SCOTTISH politics never ceases to amaze me. For a party that has been in power for over a decade to fare so well in a semi-proportional electoral system, and in an election that has seen a remarkable rise in voter participation, absolutely blows my mind.
What is even more extraordinary is that it doesn’t come as a massive surprise: everyone, even opposition party leaders, agreed on the fact that the SNP was going to win comfortably and Nicola Sturgeon would continue to be Scotland’s First Minister for another term.
It is quite boring when you think about it. For political nerds like me, part of the thrill of following elections is that you never really know how it is going to turn out. The suspense keeps you up at night and you mobilise all your maths and spreadsheet wizardry to try to predict the outcome of the vote.
But there was none of that this time: except for a cataclysmic change of circumstances in the next few hours, the SNP is going to win the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, and by a big margin.
So, I guess this is why we needed something else to keep us interested: how big would the SNP’s victory be? Would they be able to achieve an overall majority, which is meant to be virtually impossible?
So a lot of commentators got hyped on the magical number, 65, which is the number of MSPs a party would need to be able to govern without the necessity of forming alliances. And, they believed that the difference between the SNP winning or losing would rely on whether they hit that number or not.
Obviously, winning in a country that uses the additional member system cannot be defined by getting an overall majority.
Scotland’s electoral system isn’t designed for that: its goal is to make sure there is a better representation of the diversity of opinions in the Scottish electorate.
So as far as the pro-independence (or at least pro-referendum) side of the argument is concerned, as long as there is a majority of MSPs who are going to vote for a government committed to holding an independence referendum in the next parliamentary term, then there is a mandate for a referendum. Unless you think some parties, and some votes, don’t count…
It beggars belief that this is a controversial view. It really isn’t about whether you think an independent Scotland is a good idea or not.
At the time of writing this column, the SNP has won roughly four times as many constituencies as all the other parties combined. The fact that they are even approaching an overall majority is a sign of how hegemonic they are on Scotland’s political scene. And obviously, if it was a purely first past the post election, the SNP would win an unimaginable landslide.
Perhaps that would make things clearer in the minds of some commentators, but the truth is that first past the post is an antiquated system that fails to truly and fairly reflect citizens’ views.
Not obtaining an overall majority may disappoint some SNP supporters, because that goal was so close, yet unattainable. But any attempt to downplay these results as a failure for Nicola Sturgeon should be dismissed as spin from sore losers who just want an excuse to say there is no appetite or mandate for indyref2, or an attempt to keep things spicy from pundits.
A party that is achieving nearly half of the vote on its own, and increasing its share of vote, cannot seriously be called a loser.
However, the magical “65” figure is not completely irrelevant to our considerations. If the SNP needs support to form a government, then the Scottish Greens, who are set to make unprecedented gains, could have a major role in shaping the next five years. It will be fascinating to see how they could influence policies in the next parliamentary term.