Scottish elections: Salmond hails ‘historic’ victory for SNP

Alex Salmond leads party to series of dramatic victories over Labour and Lib Dems, taking it to brink of overall majority in Scottish parliament

Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent
SNP leader Alex Salmond hails his party’s performance, and says the days of Labour dominance in central Scotland are ‘gone forever’ Link to this video
Alex Salmond will hold a historic referendum on independence for Scotland after a rout of Labour and the Liberal Democrats put the Scottish National party on the brink of an overall Holyrood majority.
After a series of dramatic victories over Labour and a collapse in the Lib Dem vote, the SNP leader saw a landslide for his party put him on course to win the largest number of seats ever won in the Scottish parliament – perhaps 60 of the Scottish parliament’s 129 seats – leaving him in command at Holyrood.
After a night of extraordinary defeats for some of Labour’s best-known figures and a near defeat for the Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray, Salmond declared he would stage an independence referendum within five years.
Jubilant at the “historic” scale of the SNP’s victories, Salmond said he would first demand much greater economic freedom for the Scottish parliament, including the right to set its own corporation tax and increase borrowing powers to £5bn. Then he would hold his referendum.
“Just as the Scottish people have restored trust in us, we must trust the people as well,” he declared. “Which is why, in this term of the parliament, we will bring forward a referendum and trust the people on Scotland’s own constitutional future.”
The scale and extent of the SNP’s victories was wholly unexpected. Labour endured its worst election in Scotland for 80 years, losing a dozen seats including nine MSPs who have been at Holyrood since the parliament was formed in 1999.
No party has ever held an overall majority in the Scottish parliament. Salmond had expected to form a minority government, and had hoped to match the previous record of 56 seats won by Labour under Donald Dewar in 1999.
However, SNP officials played down predictions that the party could win an overall majority of more than 65 seats, estimating that it was much more likely to win closer to 60 seats because of the mixed electoral system used at Holyrood.
One senior aide to Salmond said the unexpected number of SNP victories in constituency seats made it much harder for the party to get extra seats on the eight regional lists.
The additional member system for Holyrood is designed to ensure that minority parties – those that fail to win constituency seats – share the 56 list seats to ensure they are equally represented.
Asked about predictions by John Curtice, of Strathclyde university, that the SNP was on course to win 68 seats, he said: “I would very much caution against that. Bear in mind this is a system designed specifically for that not to be the outcome.
It’s a bit like driving up a hill – the incline gets steeper and steeper the higher you go. It’s about diminishing returns.”
There were too many regional lists yet to declare for the SNP to be confident of winning more than 60 seats at present, he said, adding: “If we were to win 60 seats, that would be a phenomenally good result, and by far and away the strongest mandate that any government has secured in Scotland.”
John Swinney, the SNP’s finance secretary and a former party leader, also refused to predict an overall majority but said: “People have supported us in astonishing numbers across the country.”
Curtice said the SNP had managed to “appeal to a vast swath of Scotland” and holding a referendum – an election pledge Salmond was unable to deliver on in his first term as first minister – was now a reality.
“The referendum might now be a real issue for the future of Scottish politics, instead of being an area of theological dispute,” he said.
Despite the scale of the SNP’s victory, the party has still failed to push support for independence above 30%. Significant legal arguments about Holyrood’s doubtful constitutional authority to hold a referendum also remain.
Salmond has insisted the referendum will be “indicative” and not legally binding, but will hope the commanding position his party now has at Holryood could see popular support increase dramatically by the time he stages the referendum in 2014 or 2015.
The former Respect MP George Galloway failed to win a seat at Holyrood after attracting only 3.5% of the regional list votes in Glasgow, confounding predictions he would be elected.
With 60 of the 73 constituencies and three out of eight regions declared, the Lib Dems saw a near-total collapse in their vote across Scotland, losing seven seats and seeing a sharply reduced majority in Shetland for its leader, Tavish Scott, who had held the safest seat in Scotland.
Scott’s future as the Scottish party leader is now in doubt.
The SNP was the only beneficiary of the Lib Dem collapse – the nationalists’ vote rose across Scotland in proportion to the fall in Lib Dem support, delivering them 21 gains by 8.30am and a total of 46 seats. Salmond held his seat with 64% of the vote.
The traditional political map of Scotland has been transformed after the SNP won constituencies in Glasgow once regarded as impregnable Labour seats and, for the first time, won Holyrood seats in the capital, Edinburgh. The party defeated the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour, taking five out of six seats in the city.
Losing Labour MSPs included Andy Kerr, the former health minister credited with introducing Scotland’s smoking ban and a future leadership contender, the former ministers Frank McAveety and Tom McCabe and six prominent women MSPs.
The UK Labour party leader, Ed Miliband, said Labour had to “reassess” its policies and position in Scotland.


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