If Nicola Sturgeon can be taken at her word, we could be about to witness a different style of government at Holyrood compared with that which went immediately before.
Her address in front of her elected MSPs yesterday contained conciliatory language which acknowledged that, although the First Minister claims to have a mandate for government after an “overwhelming” victory, she is aware that her party’s power cannot be absolute after falling two seats short of an overall majority. It was encouraging to hear talk of “consensus… compromise… reaching agreement… common ground” as she outlined how her party would seek to govern as a minority administration.
Actions will speak louder than words, of course, and we should also note that Sturgeon has warned opponents not to attempt to undermine her, but her stated intention to listen and work with others is promising.
To achieve this objective, there will need to be willingness on all sides, instead of the posturing that is currently taking place.
Consideration must be given to how much longer the constitutional question can be raised. Ruth Davidson has led the Conservatives into second place by appealing successfully to those who fear a second referendum. She is now calling for the SNP to rule out a second referendum because the party has no majority, yet she will know that this is not going to happen. For a start, the SNP gained almost 100,000 new members on the back of the independence vote, many of whom the First Minister will only alienate by acceding to Conservative demands over the party’s ultimate ambition, and in addition, the arithmetic shows that the two parties who backed independence in 2014 – the SNP and the Scottish Greens – do actually have a majority at Holyrood if they come together.
Nevertheless, Thursday’s vote suggests that a second referendum will not take place during the five-year term of this new Parliament because there is insufficient support for a Yes vote. But if the Conservatives continue to play the constitutional card, they risk keeping on the agenda the one issue that their new supporters do not want to hear about again. There will come a time to move on, and for many voters that time has come already.
So if we are to enter a new era of consensus politics, the adversarial climate of recent years will have to change. That is asking a lot of politicians, but if problems in areas such as education and health are to be addressed successfully, government and opposition must engage positively; listen, consider and negotiate.
We said last week in this column that a repeat of the past five years would not be good enough from the SNP. In the short time since the final election result was announced, the indications are that the First Minister knows change is required, and we are heartened by her stated willingness to work with others. Of course, the intention must be mutual, but if common ground can be found, this has to be the way ahead.