With the first 29 of Scotland’s 73 constituency seats declared, Labour lost a series of constituencies including the prized seat of Eastwood near Glasgow, which fell to the Tories after 17 years in Labour’s hands.
Ken Macintosh’s defeat in Eastwood to Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tory deputy leader, was attributed by Labour sources partly to a backlash by the constituency’s Jewish community against Labour following the bitter, public feud over alleged anti-Semitism in the party in London.
Labour endured its worst night ever in a Scottish parliamentary election. Its share of the vote was down by 9% across the 16 seats declared by 3.30am, with the Tories enjoying an 8% boost in support, leaving Labour heavily reliant on winning a substantial number of Scotland’s 56 regional list seats to ensure it remains Holyrood’s second largest party.
The SNP’s Clare Haughey won Rutherglen from Labour’s James Kelly, while Stewart McMillan took Greenock and Inverclyde, again from Labour.
The only early highlight in a dire night was victory in East Lothian, which was held by former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, and a forecast victory for Labour in Edinburgh Southern, in a rare defeat for the SNP.
Lord Jack McConnell, the former Labour first minister, appeared to concede that his party faced coming third behind the Tories, by predicting only that Labour would get an larger overall popular vote – but not win more seats.
“I would be surprised if the Conservatives are in second place in terms of overall percentage of the vote,” he said carefully, in a BBC Scotland interview.
With the SNP retaining a host of seats, beating Labour several times including losing the seat held by the deputy Labour leader, Alex Rowley, in Cowdenbeath, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the SNP, arrived at the Glasgow count to loud cheers from activists in the expectation her party would win a clear victory overall.
She insisted she was not prejudging the result, but said: “I’m enthusiastic about the challenges and massive opportunities which lie ahead.”
Yet despite seeing its vote hold up at 49%, the SNP also had significant losses. It lost North East Fife to the Scottish Lib Dems leader, Willie Rennie. The seat has been previously held by the party and was represented for 27 years at Westminster by former UK party leader Lord Menzies Campbell. “It feels fantastic to have won North East Fife back for the Liberal Democrats,” Rennie said.
The SNP is forecast to lose Edinburgh Western to the Liberal Democrats, a consequence in part of the controversy facing the suspension of SNP MP Michelle Thomson, who is under investigation for alleged financial impropriety.
The SNP failed to win Orkney, which was held with a greatly increased majority by the defending Liberal Democrat MSP, Liam McArthur, who retained the seat despite a potential backlash against the sitting Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael, for his role in the leak of a memo that wrongly alleged Sturgeon had preferred a Conservative general election victory.
The early results were also good for the Scottish Tories, who held Ayr, and are on course to winning seats in the Scottish Borders.
Carlaw said his win was down chiefly to the wide appeal of the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, who had attracted back the “meritocratic blue collar” voter who used to back the Conservatives. “I think Ruth reaches way beyond the vote that the Conservatives have been appealing to for too long,” he said.
With Labour now facing the loss of its 15 Holyrood constituency seats, the recriminations began when Thomas Docherty, the Blairite former MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, attacked Dugdale’s campaign, accusing her of taking the party too far to the left.
Docherty, who is expected to win a Holyrood seat on the Mid Scotland and Fife regional list, told BBC Scotland there was “a direct correlation” between Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and Scottish Labour’s dire performance, which he predicted could leave the party at under 20% overall.
“Someone once said that the 1983 Labour manifesto was the longest suicide note in history; well if you bring that up to date, the manifesto we stood on is self-immolation,” Docherty said.
That was rebutted by Gray. “I completely disagree with him,” Gray said. “I think Kezia Dugdale has run a courageous campaign.”
In Glasgow, there were jubilant scenes as co-conveyor of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie, and candidate Zara Kitson, both believed to have a very strong chance of winning two Glasgow list seats, arrived at the Emirates.
It was also believed that Harvie had come second in the Glasgow Kelvin constituency, where he was standing for the first time, beating Labour into third place.
The Greens, who enjoyed a fivefold increase in membership after the independence referendum, during which they campaigned for a yes vote alongside the SNP, hoped to consolidate this rise in profile and the early signs are good.
Harvie said that the influx of new activists had allowed the party to
reach voters in a way that was previously impossible.
“It’s given us the ability to run a campaign on a scale we’ve been
lacking previously. There have always been people willing to vote
Green but we weren’t getting our message to them. This time we did and if the indications are correct we’ve had our strongest ever showing.”
This article was written by Severin Carrell and Libby Brooks, for theguardian.com on Friday 6th May 2016 03.54 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010