Sunday, May 15, 2011

Elections punish Lib-Dems, boost Scottish independence


Voting across Britain on May 5 resulted in a rejection of changes to the electoral system, but election results in Scotland may herald the end of Britain as we know it.

The referendum on introducing an “Alternative Vote” voting system (much like the preferential voting system in Australia) to replace the current “First Past The Post” system was decisively defeated. With a turnout of only 42%, 67.87% voted against the change.


In council elections held on the same day across England, the Labour party was the biggest winner, achieving a 10% swing to take 37% of the popular vote and pick up 857 new councillors.


Labour’s gains were particularly strong in the north, where its traditional heartland is suffering the brunt of the Conservative Party-dominated government’s austerity drive.


Despite presiding over the austerity measures, the Conservative vote actually increased slightly to 38%. The bulk of Labour's swing came from the Liberal Democrats.


The Liberal Democrats, who are in coalition government with the Conservatives, dropped 9% to 17% overall, and lost 748 local councillors.


In the Welsh National Assembly elections, Labour gained four seats to move to just one seat short of an overall majority, while the Welsh left-nationalist party Plaid Cymru lost four. The Conservatives scored a modest gain of two seats, while the Liberal Democrats also lost a seat.


In the Northern Ireland Assembly, support strengthened for the two main parties in the power-sharing coalition, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein.


Sinn Fein, with 26.9%, increased its seats in the assembly members by one to 29 and the DUP won 30%, increasing their representation by two to 38 seats.

The Ulster Unionist Party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party both lost two seats each, continuing their apparently terminal decline.


Standing for the left-wing People Before Profit Alliance, the long-term Irish civil rights activist Eamonn McCann received 3120 votes (8.3%) — just 19 votes short of winning a seat.


However, the result in elections to the Scottish Parliament were the most remarkable.


The incumbent Scottish National Party (SNP), standing on a pro-independence, anti-cuts platform and with a number of policies to the left of Labour, won an absolute majority in the 129 seat Holyrood Parliament for the first time since its creation in 1999.


The SNP won 45.4% and 69 seats, while Labour dropped 7 seats to 37, and the Conservatives were down by five seats to 15. Support for the Liberal Democrats collapsed, leaving them with only five seats, while the Scottish Greens picked up one seat to double their representation to two seats.


The SNP also won a majority in Edinburgh and Glasgow for the first time, taking seats off all the major parties.


Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray retained his seat by a mere 151 votes, and stepped down from the leadership after the election.


The SNP result places the question of independence firmly at the foreground of Scottish politics.


SNP leader Alex Salmond has claimed the “moral right” to call an independence referendum within the next five years. But he is unlikely to do so for some time, as recent polls show only about 35% of Scots currently support independence.


A further hurdle is that the constitutional right to call a referendum — and decide the wording — rests with the British government in Westminster. Prime Minister David Cameron is on record as being strongly opposed to independence.


There is rising speculation that Salmond may push for a third, compromise, option on a future referendum ballot paper — a Scotland with greater financial autonomy within Britain, but without control over military and foreign affairs.

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