For those grappling with the new realities of four-party politics at a UK level, spare a thought for election-watchers in Scotland now facing the prospect of six-party politics.
In addition to the traditional UK-wide parties, the SNP of course are a long-established electoral force in Scotland and have been in government in Holyrood since 2007. The Scottish Greens have also been represented in the Scottish Parliament since its inception. But, up until now, the UKIP bandwagon has never quite rolled its way north of the border. The election of David Coburn as one of Scotland’s six MEPs represents their first electoral breakthrough at any level of Scottish politics.
Of course, one European parliamentary seat does not a political force make, but this result gives UKIP a foothold in Scotland for the first time.
Now, it is important to keep this in perspective. I’m no seismologist, but if UKIP did indeed cause an earthquake in British politics, it was certainly no more than a minor tremor in Scotland. Having achieved around 30% of the vote in England and Wales, they managed just a third of that in Scotland. Nevertheless this was enough for fourth place and the last seat on the Scottish list.
Of course, one European parliamentary seat does not a political force make, but this result gives UKIP a foothold in Scotland for the first time. That they now have representation in both Scotland and Wales, as well as every English region, strengthens their credentials as a party with UK-wide appeal. It also weakens, at least a little, one of the principle arguments made for Scottish independence by the Yes campaign – that Scotland is an altogether different political animal from the rest of the UK, especially the south of England.
In this regard it is also worth considering the relative performance of the other parties in Scotland. The raw numbers of course differ due to the presence of the SNP, who held their place at the top of the popular vote with an almost unchanged share of 29%. But when you look at the underlying trends – who’s up and who’s down – the picture in Scotland is actually remarkably in tune with the picture elsewhere in the UK.
UKIP of course are up significantly – by 11% across the UK and a more modest 5% in Scotland. This nonetheless represented a doubling of their share of the Scottish vote since 2009.
Labour also improved on their 2009 performance – by 10% across the UK and 5% in Scotland. In both cases this represents progress, but questions remain as to whether the ground gained is sufficient for an Opposition party just a year out from a General Election.
The Conservative vote held up reasonably well at UK level – down by just 4% – and in Scotland they fared even better, actually increasing modestly, albeit to only 17% of the vote share.
The Lib Dem vote was much the same in Scotland as everywhere else: small. They dropped 4.5% to just 7% of the vote. As at UK level, this placed them behind the Greens who achieved 8% across the UK and in Scotland.
This suggests a political landscape in Scotland which, leaving aside for now the small matter of the SNP, seems to be experiencing broadly the same trends as in the rest of the UK. This should provide a degree of encouragement to those arguing for a No vote in September.
And what of the SNP themselves? They will certainly take heart from having topped yet another Scotland-wide poll. They can also rightly point to their unchanged share of the vote and contrast this favourably with the performance of the incumbent parties of government in Westminster. What Nick Clegg wouldn’t give for the same performance as 2009.
But the SNP should also temper their enthusiasm for this result. Since 2009 they have won a majority at Holyrood and spent the last two years or more campaigning vigorously for a Yes vote in the independence referendum. While we should be cautious about reading across from this result to the referendum, an unchanged vote of 29% does not suggest the party is riding a wave of momentum towards September.
For all parties in Scotland, that is where attention will now be fully focused. They all have work to do.