Scottish Tories on the rise?

By Lindsay McGarvie, Director 3x1 Group

SO Scotland’s electoral hamster wheel has had another frenetic spin with yesterday’s local council vote. And just as elsewhere in the UK the big loser is the Labour Party, with the Tories the major winner.

Inevitably these local elections are expected to be an indication of how Scotland might vote in next month’s general election and a bellwether for support for Scottish independence.

As the table below shows, the SNP have emerged as by far the largest party by number of councillors, with the Scottish Conservatives romping ahead of Labour into second.

However, no single party now has control of any of Scotland’s 32 councils, meaning up and down the country there will be minority administrations.

For Labour and the SNP all eyes have been on the big prize of control of Scotland’s largest and most iconic council – Glasgow.

Glasgow City Chambers has pretty much been a Labour stronghold since 1945, often referred to as Scotland’s Kremlin.

But that vice-like Labour grip is no more as they lost overall control of the city with the SNP falling just short of an overall majority but becoming the biggest party.

With the SNP riding the crest of a clean sweep of Glasgow seats in the 2016 Holyrood and 2015 general elections, Nicola Sturgeon had hoped she could scoop up the magic number of 43 seats to be the majority party. In the end the SNP came up just four seats short.

Early in the count at Glasgow news broke that the Tories had unexpectedly taken a seat in the east end ward of Shettleston. At that point it was inevitable that Red Clydeside was coming to an end.

In nearby North Lanarkshire a Tory councillor has even been returned in Ravenscraig, where the iconic steelworks was closed in the 90s under Margaret Thatcher.

With just a month till the general election and with the Conservatives having made huge gains in the local elections south of the border, most commentators anticipated big gains for Ruth Davidson’s party across Scotland’s 32 city and town halls.

The question was, could the Tories build on their May 2016 Scottish Parliament result when they had a stunning haul of 31 seats to Labour’s 24 to become the official opposition at Holyrood?

With the dust settling on a dramatic day, the Conservatives were up 164 seats on their 2012 showing, while Labour were down an incredible 133.

While the SNP had hoped to gain councillors nationally, in fact they ended up seven seats down on 2012.

So Ms Davidson’s party appear to have won support massively at Labour’s expense, but potentially also from the Lib Dems and possibly even the SNP.

Clearly the SNP gains are not as big as they would have liked, but they emerge this evening as the largest party in half of Scotland’s 32 councils.

So the single transferable voting (STV) system has ensured no single party has overall control of any councils, and that SNP councillors will be the senior partner in potential coalitions and working arrangements the length and breadth of our towns and cities.

Additionally, STV, where a party can win a seat in a multi-member ward with not much more than 20 per cent of the vote, makes it difficult to extrapolate to the first-past-the-post Westminster voting system.

That means the big question is whether the gains the Conservatives have enjoyed this week will be replicated when we all get a chance to do it all again on 8 June, when voters in Scotland have the joy of their seventh election in just 38 months!

One thing is for sure – the General Election north of the border will be a two way fight between the SNP and Scottish Conservatives.