As a youngster I would get very frustrated every summer when around this time we would have “Back to School” adverts in newspapers and on TV, all of them blissfully unaware that us Scottish kids had already been back for about three weeks. I like to believe that this generational frustration is why Holyrood has come back from its summer-break at the same time as Westminster this year. And much like the first day back at school, the party leaders have been telling everyone what they did for their holidays.
Head Girl, Nicola, went on an exciting InterRail holiday around Europe and met all sorts of interesting people. She was doing her best to make sure she could easily come back every year and telling them all that Scotland was the bestest country in the world and they should all be nice to her. She certainly had a very good time speaking to all these people but then she came home and a lot of people told her that maybe a staycation would have been better. After all, a lot of people in the village are waiting a long time to see a doctor and seem to be blaming Nicola! But Nicola is going to have a conversation to the whole village about trying to move them further away from that village next door and closer to her new European chums.
The new “IT” girl, Ruth is becoming more and more popular although not nearly enough to worry the Head Girl. However, Ruth and her friends have been nominated for a lot of prizes this year at the school awards ceremony. Her summer holiday was perhaps a little quieter than others but she did finally get her wish and was finally allowed to get a puppy. On a more serious note, Ruth has very much decided that seeing family in Scotland was more important than trips abroad. She still had her big sister, Theresa, in London to disagree with about Europe though so couldn’t get away from the place entirely. In fact, Ruth decided to agree with Nicola about making it cheaper for people to fly away to other places on holiday so maybe they agree on some things after all.
Then there was Kezia, who did not have a nice time over the summer at all. It all started so well, she went on a busman’s holiday to America with some friends and go to see some very famous bands. One of them has been around a long time but now finally might make it to the very top of the charts as long as no-one decides to “Send in the Clown”. Whilst she was away though, her family was having the most terrible falling out. Kezia has decided that her uncle, Owen, should be leading the family but a lot of others in the wider family, including those who only recently realised they were related at all, think Uncle Jeremy should stay at the head of the table even though not many people outside of the village like him. This is all expected to be sorted quite soon but Kezia might face some problems from her own part of the family tree in the future. She has got herself some new friends though who will improve how the rest of the village think about her.
Another old boy who is doing a lot better now is Patrick. After being in the school for quite a long time, he suddenly finds himself not only with a lot of new friends of his own friends but knows that the Head Girl might need his help soon as well for this big project she is working on. He and his friends are very concerned with how the land around the village is used and thinks he can get a lot of help from everyone else in the school to improve a lot of these things.
Perhaps the quietest summer was had by little Willie. No-one in the school or village dislike Willie at all. They all agree he is such a friendly boy as well as being very good at talking about the most important things. The problem is that no matter how well he does, he can’t seem to be as popular as the three big girls. Like Kezia, he has some problems with his family in London. He might have thought that with Kezia’s family being so unpopular, he might have got some more support but that doesn’t seem to have happened. Not yet anyway.
There is a lot of work for everyone at school to do in the next few months. They have more exams to prepare for in May as well….
Immediately after elections, winning parties, even one returning for another term, are meant to be riding on a wave, issuing positive announcement after positive announcement showing how they are turning their manifesto pledges in to actions.
For the SNP that was certainly the case in 2007, the last time they formed a minority government, when they went so far as to take a leaf out of US President FDR’s book and make a big show of progress after their first 100 days in office. This time, however, things seem different. Rather than positive announcements, the SNP seems to have been fire-fighting and playing defence.
Just this week we’ve had (you might want to take a breath): Minister defending delays of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments to Scottish Farmers; education statistics showing a reduction in those from the poorest backgrounds going to university as well as a decline in standards of literacy and numeracy standards; an acknowledgement of the need to “refresh” guidance on the controversial “Named Person” legislation aimed at protecting vulnerable children; a review of NHS targets and, just yesterday, confirmation that the new Forth Road crossing will not be open in December as initially thought.
This is in addition to last week’s controversial debate when the Scottish Government lost a vote on an opposition motion to ban fracking after SNP MSPs abstained despite many candidates being elected on a platform supporting a ban only a few weeks before.
So, have the SNP suddenly imploded, are we seeing the quickest post-election collapse of a government in history? Well, of course not. This is a government and party that remains hugely popular and united, has just been returned as by far the biggest party at Holyrood and is on course to enjoy yet another election victory in the council elections in May 2017. So what is going on?
Well, a lot of the information published this week is on issues extensively debated during the election. There have been accusations announcements were delayed before the election for political reasons, accusations which now appear to have some credence. However, no governing party in its right mind would put out bad news immediately before an election if it didn’t have to so you could argue the SNP were quite sensible to sit on their comfortable lead for the 6 months before polling day.
