Scottish election 2021: SNP set to win today but it’s a victory of style over substance – John McLellan

Voting in the Scottish Parliament election will be well under way by the time most of you see this column and whether my prose is purple or otherwise it’s unlikely to make much difference at this stage to the way you cast your vote. Or if you vote at all.

By John McLellan
Thursday, 6th May 2021, 7:00 am

Perhaps one or two might read to the end just to see if a Conservative councillor concludes that, on balance, you shouldn’t vote Tory, but the chances of that happening are the same as reading SNP candidate Angus Robertson’s column to see if he confesses that a super-majority for independence is the best way to impose super-austerity on the Scottish population for decades. Ain’t happening, folks.

Nonetheless, this has been a disappointing election and the opposition parties must shoulder some of the blame for not being able to whip up the winds of change, with poll after poll showing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon need not trouble the removal men despite an indefensible record of underachievement in education, health and social care.

That change is needed is unquestioned, not division on the SNP’s economically duplicitous terms but towards a positive relationship within the UK which ends the bickering and constant negativity to deliver real progress.

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The sense of a foregone conclusion and the promise of another five angry years on top of pandemic exhaustion is likely to produce another low turn-out in an unenviable history of disengagement, starting with the 1999 election for the first Scottish parliament in 300 years which so captured the imagination that 41 per cent of voters didn’t bother.

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Turnout has been miserable ever since (49.4 in 2003, 51.8 in 2007, 50.4 in 2011 and 55.6 in 2016) and with the prospect of little but bitter argument about an independence referendum the majority do not want any time soon, this time will be no different.

The polls show a consistent fall in support for independence, so with half the electorate set to stay away, even a clear majority of independence-supporting MSPs is no endorsement for another referendum.

The SNP has played the personality card throughout the election campaign, says John McLellan (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)

Although there is more likelihood of me being called up for the British Lions today than the SNP not being the biggest party, five polls this week predicted anything between six seats over or under a majority. With the bookies giving a majority even odds, there’s still plenty at stake.

The SNP has played the personality card throughout and adverts showing the First Minister’s daily Covid briefing lectern represents the triumph of style over substance which has given them such a commanding lead – credited with a more assured handling of the pandemic while presiding over a death toll as bad as anywhere in the UK, regarded as empathetic while Europe’s worst drug death toll is “taking our eye off the ball”, and asking to be judged on an education record which has deteriorated.

With the prospect of a minority administration whose strings will be pulled by the Greens, honouring an impossibly bloated and uncosted manifesto, and papering over the widening fissures in the independence prospectus over currency and borders, if the First Minister appears tetchy now, what will she be like in five years’ time?

One way or another there has to be a better way forward for Scotland, but the party set to win today isn’t offering it.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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