The SNP may have led the opinion polls from day one in this campaign, but few of the candidates ever believed that they could win 56 seats out of 59. Indeed, I have difficulty believing it myself, and I counted them all in overnight. It is extremely hard to comprehend just how dramatic a change there has been in the Scottish political landscape.
It will be some time before we learn what it means for Scotland and the UK’s constitutional future. Clearly, the Nationalists are not going to have quite the clout in Westminster that they might have expected on this showing. They will not hold the balance of power. The “nightmare on Downing Street”, as the Conservative press called it, has been averted.
Scotland may have a stronger voice in Westminster, but it will not be calling the shots. The SNP may have won 56 seats, but that is still only 56 out of 650. It will be difficult to hold Westminster’s feet to the fire if they are simply ignored.
My hunch, however, is that the sheer scale of the SNP victory in Scotland will have constitutional implications. The Smith reforms are dead and Scotland will surely acquire another round of devolution.
Scottish Question Time in the Commons is going to look rather interesting. It will be 57 MPs on the opposition benches against David Mundell (surely he must be rewarded with the Scottish Secretaryship) plus tumbleweed.
It may be that there is another independence referendum as soon as 2017 when the Conservatives hold their in/out referendum on the European Union, though the mechanism for this remains obscure.
The message for Westminster should be that the UK constitution itself is past its sell by date. It is surely time for that federal reconstruction of Britain, with an elected senate replacing the House of Lords.
There should be a constitutional convention in the UK to look at this and also replacing the first past the post electoral system. Though given the conservatism of the UK political establishment I wouldn’t hold your breath.
What we can say is that this has been a remarkable generational shift in Scottish politics. The last party to win this number of votes was the old Scottish Unionist Party back in the 1950s when Scotland was Conservative country.
After Mrs Thatcher came along, Scotland abandoned the Tories and it was Labour that was winning more than 50 seats, finally eliminating the Conservatives altogether in 1997.
Now the SNP has all but wiped out Labour, and turned the map of Scotland Nationalist yellow. But it is the speed of this transformation that is so difficult to comprehend. The other shifts in voter alignment took place over decades; this has happened in only five years.
History is speeding up; and it may be that, five years from now, Scotland may no longer be part of the United Kingdom as we understand it
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