Instead I suspect the reason this information is no coming out in what seems like a near constant steam is an elongated version of “Take out the Trash Day”, well known to us West Wing geeks. By getting all of the bad news out the way now, immediately after the election when, frankly, voters aren’t watching, it is unlikely they will remember it the next time polling day comes around in less than 12 months.
However, that strategy works if the government takes the summer to start to fix some of these problems, otherwise the bad news drags on and on and could become more embedded in the minds of voters. So, I would expect announcements over the summer break and immediately after about remedial action being taken. Equally, I suspect a few extra Bills are being hurriedly added to the first Legislative Statement which will take place shortly after recess.
If that doesn’t happen then maybe, just maybe, someone can write an article about stalled agendas, appearing cracks and incompetence growing but I wouldn’t get those metaphors dusted off just yet.
In September 2015, an independent panel was appointed by Scottish Ministers to review the Scottish planning system. The panel were tasked with bringing together ideas to achieve a quicker, more accessible and efficient planning process.
The review focused on six key themes – development planning; housing delivery; planning for infrastructure; development management; leadership, resourcing and skills; and community engagement.
Key recommendations include:
Strong and flexible development plans:
Strategic Development Plans should be replaced by an enhanced National Planning Framework, which should be more fully integrated with wider government policies and strategies.
Main Issues Report should be removed and replaced with a single, full draft plan, providing there is a renewed commitment to early engagement.
Local development plans should set out a 20 year vision and focus on place rather than policy. Preparation process reduced to a two year period.
Development plan examinations should be replaced with a frontloaded ‘gatecheck’ of the plan.
Scope for flexibility and updating local development plans within the 10 year period.
A statutory duty for the development plan to be aligned with community planning should be introduced.
The delivery of more high quality homes:
The National Planning Framework should define regional housing targets as the basis for setting housing land requirements in local development plans.
Urgent need to establish a clearer definition of effective housing land so that local development plans can move on from this to take a positive and flexible approach to addressing the housing land requirement for their area.
SPZ concept should be rebranded and evolved into a more flexible and widely applicable zoning mechanism which identifies and prepares areas to make them ‘investment ready’.
Mechanisms for planning authorities to take action to assemble land and provide infrastructure upfront should be established as soon as possible.
A programme of innovative housing delivery should be progressed in a way which is fully aligned with local development plans.
An infrastructure first approach to planning and development:
A national infrastructure agency or working group with statutory powers should be established, involving all infrastructure providers as well as planning representatives. This will be tasked with providing a clearer, cross cutting overview of planning and infrastructure provision.
Options for a national or regional infrastructure levy should be defined and consulted upon.
A development delivery infrastructure fund should be established, partly resourced by a mechanism to capture land value uplift.
Corporate structure requiring all key infrastructure providers to co-operate in delivering the local development plan should be introduced.
A review of transport governance should be undertaken to address the gap between this key aspect of infrastructure and development planning.
Future school building programmes should address the need for new schools in housing growth areas.
Local authorities and their partners need to become much bolder in their approach to infrastructure investment, with an “infrastructure first” approach.
Section 75 planning obligations should be retained but their use should be minimised and the process streamlined.
New approaches to low carbon infrastructure planning and delivery should be taken forward through a programme of innovation.
Efficient and transparent development management:
Timescales for decision making remain critical in creating certainty and should remain part of the performance monitoring framework.
Certainty provided by the development plan in development management should strengthened – to incentivise this allocated sites should be afforded planning permission in principle, could be exempted from pre-application consultation requirements and could benefit from fast-tracked appeals. Conversely, where non allocated sites are being proposed for development a charrette or similar fuller consultation or mediation exercise could be required.
Quality and effectiveness of pre-application discussions with planning authorities and consultation by developers should be significantly improved.
National guidance on minimum requirements for validation is required.
Scottish Government should work with local authority enforcement officers to identify and/or remove any barriers to the use of enforcement powers.
Planning authorities should work together to identify the scope for significantly extending permitted development rights.
Fuller study of the scope for combined consents, particularly planning, roads and drainage consents, should be carried out.
A stronger mechanism for a collective community perspective to be built into the matters explicitly addressed by reporters in appeals, could go some way towards bridging the gap between local and central decision making.
Stronger leadership, smarter resourcing and sharing of skills:
Planning services should aspire to become leaders and innovators within the context of public service reform.
Planning fees on major applications should be increased substantially, so the service moves forward at full cost recovery.
Scope for further discretionary charging, for example for pre-application processes, should be considered further.
Alternative mechanisms to support improvements should be found and the threat of the penalty clause removed.
Skills development is required in a number of priority areas.
Local authorities should pursue the establishment of shared services.
A planning graduate intern programme should be considered.
Collaboration rather than conflict – inclusion and empowerment:
There should be a continuing commitment to early engagement in planning, but practice needs to improve significantly.
