Happy New Year to one and all. 2015 looks like being another historic year for politics in Scotland and the UK. The General Election is now only 112 days away, and the starting pistol, on the party campaigns has been well and truly fired with tense exchanges already taking place between the major parties. So what does it all mean? Well, first and foremost, we are entering a period of three successive years of elections in Scotland, so the political temperature is rising and will continue to do so. After the General Election this year, 2016 will see the Scottish Parliament Elections which will be promptly followed by the Scottish Council Elections in 2017. So expect all politicians to be exceptionally busy for the next few years.
Looking to Scotland first, the elections will be fiercely fought between the major parties, especially the SNP and Labour. The SNP will be aiming to capitalise on unprecedented popularity in opinion polls and its truly amazing levels of party membership. The SNP is now the UK’s third biggest party by membership following September’s referendum, and of course the Green Party has seen a surge of new members too. Nobody knows exactly what this might mean in electoral terms in Scotland, but it almost certainly means that the SNP will win more seats at Westminster than ever before. Just which party loses to the SNP is less clear, but Labour is obviously seriously worried and most commentators expect the Liberal Democrats to suffer for the party’s involvement in the Westminster coalition. That said, I think it would be foolish to write off the Lib Dems as many commentators have. Local sitting Lib Dem politicians often buck the trend and hang on despite the prevailing political winds. The Labour fight back has begun in earnest with new Scottish Leader Jim Murphy making a vigorous start to the year, with prominent announcements on investment in NHS and on the economy.
New SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has also campaigned boldly, with the SNP holding a major post referendum rally in the Hydro music venue in Glasgow in what was the largest indoor political event of its kind ever held in Scotland. The SNP is breaking records and rewriting the political book in Scotland, and the SNP bandwagon has shown no sign of slowing up yet. With the party looking to press home its current advantage in this year’s General Election. Expect lots of inter party squabbles, and lots and lots of intemperate (and perhaps exaggerated) political rhetoric. The stakes could not be higher for the SNP and Labour in Scotland, and May will see a very real ‘bare knuckle’ political fight that will run right to the wire.
The key SNP argument will be that a larger SNP group will be best placed to secure benefit for Scotland in negotiations in Westminster, while Labour will play the ‘two horse race’ card that it has used in previous elections to encourage anti-conservative voters to back it. Whether this is successful remains to be seen, but whatever happens the impact on Scottish politics will be profound. One party looking chipper going into the elections in Scotland is Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives. Thought to have had a ‘good referendum’, the Tory leader has seen poll ratings begin to climb and the old jibe about there being less Tories than Pandas in Scotland may not run past May 7th.
And what of the UK election? It is undoubtedly the most open election in modern political history. There is disquiet about the record of the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, but equally it is clear that many have been less than impressed by Labour Leader Ed Miliband. Many pundits are predicting a hung parliament. It does look like a reasonable prediction. The Polls are close and Labour should have the advantage in that its political support is spread more evenly than the Conservatives, but the lukewarm response to party leaders makes any predictions fraught with difficulty. Labour’s difficulties in Scotland could be significant as well. Was Labour to lose many seats north of the border, Ed Miliband’s task of securing a majority looks much tougher than it already is. If there is a hung parliament after the election, forming any kind of stable government at UK level could be a real challenge, and politicians may have to make some unlikely alliances. It would not be easy for Labour and the SNP to work together given how fiercely both parties have fought in recent years, but neither party will want to leave the way free for the Conservatives if the electoral arithmetic results in an evenly split House of Commons.
In terms of the key battlegrounds, the obvious areas are Glasgow and the West of Scotland and Dundee, where the SNP is very confident about ‘following through’ in areas that voted ‘Yes’ in September’s referendum. Other parts of Scotland will be much harder to predict. So what does that mean for companies involved in development in Scotland? Firstly, the signs are fairly positive so far. The Scottish Government called in a number of housing developments last week with no hint of increased sensitivity because of the General Election. So hopefully any political hiatus on decision making should be relatively short-lived and limited to the period around the election campaign proper. Of course politicians will be in election mode, so do expect increased scrutiny of decisions.
So, 2015 will be an uncertain year. The General Election is wide open, and almost anything could happen. What is certain though is that the battle will be fought furiously, and that the political landscape in Scotland will have changed again. In just over 113 days we will have a new (and perhaps different) government. Watch this space.