election results in order to give a fig leaf of legitimacy to their anti-democratic attempts to avoid that second independence referendum which they so obviously dread. We can be quite certain that if the SNP had suffered a net loss of seats and a decline in its share of first preference votes, the anti-independence parties would be shouting from the rooftops that this meant the steam was going out of the desire for independence and that Scotland had voted against another independence referendum. They would have done this irrespective of whether the other pro-independence parties had gained or lost.
Of course since the SNP and Greens did well, the apologists for British nationalism had had to retreat to their fall- back positions, firstly by claiming that voters were motivated by party gate and local issues and this election really had nothing to do with independence at all, and secondly by totting up the share of first preference votes for the anti-independence parties to claim that this means there is an anti-independence majority in this election that they have just told us was about partygate and local issues and not about independence at all. But then self-serving double standards and exceptionalism are defining features of British nationalism.
The already cast iron case for a second referendum was given a further boost on the Sunday after the election with the publication of a Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times which found that 24% of voters in Scotland favour a second independence referendum within the next 12 months, and a further 31% want one within the next two to five years. This means that 55% of voters in Scotland want a second independence referendum within the preferred timescale of the Scottish Government, which wants another referendum by the end of 2023.
It’s not just in Scotland that these elections proved that the Union flag jaiket so beloved by Ian Murray is on a shoogly peg. In Northern Ireland, where there were elections to the Northern Irish Assembly, Sinn Fein became the largest party at Stormont, ousting the DUP. Under the power sharing deal which underpins the Good Friday Agreement, this means that for the first time ever the First Minister of Northern Ireland will come from a republican party and the DUP will have to content themselves with the position of Deputy First Minister. Sinn Fein wishes to hold a border poll on Irish reunification, a desire which is greatly strengthened by their election victory.
The DUP is already in full on pettit lip mode, threatening to refuse to go into government until the British Government rescinds the Northern Irish Protocol which guarantees no customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the island at the expense of imposing them on ferry crossings between Northern Ireland and Britain. The DUP was enthusiastic about Brexit because they hoped it would crash the Good Friday agreement and scupper any hopes of Irish unification. Instead Brexit has crashed the DUP and scuppered Unionism in both Northern Ireland and Scotland. Hell slap it intae them, as thousands of Scottish and Irish mammies would say.
Boris Johnson’s already shaky grasp on leadership has been further weakened by Tory losses in this election. The Tories now see that Johnson is an electoral liability and are ruthless when it comes to ditching leaders who cannot guarantee the power that the see as their entitlement. However in Scotland it’s Douglas Ross who has cause to be nervous. His pathetic and spineless flip flopping over Johnson’s manifest unsuitability for office and his inability to have any meaningful influence within the UK Conservatives have shown that he is indeed the lightweight that Jacob Rees Mogg dismissed him as being.
Meanwhile across the UK Labour has shown that it still cannot be certain of defeating the Tories at the next Westminster election. Starmer now has his own issues with allegations of breaches of lockdown rules, which makes the party’s task more difficult. Although Labour made some eye-catching gains in London, they failed to make the progress they need in the English north and Midlands. If the Tories do indeed ditch Johnson, Labour will struggle badly in the next UK General Election. This is a calculation which will occupy Tory minds over the coming weeks.
For Scotland, this underlines that the only way to guarantee a future free from the malign rule of the Anglo-British nationalist Conservatives who will continue to undermine and assail the devolution settlement is with independence. These elections have brought the demise of the UK one step closer.
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