Communities should be empowered to bring forward their own local place plans, and those should form part of the development plan.
Community councils should be given a statutory right to be consulted on the development plan.
Third party rights of appeal should not be introduced.
A working group should be established to identify the barriers to greater involvement in planning, taking account of measures contained in the Community Empowerment Act and the Land reform Act.
A new statutory tight for young people to be consulted on the development plan should be introduced.
What do organisations who engage with the Scottish Parliament need to do to prepare themselves for newly adopted legislation on lobbying? Orbit Communications Director Alex Bruce explains the background and main elements of this new legislation and why organisations of all types should make themselves aware of their new responsibilities under the Act.
“…in a professional capacity, attempting to influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the UK Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within their competence.”
UK Public Affairs Council (UKPAC)
The term lobbying has taken on increasingly pejorative connotations in recent years in the wake of a series of high profile lobbying scandals involving in particular Members of the UK Parliament.
Against the backdrop of apparent growing public concern over a lack of transparency around lobbying activities, Labour MSP Neil Findlay originally lodged his own proposal for a Member’s Bill to introduce a lobbying register in 2012. However, this was superseded the following year by a Scottish Government announcement of its intention to introduce legislation of its own on lobbying. A Parliamentary inquiry and Scottish Government consultation followed this announcement, culminating in the introduction to Parliament of the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill in October 2015.
The Bill received Royal Assent on the 14th April 2016 having been passed at its final stage during March of this year.
The practical effect of this legislation is to introduce a lobbying register for any organisation engaged in what is defined as “regulated lobbying”. This definition includes any paid lobbying, whether carried out by external consultants or in-house members of staff and irrespective of whether the organisation comes from the public, private or third sectors. Included within the scope of “regulated lobbying” are face-to-face meetings with Scottish Government Ministers and MSPs concerning their Government or Parliamentary functions. This can include their role as legislators or decisions on the award of contracts, funding and so on.
It’s also important to note that the legislation extends to any representative of an organisation, irrespective of their role, and not just to those who may be specifically employed to communicate with external stakeholders.
Various forms of communication are exempted from the definition of “regulated lobbying”, including:
Communications to an MSP representing a constituency or region where the communicator’s business is ordinarily carried out;
Instances where the communication is made on behalf of an organisation with less than 10 full-time equivalent employees;
Communications made during a meeting of a recognised cross-party group;
Communications made for the purposes of journalism;
Communications made as part of Parliamentary proceedings (for instance, giving evidence to a committee);
Instances where the information request originates from an MSP or minister;
Communications by political parties, the judiciary and by or on behalf of her Majesty the Queen;
Government and Parliament communications.
Despite representations in support of their inclusion during the Bill’s passage through the Scottish Parliament, senior civil servants, government agency officials and special advisers are excluded from the scope of the legislation as are other forms of lobbying than face-to-face meetings such as telephone calls, emails, letters and video conferences.
Crucially, it is the responsibility of the organisation rather than the individual engaged in lobbying activity to enter their details onto the lobbying register. Entering and updating the register will be free of charge but failure to comply with certain aspects of the legislation will lead to criminal sanctions.
Responsibility for establishing and maintaining the new register will lie with the Clerk of the Scottish Parliament. Anyone engaged in regulated lobbying will initially be required to enter their details in the lobbying register. Those not currently engaging in regulated lobbying but who anticipate doing so in the future can enter their details voluntarily onto the register. There is also a 30 day grace period for organisations or individuals to register themselves following the first instance of regulated lobbying.
Once registered, lobbyists are expected to submit six monthly returns outlining any regulated lobbying activity undertaken and including, in each instance, the following information:
Who was lobbied, when and where;
A description of the circumstances in which the lobbying took place (a meeting, Parliamentary reception or other event…);
Who undertook the lobbying;
Whether this was undertaken on the registrant’s own behalf or on behalf of someone else and, if so, who;
The purpose of the lobbying.
Failure to register or to submit returns when required to do so or the submission of false or inaccurate information are defined as criminal offences under the Act, punishable by a fine of up to £1,000.
The legislation also establishes a complaints process with investigation and reporting responsibilities being conferred to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland. It also requires the Scottish Parliament to publish a Code of Conduct for persons lobbying Members of the Scottish Parliament. This is to cover all types of communication to an MSP and not just those defined as “regulated lobbying”.
Having summarised the legislation as clearly and concisely as I can, what does it all practically mean for your organisation?
First, it is important to acknowledge that, throughout the detailed discussions leading up to the adoption of this legislation, the value and importance of lobbying as a legitimate part of the democratic process were consistently emphasised. The intention of the new Act is certainly not to discourage lobbying of the Scottish Parliament but rather to make the process more open and transparent.
