The polls had predicted that the Scottish National Party (SNP) would win last week’s Scottish elections—but no one anticipated the scale of Labour’s defeat.
The Scottish electoral system, combining first past the post and a list system, was carefully designed. It was supposed to make sure no party could win an absolute majority.
But the SNP now has 69 out of 129 seats and can govern Scotland alone.
First minister Alex Salmond’s first promise was to hold a referendum for independence.
He has now suggested that there will be several options giving the Scottish government more powers but falling short of full independence.
Scottish independence has never had the support of more than around 30 percent of people in the polls.
But it is the scale of Labour’s defeat that is significant. The heartlands of the Scottish working class in Glasgow and Edinburgh threw out sitting MSPs in favour of SNP candidates.
Rural areas swept aside the Liberal Democrats as punishment for their role in the Westminster government.
Labour had a disastrous campaign. Its abiding image was aptly named Labour leader Iain Gray running away from anti-cuts protesters and hiding in a Subway sandwich shop until a taxi whisked him away.
The main problem though was not the campaign.
It was the cynicism of a party that adopted crude populist positions (mandatory sentences on knife crime for example) and defended the unity of the British state. At the same time, it refused to address the central issue—the cuts.
When the SNP said it would not introduce university fees, Labour said nothing.
When the SNP promised to freeze council tax for five years, Labour promised to freeze it for two years.
And people were asked to vote Labour to strengthen party leader Ed Miliband.
While the great demonstration in London on 26 March moved some union leaders to understand that the working class is ready to resist the cuts, Labour said nothing about fighting back.
On the contrary it argued for the cuts—but tried to claim it would introduce them more slowly.
So voters turned to the nationalists of the SNP.
This is not because they all want independence, but because in areas like health and education the previous Scottish government under Salmond had introduced positive changes.
The SNP had also opposed the renewal of the Trident nuclear system and the war in Afghanistan.
The loyalty of Labour voters is not to career politicians but to a tradition of defending workers’ living conditions. That loyalty has survived betrayal after betrayal.
But when the SNP took up the social democratic mantle, however opportunistically, then Labour had to respond—or go down.
The Coalition Against Cuts headed by George Galloway, which stood on the Glasgow list, garnered 3.5 percent of the vote but did not win a seat.
The left as a whole won 35,000 votes across Scotland, compared with 120,000 for the Scottish Socialist Party in 2003.
The conclusion is clear—a fragmented left has nothing to offer a working class whose concern is fighting the cuts and making the bankers pay for their own crisis. They have turned to the SNP in the belief that it will defend them against the worst effects of the coalition’s policies.
The task for the left is to help to build united resistance to fight the cuts to come.
Voters hit Plaid Cymru
The nationalist Plaid Cymru was the real loser in the Welsh Assembly elections.
Labour made many gains, retaking Llanelli and Blaenau Gwent, and taking 30 out of 60 seats overall, leaving it one short of an overall majority.
Plaid lost four seats.
In Wales, Labour is attempting to represent itself as the anti-cuts party, and is seen by many as more credible than Plaid Cymru.