In elections for the Scottish Parliament the SNP triumphed (although with six seats less than in 2011, and two seats short of an absolute majority). The Tory vote was up by 9%, doubling its number of seats. And Labour slumped down by 8%, costing it 13 seats and pushing it into third place.
This was a remarkable achievement by the SNP. During its nine years in power at Holyrood it has imposed cuts on local authorities doubled the size of the cuts imposed on Holyrood by Westminster, slashed student places and teacher numbers in further education, and cut spending on the NHS. It has presided over increases in class sizes in schools and increasing class inequalities in levels of educational attainment, repeatedly voted with the Tories against increasing income tax rates to avoid cuts, and ditched successive commitments to scrap the council tax. Its last term of office (2011-16) was dominated by the independence referendum, in which it made a series of economic predictions now proven to be embarrassingly wrong and a promise of a sterling union which Salmond has now admitted was a non-starter.
The SNP's success like the increase in Tory support and the decline in Labour support is rooted in the fact that Scottish politics has yet to move on from referendum politics. The SNP began its election campaign by asking voters to judge us on our record (not a good idea), moved on to promising radical improvements in education (which only highlighted its failures over the past nine years), and ended up with vague promises of another referendum and independence. Flying the flag and banging a nationalist drum allowed it to retain not just its traditional support but also the support of most yes voters in the 2014 referendum. Many no voters, on the other hand, looked for the party which was loudest in its support for the Union and opposition to another referendum. Inevitably, it was the Tories, as the unabashed party of British nationalism, which fitted the bill.
In rural areas there were large-scale desertions by previous SNP voters to the Tories, as an act of opposition to another five years of referendum-mongering. Labour was squeezed between these political mobilisations based on national identities. That clash eliminated the space for Labour's attempt to move on from referendum politics and win support for some traditional social-democratic politics. This analysis is confirmed by experiences on the doorstep during the election campaign. SNP voters could not give a single example of a redistributive policy implemented by the SNP over the past nine years. And they still talked about Red Tories, despite the SNP-Tory alliance to oppose tax rises instead of cuts. SNP voters backed the SNP because it would be Stronger for Scotland, because only independence would bring any improvements to Scotland, and because Scotland had been cheated out of independence in 2014. Not infrequently, all of this was bound together by the wildest of conspiracy theories.
The results were bad news for the left electoral interventions. RISE, the successor to the Radical Independence Campaign, was beaten in Glasgow by Sheridan's Solidarity. In the North East region it was easily beaten by the Scottish National Front. And wherever they competed against each other, RISE was beaten by the Scottish Christian Party. In the Highlands, where an ex-SNP MSP topped its list, RISE could manage only 0.4%. Across Scotland as a whole it managed just 0.5%.
Although Sheridan did better than RISE, he secured nowhere near enough votes to win a seat in Holyrood. On the Glasgow regional list Solidarity scored just 1.4%. Across Scotland as a whole
it picked up only 0.6%.
The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) stood six candidates in selected constituencies, picking up 1.5% to 3% of the vote (usually between 500 and a thousand votes). But the coalition which TUSC supposedly involves was clearly absent: all TUSC candidates were Socialist Party members. In previous years the SWP has stood candidates under the TUSC banner. This time it took the position that it is impossible to call for a vote for Labour. Instead, it called for a vote for TUSC (without taking part in it), while also stressing that it is important to vote RISE or Solidarity in the regional lists.
The Scottish Labour Party right wing has pounced on Labour's poor electoral performance to demand a shift to the right. According to ex-MP Thomas Docherty, the Scottish Labour manifesto was unambiguously socialist (he clearly has a very modest concept of unambiguous socialism) and amounted to self-immolation for dummies. In fact, the cause of Scottish Labour's poor performance is rooted in the legacy of Docherty's own politics (which alienated traditional Labour voters) and ongoing illusions in the SNP as a progressive party (which owe not a little to the collapse of the far left into nationalism in the referendum campaign). Labour and trade union activists need to organise to block any attempt to push Scottish Labour to the right. And what passes itself off as the far left needs to wake up from its nationalist daydreaming, now manifesting itself in pro-Brexit campaigning, and return to a focus on class politics.