Labour adrift in Scotland after losing to SNP, Tories | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 06.05.2016
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Labour adrift in Scotland after losing to SNP, Tories

Scottish Nationalists have received the most votes for the third election in a row. Labour was beaten into third place by Britain's once-toxic Conservatives, Peter Geoghegan reports from Glasgow.

Bookmakers are useful political bellwethers. In the 2010 UK general elections, Labour's Willie Bain was 1-to-500 on to hold his seat in Glasgow North East. Such was the party's dominance in Scotland: A 500-euro bet would have yielded just a single euro profit.

In 2010, Bain won over 68 percent of the vote. Nobody got rich.

In May 2015, however, Bain lost his Westminster seat by almost 10,000 votes as the Scottish National Party (SNP) swept the boards, winning 56 of the 59 Scottish seats available. Of the 41 Labour MPs returned in 2010, just one held on last year.

Any hope that things could not get any worse for Labour, the party that long dominated Scottish politics, were dispelled by the results of Thursday's elections to the SNP-controlled Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

'Win every constituency'

Within less than an hour and a half of polls closing Thursday night, Labour officials were already conceding that the party would not win any Glasgow seats. By the time the final results were in, in the early hours of Friday morning, it was clear that the SNP had won a third successive election victory - and that Labour had been beaten into third place by the once-toxic Conservatives.

"We have tonight made history," the SNP's telegenic leader Nicola Sturgeon declared as the Nationalists won all nine Glasgow constituencies.

"If you had told me when I was a teenager starting out in politics that one day the SNP would win every constituency in the city of Glasgow, not just in one election but in two elections, I would scarcely have been able to believe it," Scotland's first minister said to rapturous applause from her party faithful.

The SNP topped 1 million votes for the first time, but ended the night on 63 seats, two shy of an absolute majority, owing to the vagaries of the devolved electoral system. The SNP's dominance was not reflected in the proportional regional system where the party lost 12 of its 16 seats despite picking up over 40 percent of the vote.

Labour finished the night with 24 seats, 13 down from its result in 2011. After a campaign in which Labour tacked to the left in an effort to win back voters lost to the SNP, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugale is likely to face calls to consider her future.

"This election was always going to be tough for the Scottish Labour Party just a year after a painful general election defeat," said Dugdale, who was only elected leader last summer.

Labour is still struggling to come to terms with the reality of Scottish politics in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum. Though 55 percent of Scots voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, independence remains the defining fault line of Scottish politics. Labour's vote has collapsed, particularly in former industrial heartlands in Glasgow and the West of Scotland that voted "yes" in 2014.

But Labour is not just under attack from the SNP in once-safe working-class areas. The Scottish Conservatives had, by some distance, their best election since the establishment of the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999.

Tory leader Ruth Davidson campaigned strongly against a second referendum on independence and in support of the union with England and was rewarded with 31 of the 129 seats on offer, almost doubling the Conservatives' representation in Edinburgh. Davidson hailed an "incredible result" after she unexpectedly took Edinburgh Central from the SNP by just 610 votes.

That the SNP is set to return to power after nine years in government is a remarkable achievement. The party is most likely to govern as a minority administration, as it did successfully between 2007 and 2011. As then, the SNP is likely to rely on the support of the Scottish Greens.

The pro-independence Greens had a good night, tripling their representation in parliament to six and pushing the Liberal Democrats, once a major force in Scottish politics, into fifth place. UKIP, who had hoped to poll well in Scotland amid breakthroughs in England and Wales, registered just 2 percent and won no seats.

With Scotland's main competition now between broadly center-left nationalism and center-right unionism in the form of the Conservatives, Labour is struggling for relevance. At least a third of the Labour's core support backed independence in 2014 and have switched en masse to the SNP.

Some within Labour want the party to shift further to the left in an effort to coax these erstwhile voters back. Others believe that the party should become more explicitly pro-union to stem the flow of support to the Conservatives.

One thing seems certain: Labour needs to find and articulate a position on independence - the only really important issue in Scottish politics.

During the campaign, Dugdale suggested in an interview that she might consider voting for independence if Britain were to leave the European Union, then retracted the statement. That gaffe was symptomatic of the challenge facing a Scottish Labour party that, right now, does not even know what its message is, never mind how to sell it to the hundreds of thousands of supporters who have abandoned the party that gave Scotland its devolution and, just a few short years ago, appeared impregnable.

Nobody in Scotland is betting on a Labour recovery anytime soon.

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