John McLellan: The SNP tidal wave hits

Hannah Bardell celebrates with her team after winning Linlithgow and East Falkirk. Pic: Neil Hanna
Hannah Bardell celebrates with her team after winning Linlithgow and East Falkirk. Pic: Neil Hanna
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Was there a problem with a postal votes? Or what about rumours of difficulties in Moredun? And why are police officers escorting boxes into the South count? It wouldn’t be an Edinburgh election without some sort of drama. It turned out that fears about electoral fraud by people allegedly impersonating other voters was at the heart of the problem at the first-ever general election count at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

But it was only a minor flurry of activity and with the notable exception of Edinburgh South, the delay did not get in the way of what was from very early on looking like the same SNP procession as was rolling out across the rest of the country.

The long queue of party supporters waiting to enter the EICC at 10pm was dominated by those wearing yellow and black rosettes and inside the centre, most of them also wore barely-concealed smiles, confident that the tidal wave of votes would soon be washing their way. And as the first papers arrived around 11pm, they were not to be disappointed. SNP activists eagerly scribbled down the tallies, the space next to their logo on their counting sheets soon filling up with little gates while next to the Labour logo too often were there white spaces. For the Tories and Lib Dems it was even worse.

But in Edinburgh South, tactical voting by Tories kept Labour’s Ian Murray very much in the hunt, an astonishing 20 per cent of the Conservative vote switching to Labour by some well-informed estimates. It was the same story in Edinburgh West, where Lindsay Paterson’s vote was undercut by Tories trying to shore up the Lib Dems’ Mike Crockart.

As the night wore on, the nods and winks on the faces of SNP supporters turned to broadening grins as it became obvious that something very big was happening. Confirmation came with the rout of Cathy Jamieson in Kilmarnock. What a different atmosphere there was to the referendum count at Ingliston, where the Nationalists were easy to spot by their furrowed brows and gaping mouths.

Now it was the turn of Labour people; there would be no fist-pumping tonight as the scale of their defeat locally and nationally began to unfold. At the start of the night, Labour spin doctors were keen to promote a message of optimism, but by 2am, as talk of Jim Murphy’s defeat began to circulate, there was precious little positive to push.

Even with hours to go before the first Edinburgh declarations, Deidre Brock, Tommy Sheppard, Michelle Thomson and Joanna Cherry could polish their acceptance speeches. Only Neil Hay in South didn’t know what the future held.

And as the televisions round the EICC relayed news of the Labour failure across the UK, conversations moved to guessing what will happen with a stronger Conservative administration than anyone predicted and an overwhelming SNP dominance of Scotland.

It wasn’t just Neil Hay who didn’t know what was going to happen, but I’ll bet on one thing; for all Alex Salmond’s early bluster about illegitimacy, the Tories and SNP will talk.