Local Council elections in Scotland can be both wonderfully insightful and frustratingly ambiguous when it comes to predicting or analysing national political trends. As the dust begins to settle on the May Council Elections and the snap General Election campaign begins in earnest, it perhaps most useful to look at the responses of the different parties to the results, rather than the results themselves.
The SNP are undoubtedly the overall winners. They secured the most votes, most seats and enjoy a comfortable lead over their nearest rivals. Yet some in the party may also feel disappointed with the result. Failing to gain overall control of Glasgow City Council will be seen as missing out on conquering their ‘final frontier’ of the Scottish political landscape. Additionally, they failed to win an overall majority in many of the councils where they might have hoped to, or have done in the past.
For the Conservatives, any wins at all in Scotland are still a cause to be celebrated. What’s more, they can happily point to the huge swing of seats in their favour of evidence of not only their resurgence, but also a growing movement against the SNPs independence agenda.
This ‘mixed bag’ of results provides a blank canvas for party spinners to paint their own interpretation of the results.
This is where the problem lies for the SNP. They can be relatively confident of emerging from the General Electing campaign with the most seats and highest percentage of the vote(as with the council elections), allowing them to claim victory. However, so complete was their victory in the 2015 General Election, it will be near impossible to repeat. Without doubt they will be expected to lose some of their record breaking haul of Westminster seats, even without suffering a dramatic drop in their dominance of the overall vote. These seats will likely fall the Conservatives, and allow Ruth Davidson to claim something resembling a victory for the anti-independence voting block which she has established herself as leading.
The challenge for the SNP will not be to win the election, but effectively portray the loss of seats as still an emphatic victory, and a vote of confidence in Nicola Sturgeon’s independence plans. For Ruth Davidson, she may find it a little easier to highlight the gain of a small number of seats as a message for the SNP to back away from their referendum plans.
The Local elections can be seen not as a test run of the election itself, but as an opportunity for the different parties to test out their reactions for the 9th of June. In first past the post there can really only be one winner, but it seems that nobody has told the party spin doctors this.