Nicola Sturgeon has officially been elected First Minister by the Scottish Parliament. She defeated Willie Rennie of the Official Coalition Party. Neither Kezia Dugdale nor Ruth Davidson put themselves forward, marking the fourth election since 2007 to have only two nominations.
She was voted in 63-5, a truly monumental vote share of 92.65% – the largest of any First Minister election with more than one nominee in the Parliament’s modern history. (Alex Salmond’s bid for First Minister in 2011 was unchallenged, for obvious reasons).
Yet the fact only 68 out of 127 MSPs took part in this vote is a damning indictment of the sheer ineptitude and craven cowardice of what was touted to be a “strong opposition.” We were all so worried about a United Unionist Union banding together to truly challenge Nicola Sturgeon – but their own petty self-interests won, as only 5 people voted for Willie Rennie to become First Minister. One of whom… was Willie Rennie.
I’m blaming Neil Slorance for Rennie’s victory in North East Fife. THANKS, NEIL.
Yet even though Kezia Dugdale & Ruth Davidson’s parties relied on Willie Rennie’s party in the past – the Dewar, McLeish, and both McConnell administrations in Holyrood, and Cameron’s first term in Westminster – neither of the Coalition Party’s partners gave their votes to their erstwhile ally. How’s that for gratitude? How’s that for “collaborative” politics, rather than letting the SNP “bulldoze” their way through legislation? The SNP just “bulldozed” Nicola Sturgeon into the office of First Minister.
Imagine you were a dedicated voter of Kezia’s or Ruth’s parties. Imagine you hated the SNP: you despised them so much, you might’ve been willing to engage in tactical voting to deprive the SNP of a seat, and their crucial majority. How would you feel, seeing your party’s leaders not even attempt to stop the Nats – to not even give their leader a close contest? If you truly believe the SNP are dangerous, that they would destroy Scotland in their quest for independence, then was this landslide election not an utter dereliction of duty to that percentage of the population – one that honestly equates the SNP to some of the most terrible regimes in history?
Then all the opposition parties had the brass neck to talk about how this parliament must be based on consensus, on collaboration with other parties – most importantly, of taking responsibility. Well, forgive me if I’m being obtuse, but it’s a strange kind of “consensus” where you sit on your hands and refuse to use your vote. It’s a weird form of “collaboration” that refuses to support your former allies in Holyrood and in the referendum campaign. It’s certainly an eccentric definition of “strong opposition” to simply allow Nicola Sturgeon to be practically handed the post of First Minister.
It is obvious why things happened the way they did today. In the first four First Minister elections, there were always at least four candidates for First Minister. In 1999, 2000, and 2001, the two Scottish Executive parties voted for the Other Party’s leader; the SNP always voted for their leader; the UK Government Party always voted for theirs. Things got fun in 2003, where no less than seven candidates put themselves forward.
In 2007, that all changed: 49 voted for Alex Salmond, and 46 voted for Jack McConnell. We can presume that the 46 for Mr McConnell came from his own MSPs, of which there were… 46. But the SNP only had 47 MSPs: those 2 extra votes, oddly enough, came from the Greens – Robin Harper and Patrick Harvie.
The SNP has struck a deal with the Scottish Greens over working together in the new Scottish Parliament.
But the move will be a looser agreement than the one first floated, after the Greens expressed concern about the Nationalist transport policy.
The move will ensure the Greens vote for SNP leader Alex Salmond as first minister and support his appointments.
Evidently there was no deal this time around. I didn’t expect the Greens to vote for Nicola this time, given they didn’t the last time – but it would’ve been nice to help cement the Yes Alliance for all the pro-independence parties to support each other.
Nonetheless, the exact same could have been said for the pro-Union parties. The Unionist parties warned against the horrible danger the SNP posed, and fought to prevent the SNP from even proposing a referendum on Scottish independence – but not one of the 17 UK and 16 Coalition party members bothered to actually vote Jack McConnell back in as First Minister in the interests of stopping Alex Salmond. They didn’t even try when the SNP got their first majority in 2011 – not even a token candidate from the Other Party.
And so the pattern persisted. In 2014, after Alex Salmond resigned, only one other candidate dared to challenge Nicola Sturgeon – Ruth Davidson, back when her party seemed doomed to electoral irrelevance in Scotland. And once again, the pro-union parties failed to back each other up: Nicola Sturgeon was elected 66-15. The 5 Coalition Party MSPs, still reaping the whirlwind of their party’s ruinous mistake in 2010, didn’t back their Westminster partners. Nor did the 38 Other Party MSPs choose to vote for the only pro-Union candidate, preferring to sit on their hands than dare be seen to be voting for Ruth Davidson.
It happened again today.Ruth Davidson may have declined to put herself forward, citing her manifesto commitment to being a “strong opposition” to the SNP in her speech – which is manifestly absurd. It’s much easier to oppose the SNP when you have a majority, after all – though it might’ve been a case of the mask slipping as the parties keep forgetting not to let the public in on their wee secret.
Yet even if she had the notion, she couldn’t throw down the gauntlet: after the media proclaimed her the New Saviour of the Union who would hold the SNP to account, they couldn’t exactly have her receive less than half of Nicola Sturgeon’s votes, could they? It might undermine the notion that her party is experiencing a renaissance, or strengthen the SNP’s claim of a mandate. As the “Leader of the Opposition,” she will need all the protection she can get to prepare for the coming years. Nor could Kezia Dugdale, given it’s questionable whether she’ll last until the next election as Scottish Leader at all. No, only Rennie could be sacrificed to the spirits of naked political expediency – and a paltry offering it was.
So, here we are. A “strong opposition” that’s perfectly eager to gang up together to sabotage the single most popular party in the Scottish Parliament, but can’t bring themselves to support each other in their individual goals. Voting down the Scottish government in areas like Local Income Tax, minimum pricing for alcohol, the infamous Edinburgh Trams Fiasco, and of course holding a referendum on independence – the opposition parties all lined up to stick it to the SNP. But to vote for one of their allies, rather than let their hated Nationalist foe become First Minister, was a step too far. Anyone with even a germ of a backbone is clipped before they get too tall – just ask Wendy Alexander, or Robin Cook. They’re willing to unite if it means damaging the SNP – but not to the point that they would suffer one of their allies rising to the top. Not to the point where they would have to account for themselves. Not to the point of taking responsibility for their decisions.
Perhaps the next time parties talk about how they have to “work together,” “co-operate,” and come to a “consensus,” they should take their own advice. Instead of a whole lot of empty words and meaningless posturing, it would be refreshing to see those sentiments enacted in deeds. Five years is a long time – but it seems the opposition haven’t learned a thing from the previous ten.