By Rab Bruce’s Spider

So what can we take from the results of the Scottish Council elections? As with so many statistics, people can read into them what they want to see, emphasising one aspect while ignoring others which might not meet their narrative. There is, though, no doubt that the SNP can rightly claim to have won the overall election, although that really isn’t the point of these local elections which really ought to be judged at a local level. Still, the SNP’s performance after so long in Government is quite remarkable, but there is, of course, one over-arching reason why they were so successful, and I’ll return to that later in this piece.

There are a couple of things to bear in mind regarding Council elections. First, turnout is usually quite low. On this occasion, it was below 50% overall, with some Council areas reporting less than 40% turnout. Whether that can be taken as providing a true reflection of voter intentions at a national level is debatable. We also know that Tory voters almost always turn out, so the Tory vote is amplified when turnout is low. It could be argued that their poor performance, losing over 60 Councillors, could perhaps have been worse if supporters of other Parties had turned out in greater numbers.

Yet, despite their losses, the Tories retain over 200 Councillors, showing that there are still plenty of people in Scotland who look at the shambles that is Westminster and think, "Yes, that’s the sort of Government we want".

And what happened to replace those 60 plus losses? Well, the split was roughly even, with around 20 additional seats going to each of the SNP, Labour and Lib Dems. Quite what we can infer from that is difficult to say, and each Party will no doubt provide their own interpretation. Overall, however, we must keep in mind that the pro-Union vote still prefers Labour and Lib Dem representation even if they can’t bring themselves to vote for the Tories who are now on the extreme Right of politics.

What I think we can say is that this does not really demonstrate a fight-back from Labour as some are claiming. They have simply benefitted from the dilution of trust in the Tories. Nor can the SNP get too excited about their successes because their overall vote share actually fell when compared to the last Council elections. In short, every Party gained from the Tory losses, but those losses were not great enough to result in a complete turn-around in the greater picture.

The other point we must remember is that the Single Transferable Vote system is designed to return a representative proportional number of candidates. Normally, this means that an overall winner in any area is unlikely. Indeed, we see that the SNP have control of 1 Council, Labour control 1, while the rest have no overall majority for any Party. In this system, the concept is that co-operation and compromise are required. In practice, I suspect we will see Labour going into coalition with either the Lib Dems or the Tories simply in order to deny power to the SNP. I strongly suspect that is what will happen in my own Council, thus meaning that the election has changed nothing except a shift in the numbers representing each Party.

One aspect of the elections was the STV system and the lack of understanding of how it operates. This was not helped by the SNP advising supporters to simply vote 1 & 2 for them, leaving other boxes blank. This is misguided advice. In my own Ward, for example, the Tory candidate was elected in Round 7 of a possible 8. If more voters had ranked her 8th, she might not have been elected at all.

As for other Parties, the Greens did quite well, but perhaps could have done better if more SNP supporters had voted them 3rd on their lists.

And what of Alba and ISP? Their performance was rather abject to say the least. Alba are, of course, are hampered by a lack of publicity in the media, and also by the media’s success in damaging Alex Salmond’s reputation with many voters. What I find most disappointing is the crowing by some SNP supporters at Alba’s failure. When the Unionist Parties are our main opponents, all pro-Indy Parties should be backing each other, and to see this acrimonious split is disappointing to say the least.

Whether Alba will ever make any impact on Scottish politics is difficult to say. They really do not feature in the thinking of most voters I know. But this brings me back to the question of why the SNP remain so successful. It is the simple fact that every election in Scotland is dominated by the constitutional question. In the minds of most voters, the SNP represent the desire for Scotland to become a normal country. This is why they win elections, gaining mandate after mandate. I fear that, sooner or later, much of that support will begin to question their own ongoing support if the SNP do not show signs of actually trying to deliver IndyRef2. If there is growing disillusion, where will those voters turn? That is possibly where Alba might begin to gain ground, but they are going to have to do much better at getting their points across to the wider public.

One thing I keep thinking is that UKIP never represented much of a threat in electoral terms, yet they pressured every Unionist Party in Westminster to veer alarmingly towards fascism. Could Alba apply similar pressure in Scotland, forcing the SNP to push harder for independence? On reflection, I think not. The reason for UKIP’s success was the media coverage and promotion, especially by the BBC. There is no chance of Alba or Alex Salmond ever benefitting from such promotion. So it will all come down to voter perceptions, and with the rancorous split between Alba and the SNP, I fear that many voters will remain hostile to the very thought of voting for Alba, or indeed any other pro-Indy Party. It is, sadly, a classic example of the UK’s "Divide and conquer" strategy. Because, unless all the pro-Indy Parties can put aside their differences, then we face an uphill struggle on the road to Normality. And I do mean all, because I’ve seen far too many hostile comments from Alba supporters towards the SNP as well.

So can we read much into the Council election results? I don’t think so. We are still in a form of stasis which will not be broken until a definite date for IndyRef2 is announced. Many fear that the polls have barely moved, but that is because most voters need a deadline date to focus their minds. They are too busy getting on with their lives and coping with the cost of living crisis to think about a referendum. But when a date is announced and all Parties begin campaigning, then we should see the polls move as the case for Normality is made and people know they must make a decision. And, quite frankly, if the Yes movement cannot make a case for normality in light of the past few years of Westminster bungling, then we won’t deserve to become a normal country.