At 28.6% the turn-out for the Euro-elections in Scotland was not only lower than in 2004 (30.75%) but also lower than last week’s overall turn-out at an all-British level (slightly under 33%).
The turn-out reflected the level of campaigning: in the weeks leading up to 4th June there was little visible sign that elections were pending. Voters received election leaflets from – some of – the parties through the Royal Mail. And there was the occasional public meeting or street stall. Otherwise, there was very little sign of ‘traditional’ election campaigning.
The big loser in the elections was the Labour Party. Its share of the vote declined from over 26% in 2004 to just under 21%. Although this was much better than Labour’s national average of 15%, it was an appalling result in the context of Labour’s traditional domination of Scottish politics.
Unlike in England, the slump in support for Labour did not benefit the Tories. Support for the Tories (17%, compared with 28% nationally) was slightly less than in 2004. Support for the Lib Dems (11.5%) was slightly down on 2004, while support for UKIP (5%, compared with 16.5% nationally) also fell.
Nor did the BNP – assuming that many BNP voters are alienated Labour voters – capitalise on Labour’s losses. They scored 2.5% in the elections (compared with 6% at a national level), representing an increase of less than 1%.
It was the SNP which topped the poll not just in Scotland as a whole but also in most regions within Scotland. Overall, its share of the vote increased by over 9% to 29%.
In 32 council areas (the units within which votes are counted in the Euro-elections in Scotland) the SNP won more votes than any other party. By contrast, the Tories won in four council areas, and Labour and the Lib Dems in just three each.
In the context of New Labour’s record in power at Westminster, New Labour’s record out of power at Holyrood, the collapse of Labour’s control of local authorities in Scotland after the introduction of proportional representation for council elections, the scandal of Labour MPs milking the expenses system, and the disintegration of the Labour Cabinet in the run-up to polling day, a jump in support for the SNP was only to be expected.
But the jump in support was probably more than the SNP realistically expected. Its minority government at Holyrood has long since had its honeymoon period. In recent months it has faced increased criticism for its support for public sector pay ‘restraint’ and the ineffectiveness of its Scottish Futures Trust (supposedly an alternative to Private Finance Initiatives). The scandal over MPs has not left the SNP entirely unscathed either.
Whereas in England and Wales the left vote was split two ways – between No2EU and the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) – in Scotland it was split three ways, with the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) standing a full slate of candidates.
The SLP did best out of three, picking up 2% of the vote (22,135 votes). But the SLP has no more than a handful of members in Scotland. It has no visible profile, and no record of campaigning. (Given its lack of members – how could it?) Whatever the average SLP voter thought they were voting for, it’s safe to assume that it was certainly not the SLP.
(The generally accepted theory is that SLP voters think that they are voting for the Labour Party.)
The SSP and No2EU both scored more or less 0.9% of the vote, but with the SSP slightly ahead (10,404, compared with 9,693 for No2EU). Only the Jury Team did worse (0.6%), and even a totally unknown Independent (Duncan Robertson) managed to pick up 10,189 votes (also 0.9%).
No2EU might try to console itself with the thought that it came from virtually nowhere – although, in fact, it emerged from the fossilised remains of British Stalinism, with nominal support grafted on from the RMT – but still managed to contest the Euro-elections throughout mainland Britain and pick up around 1% of the vote.
Given the nature of its politics, however, it is not even clear whether it picked up support from the left or from the right. And even its few enthusiastic supporters have always made clear that it was a one-off venture for the Euro-elections. If No2EU came from nowhere, it can now return there – and with no loss to the left.
The SSP vote collapsed compared with its performance in the 2004 Euro-elections (i.e. well before the Sheridan breakaway of 2006). On the other hand, its share of the vote went up compared with the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections (if only from 0.62% to 0.94%). But the number of votes actually cast for the SSP declined from 12,731 in 2007 to 10,404 in 2009.
To its credit, though, the SSP mustered enough resources to contest the elections, and did so as part of the European Anti-Capitalist Left. Unlike No2EU, it did raise some basic socialist ideas in the course of the election campaign. But its limited resources – after the split of 2006, and the loss of all its MSPs the following year – meant that it lacked the profile needed to become a real pole of attraction.
Even if the results of the Euro-elections were not as dire in Scotland as they were in England, it has to be said that the left did badly, and, in fact, very badly. This underlines the need for the organisations of the left in Scotland to seriously address the question of left regroupment and left electoral alliances.
And given that the SSP had no problem signing up to the European Anti-Capitalist Left, it would be perverse if it were to boycott a similar initiative in Britain, i.e. a British-wide Alliance of the Left (or whatever name it might choose to go under) standing a single slate of candidates in the next Westminster elections.