The 2011 Scottish Parliament election was the first election in which I had been involved as a campaigner. Along with other Labour Students from Scottish universities, I visited numerous key marginals over the course of the campaign, lending a hand to the hardworking Labour campaigns up and down the country, looking to make narrow holds and gains in some of the tightest seats from the last election.
I ended the campaign as I started it, knocking doors in the Dalry area of Edinburgh Central. In between I’ve knocked doors between Aberdeen and Dumfries, from affluent streets in Eastwood and Dunblane to council estates in Kilmarnock.
And, as the results continue to come in, we have lost and lost badly. The good news coming in from south of the border and in Wales are no consolation for some of the staggering results we’ve seen in Scotland. The SNP have been making massive ground in our heartlands – who honestly saw Andy Kerr losing his seat, or SNP victories in Glasgow Anniesland or Shettleston? They came from a notional fourth place to win in my own constituency of Edinburgh Southern. In short, this has been an incredible night for the SNP.
But there is room for some small consolation. The hardworking campaigns in Eastwood and Dumfriesshire have been rewarded by gaining their seats from the Tories, and in most cases – particularly in the marginals – our vote has held up well even as the SNP has surged ahead thanks to the collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote. Sarah Boyack lost Edinburgh Central by a couple of hundred votes with only a 3 per cent swing, compared to the 8 or 9 per cent routinely seen elsewhere in Scotland. Lewis Macdonald in Aberdeen Central, too, kept the SNP’s majority down to just 600 votes – a 0.5 per cent swing against him – despite the SNP making massive progress elsewhere in the North East.
Whether or not the SNP win an overall majority, they have clearly received a mandate from Scotland. It will be our job for the next five years, as the leading opposition party, to keep their worst excesses in check. As for the independence referendum we will surely now have, it will fall to Labour to argue the case for maintaining the union – a case that, hopefully, we can put with more conviction than we have our case in this campaign.
We should ask ourselves, too, why we were unable to capitalise on the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote in the same way that the SNP have. What can we do to bring these disaffected voters – particularly disaffected urban voters – back into the fold? Whoever leads the Scottish Labour Party over the course of the next Parliament, whether it is Iain Gray or somebody else, will have to put the task of reconnecting with those voters, in particular, at the centre of their efforts.
On a personal note, though this has been a losing campaign for us, I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve met some wonderful people – both within the Labour Party and out on the doorstep – and seen parts of Scotland I’d otherwise never have been near. Though the result is not what I’d hoped for, the whole experience has certainly been worth the effort.