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6 May 2022

The Scottish Tories’ collapse has given Labour a route back

Boris Johnson’s errant leadership is undoing the advances his party made under Ruth Davidson.

By Chris Deerin

Is the Tory revival in Scotland over? The results of the local elections certainly suggest that the party is only heading in one direction. The good work done by Ruth Davidson, which took her party beyond Labour into second place at Holyrood and in the nation’s town halls, is now being undone.

As the results started coming in it was clear that Labour had pushed past the Tories into second place, but also that the Conservatives were more generally having an absolute shocker. There were falls of 10 to 20 percentage points in some wards across Scotland. Whether it’s down to partygate or a more general loathing of Boris Johnson or Douglas Ross’s recent U-turn on demanding Johnson’s head, many Scots have clearly had enough.

By the end of play, with results from all 32 local authorities in, the Tories had lost 63 councillors, taking them down to 214. There will be questions asked about Ross’s leadership, no doubt, although Johnson and his cabinet will receive the lion’s share of the blame. Either way, the Scottish party must find a way of stopping the rot, and it’s not clear how it can easily do that.

Almost everyone else did well enough, largely thanks to the Tory collapse. Due to the single transferable vote system, most Scottish councils are under no overall control, but the SNP remain the single largest party in local government, with 453 councillors. This was up 22 on 2017, no small feat after 15 years in government at Holyrood.

The Nats also took overall control of Dundee, one of Scotland’s most pro-independence cities, as the Conservatives lost their two councillors there. And they narrowly remained the biggest party in Glasgow, the key totemic battlefield between the SNP and Labour; the SNP lost two councillors as Labour gained five, amounting to a split of 37-36. The Tories lost six of their eight in the city and the Greens, who are likely to support a Nat administration, gained three for a total of ten. The SNP’s Glasgow council leader, Susan Aitken, who has been a controversial figure recently, was unexpectedly beaten on first preferences by a Green candidate, though held her seat after second preference votes were counted.

Labour secured its desired breakthrough into second place, and with 282 councillors, an increase of 20, will talk of building momentum before the next Holyrood election in 2026. It also took overall control of West Dunbartonshire, after five years of a minority SNP administration.

Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, said this was “the first cheerful day for the Scottish Labour Party in almost a decade here in Scotland. For well over a decade now we have had a politics in Scotland where there has been one dominant party, and a Labour Party that has not been on the pitch, not able to compete. We have got Labour back on the pitch and made huge progress.”

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Even the much-overlooked Lib Dems had something to be pleased about, with an increase of 20 councillors to 87. The Greens, who are now in coalition with the SNP at the Scottish Parliament, added 16 to their haul, making 35.

The SNP received 34.1 per cent of first preference votes, up 1.8 percentage points on 2017. Labour went from just over 20 per cent to 21.8 per cent. The Tories dropped more than five points, from 25.3 per cent to 19.6, while the Lib Dems were up 1.7 at 8.6 per cent, and the Greens up 1.8 at 5.9 per cent.

Alba, the party set up by Alex Salmond following his fall from grace, failed to have a single councillor elected.

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