Andy Wightman: Election marks welcome return to politics of hope
In the aftermath of one of the most bizarre election campaigns in living memory, the strong and stable government Theresa May wanted has been replaced by the coalition of chaos she warned of if Labour won. An election called to strengthen her mandate for EU negotiations and to overcome a divided country has instead weakened what mandate she ever had and strengthened the opposition Labour Party and its emboldened leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
Leaving the EU was always going to pose a monumental challenge but the task has now been made infinitely more difficult by exposing the rest of the EU to the incompetence, weakness and manifest stupidity of the UK Prime Minister. How is the UK to get a good deal when the person charged with securing it is now, in the words of former Chancellor, George Osborne, a “dead woman walking”? How can it get a good deal when the Prime Minister’s plans amount to little more than “Brexit means Brexit” and “no deal is better than a bad deal”? Here in Scotland, the 2015 result for the SNP was never going to be repeated, but still the scale of its 21-seat loss, including its Westminster leader Angus Robertson and former leader and First Minister Alex Salmond, came as a big shock.
Voters have returned to older voting habits driven in part by antipathy towards a second independence referendum, in part by the performance of the SNP on devolved matters and in part by a desire to directly influence whether the next UK Government is Labour or Tory.
Scottish voters have views on the EU referendum result, Scottish independence and who should form the next Government. These views played themselves out in 59 separate contests under an imperfect voting system in which tiny margins can separate winning and losing. For voters in Edinburgh, only one seat changed hands, with Edinburgh West returning to the Liberal Democrats. The result, overall, was that Scots now have political representation at Westminster that more closely reflects their views. In a democracy, that’s a good thing. But trying to make sense of why people voted the way they did is more complicated.
Certainly there was widespread tactical voting against the SNP but there was also evidence of past SNP voters voting for Labour to secure a Labour government. In contrast to 2015, this was an election where the constitutional question continued to play an important role but with a healthy return to more traditional preferences for Westminster parties. The Scottish Greens ran a tightly-focused campaign, recognising that getting Scotland its first Green MP is a long-term project and we have continued to build our support in Glasgow North under Patrick Harvie. We take comfort from Caroline Lucas’ increased majority in Brighton. Her breakthrough as a Green MP in 2010 came after many years of targeted campaigning.
Across the UK, the vote resolves very little. The terms of our future relationship with the EU are no clearer than they were on April 18 when the election was called. Scotland’s future remains just as uncertain. Although the SNP is now weaker, support for independence remains broadly as it was at the referendum in 2014.
What the election did demonstrate was that voters can tell authenticity and sincerity when they see it. Jeremy Corbyn had a good election. Calm, authoritative and likeable to a growing constituency of young people, he showed that bold proposals to support the majority of people and not just the elite are increasingly attractive following years of austerity. People can be enthused by hope for a more equal society.
Andy Wightman is a Green MSP for Lothian