Friday, 6 May 2011

Holyrood Elections 2011: Renfrewshire Results

There are some huge stories waiting to be told about last night's Holyrood election drama. In fact, the overall result (as yet to be confirmed) is so incredible, so utterly unpredictable and so far-reaching in its potential ramifications, that in the next few days I will be reflecting on what it means for the Liberal Democrats, Labour, the SNP and Scottish democracy as a whole. It is surely not only a stunning victory for the SNP (the scale of which went against even the most expert of opinions) but evidence of the folly of designing an electoral system with the explicit intention of preventing an SNP majority administration.

I will inevitably be providing my views on the national picture when the dust settles, but for the time being I think it's sufficient to concentrate on the local results in Renfrewshire.

As Liberal Democrat candidate for Renfrewshire North and West, my chances were - to put it moderately - rather limited. I noticed early on in the election that the bookies had Labour candidate, Stuart Clark, as a dead cert for becoming the next MSP with odds of 1/66. The SNP's Derek MacKay's chances were, apparently, 25/1. This is something I picked up on in hustings meetings and when speaking to voters: elections in Renfrewshire consist of weeks of campaigning, polling day, the count and the Labour candidate being declared the winner. It's the kind of constituency in which the proverbial monkey would normally be elected if wearing a red rosette. This is what's wrong with our voting system, I argued - it doesn't matter how good the likes of me or Derek MacKay might be, the odds are always stacked against us. Wouldn't it be good if we could get a surprise result in Renfrewshire?

Despite my expectations of a Labour victory, I'm delighted to be proved wrong. Firstly, this is a huge blow to the type of arrogance that saw Labour treat our local constituencies as its personal fiefdoms. Labour's sense of entitlement and complacency were punished last night and I must confess to being moderately amused to see Douglas Alexander admitting he's "had happier nights". I suspect the SNP haven't. Secondly, Derek MacKay is a thoroughly decent man who deserved to win: he is not only an impressive figure but a deeply human person who I am sure will be a huge asset to both Renfrewshire and the Scottish Parliament.

From a Liberal Democrat viewpoint, I'm not going to suggest that the result doesn't hurt. It does. Hugely. I put a lot of effort into this campaign and while I had no expectations of victory I had anticipated a more respectable level of support. With a very small team (we were a man and a dog, and most of the time the dog was chasing me) campaigning was often a lonely experience but the scale of the loss is not easy to accept. It's galling to know that so many of our talented and capable MSPs have lost their seats - the loss of people of Robert Brown's and Ross Finnie's calibre is not only devastating for our party but removes some of the most articulate spokespeople for Scottish democracy from Holyrood. It's tough to come to terms with the position in which our party finds itself; even Labour's astonishing meltdown provides little comfort. But the greatest personal disappointment is to see our positive campaigning locally go so completely unrewarded.

I know my friends Eileen McCartin (Paisley) and Gordon Anderson (Renfrewshire South) deserved better from their respective campaigns. Eileen is a particularly experienced local politician with a reasonable personal vote but even that collapsed as many of our voters deserted us for the SNP. Gordon's relentless energy and determination merited a better outcome. Obviously there are a number of factors influencing the result but my initial feelings are of deflation and disappointment as strong local candidates who have consistently stood up for liberal values suffer for decisions made in another parliament.

But let's not forget this was the SNP's night. They put in a stunning performance here to gain not just one Renfrewshire seat but two. Rather than simply reflect on our own difficulties, it's right I should offer Derek and George my congratulations and my best wishes for the future.

The results from Renfrewshire:

Renfrewshire North and West:
Derek Mackay (SNP) 11510
Stuart Clark (Labour) 9946
Annabel Goldie (Conservative) 5489
Andrew Page (Liberal Democrats) 550

Renfrewshire South:
Hugh Henry (Labour) 12933
Andrew Doig (SNP) 10356
Alistair Campbell (Conservative) 2917
Gordon Anderson (Liberal Democrats) 702

George Adam (SNP) 10913
Evan Williams (Labour) 10665
Gordon McCaskill (Conservative) 2229
Eileen McCartin (Liberal Democrats) 1783

My speech following the declaration (it's always a tough thing following Annabel Goldie):

To paraphrase Harold Macmillan, there is a wind of change sweeping across our nation whether some of us like it or not.

I'm absolutely speechless - and I'm sure some of you would prefer it if I remained that way. But there are some points I would like to make.

I would like to praise the positivity of our candidates in this election. It's also good that nationally most of the parties have sent out a positive message. I'm naturally a positive person, which is why I look forward to developing a positive relationship with our new MSP.

I don't know what the final outcome of this election will be. But I know what I want it to be. I hope it will be a victory for the people of Scotland, who will get the government, parliament and local MSPs they deserve.

As I'm sure Derek MacKay knows, MSPs belong to the people - not the people to the MSP. I can guarantee that as a Liberal Democrat activist I will continue play my part to ensure our MSP acts in the interests of local people on key issues.

MSPs come and go. Leaders come and go. Elections are won and lost. And while there may be those who think otherwise, I know that this great liberal movement of ours will continue to play a dynamic role in shaping Scotland's political future. Of that I am utterly confident.

I would like to thank my friends and my wife for the support they have offered me throughout this campaign and offer my congratulations to Derek MacKay.

As for the many SNP members and supporters who felt my talent could be more effectively utilised within their party: many thanks for your encouragement and compliments, but I'd prefer remain a critical friend, stay put and help move the Liberal Democrats forward.

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