Alex Salmond’s dilemma

Does the election result in Scotland threaten the Union?

That Alex Salmond "bestrides the Scottish political world like a colossus", as the novelist and historian Allan Massie puts it in the Times this morning (£), is indisputable. Massie describes Thursday's elections for the devolved Scottish parliament, in which the Scottish National Party won a clear majority, the "most extraordinary" in his lifetime.

Indeed, he goes so far as to say that the Union looks "far shakier" today than it did a fortnight ago. Yet the implications of the SNP victory (and the routing of Scottish Labour in seats it previously regarded as safe) are nevertheless ambiguous.

Massie reminds us that the election was, in effect, a referendum on Salmond's leadership (and the SNP ran an unabashedly presidential campaign that left the hapless Labour leader, Iain Gray, without a prayer), not on independence. Salmond's dilemma is this: "He is on top of the Scottish political world, yet opinion polls consistently show that only about a third of Scots want independence."

Salmond has a delicate calculation to make, therefore, though some of his colleagues clearly see the result as a mandate for a referendum on independence in the near future. The SNP justice minister, Kenny McAskill, declared in his victory speech in Edinburgh East that: "It is time for Scotland to take responsibility and become a nation once again." Salmond, though, is too canny a politician not to recognise the seductions of hubris.

But whatever timetable for a referendum the SNP ultimately decides upon, the election in Scotland has merely emphasised something that we knew already: the United Kingdom's constitutional settlement is a botched job. Shortly after the formation of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government last year, David Runciman wrote an excellent piece in the London Review of Books mulling the likely consequences of an election in which Labour had lost England to the Conservatives but held its end up in Scotland.

"What no coalition of any stripe can change," Runciman wrote, "is the underlying reality of the situation: at present Labour can only govern England from Scotland, and the Tories can only govern Scotland from England."

The question we now have to ask, as Salmond luxuriates in an overall majority in the devolved parliament north of the border, is whether, at the next general election, Labour will be capable even of doing that. "The one result that could have signalled the end of the United Kingdom", Runciman argued, was "if Tory dominance in England had been matched by SNP dominance in Scotland, leading to a deal on independence which would have squeezed Labour out in both". The outcome of the Scottish election might just have made such a result in 2015 more likely.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Labour on course to remain the largest party in Wales

Despite a shock victory for Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, Welsh Labour will be able to govern without a coalition.

Labour have posted good results in Wales, where the party remains on course to be the controlling force in the Welsh Assembly.

At the time of writing, Carwyn Jones’ party has 24 of the 40 constituency seats, with Plaid Cymru a distant second on 6 and the Conservatives on 5. Among Labour’s notable holds was Gower, which the party lost narrowly at a Westminster level in the 2015 general election by just 27 votes.

There was a surprise victory for Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood in Rhondda, where she defeated Labour cabinet member Leighton Andrews with a swing of 24 per cent. Speaking about the result, a spokesperson for Welsh Labour said:

“The Rhondda result is a really tough for us – we’ve lost a great Minister and one of the most respected politicians in Wales. Clearly the huge national profile afforded to Leanne Wood has had an impact, and Plaid seem to have won this seat at the cost of making progress anywhere else in Wales.

“The other results so far have been good. In particular where we are fighting the Tories it shows the local campaigns have been successful.”

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams held on to her seat in Brecon and Radnorshire, while Ukip have yet to win any seats (although they are likely to get a few on the regional list).