We hoped we’d push Labour into third place. But not in our wildest fantasies did we think we’d see 31 Conservatives elected to the Scottish Parliament.
The result is not only a massive vindication of everything Ruth Davidson has worked for since becoming party leader five years ago; it is also a superb result for Scotland and for Holyrood. The last session of the Parliament was not a success. Holyrood’s experience of majority rule was not a happy one. It was a blip, now corrected.
The result is that the Scottish Government will be weaker and the Parliament stronger. That robust, muscular, confident, principled and effective opposition to the nationalists that Ruth Davidson promised can now be fully realised within the single-chamber Parliament. The SNP will dominate neither the Chamber nor the Parliament’s committees in the overbearing way it sought to in the last session.
Rather, Nicola Sturgeon and her ministerial team will have to seek consensus, compromise and co-operation with opposition MSPs. This will be fascinating, because it will force the SNP to reveal its true colours. Those on the left of Scottish politics see the SNP as a centre-right party because of its tax plans. Those on the centre-right see the SNP as a party of the left because of its spending plans. From this perspective, the SNP’s tax plans are alarming, particularly as regards hikes to property taxes.
Riding both horses at once has been a hallmark of SNP success, but that is about to become a more difficult trick to pull off. Which way will Nicola Sturgeon’s new administration jump?
In her speech from Bute House yesterday there was – intriguingly – something for everyone. A nod to the Tories on education reform; a nod to the Greens on climate change; and a nod to Labour on welfare. Is that how the First Minister plans to run her government – seeking support from different parties on different issues, or will the SNP finally have to choose where it sits on the left-right spectrum? The former course may make for incoherence and indecision, but the latter risks fracturing the coalition that the SNP is.
In the next five years, left-right politics will be far more important in Scotland than the constitutional question. That, as well as having to govern with only a minority of MSPs in support, is going to make life difficult for the SNP and interesting for opposition politicians. Good.
• Adam Tomkins was elected as a Conservative MSP for Glasgow on Thursday