Following the elections in May, if your organisation is already in the habit of meeting MSPs face-to-face with a view to influencing policy or simply raising awareness of issues pertaining to your organisation, you will be required in most circumstances to submit your details to the new lobbying register. In future, any such meetings will need to be recorded and submitted as part of your organisation’s six-monthly return to the Clerk of the Scottish Parliament. If you are in any doubt, it is always going to be safer to register your organisation, even if this means that your six-monthly returns will be completely empty. Once published, organisations should also take the time to familiarise themselves with the Scottish Parliament’s new Code of Conduct for lobbyists.
No doubt there will be ongoing arguments about the precise scope of the legislation and how workable or effective it will be in practice. But in so far as it encourages organisations to think more carefully about how they engage with politicians and to operate in as open and transparent a way as possible, it has to be viewed as a positive step.
Nicola Sturgeon has put a clear focus on education and young people in her Cabinet reshuffle.
Deputy First Minister and trusted ally, John Swinney, replaces Angela Constance as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. The latter becomes Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, which will also include responsibility for welfare reform.
Seen as a safe and highly competent pair of hands Mr Swinney, Finance Secretary for nine years, will spearhead the key Scottish Government objective of closing the educational attainment gap, at the heart of the SNP’s ambitions for the next Parliamentary term and on which Ms Sturgeon has staked her personal reputation.
Mr Swinney will also have responsibility for public sector reform across the government as well as the “named person” legislation.
Two long-standing ministers – Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead and Social Justice Minister Alex Neil – announced ahead of the reshuffle that they were stepping down from the cabinet.
This gave some latitude to the newly sworn in First Minister to appoint former Transport Minister, Derek MacKay, into the role of Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, a Chancellor of the Exchequer style role given the new tax powers coming to the Scottish Parliament. Previously this role was held by John Swinney, but his portfolio has been split in two, with Mr MacKay taking finance and Keith Brown as Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work.
Fergus Ewing, the former Energy Minister and supporter of fracking, is given the role of Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity and Paul Wheelhouse takes over his former role, becoming Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy.
A new post of Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform has been formed and will be filled by Roseanna Cunningham MSP, while Shona Robison remains at Health, Michael Matheson at Justice and Fiona Hyslop at Culture and External affairs.
Humza Yousaf, the previous Europe Minister, has been given Mr MacKay’s former role as Minister for Transport and the Islands and a new post of mental health minister has been created, to be held by Maureen Watt. Alasdair Allan will take over from Mr Yousaf as Minister for International Development and Europe.
Shirley-Anne Somerville, becomes Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, reporting to Mr Swinney.
There is also a role for newly elected MSP, Jeane Freeman, a former special adviser to Jack McConnell, as Minister for Social Security, while Kevin Stewart takes over as Minister for Local Government and Housing.
New Cabinet with portfolio responsibilities
First Minister: Nicola Sturgeon MSP
Head of the Scottish Government: responsible for development, implementation and presentation of Government policy, constitutional affairs, and for promoting and representing Scotland.
Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills: John Swinney MSP
Government Strategy, Delivery and outcomes across portfolios, Resilience, School standards, Educational attainment and closing the attainment gap, National Improvement Framework, Quality and improvement, Teaching profession, School infrastructure and staffing, Qualifications, Behaviour, Measures to combat bullying, The Gaelic and Scots languages, Modern languages, Historical Abuse Inquiry, Named person, Cross Government co-ordination of Public Service Reform, Childcare implementation, Early years, Child protection, Social services workforce, Adoption and Fostering, Children’s rights, Looked after children, Children’s hearings, Protection of vulnerable groups, Children’s services, Widening Access, Higher education and universities, Further education and colleges, Student funding, Science and STEM, Youth work, Skills Development Scotland, Implementation of Wood recommendations.
Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution: Derek Mackay MSP
Scottish Budget, Fiscal policy, Taxation, Budgetary monitoring and reporting, Scottish Public Finances and their sustainability, Public sector pay and pensions, Scottish Futures Trust, Efficient government, Public Bodies Policy, National Performance Framework, Registers of Scotland, Government procurement, Digital Public Services, Constitution.
Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport: Shona Robison MSP
NHS, Elective centres, Health care and social integration, Carers, Adult care and support, Implementing 2020 Vision and National Clinical Strategy, Patient services, NHS staff and pay, Problem alcohol use and recovery, Healthy working lives, National service planning, NHS performance, Acute services, Sporting events and legacy, Patient safety, Quality strategy, Public health, Health protection, Sport and physical activity, Primary care, Mental health, Allied healthcare services, Dentistry, Sexual health, medical records, Health improvement, Drugs policy, Child and maternal health.
Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform: Roseanna Cunningham MSP
Climate Change, Flood prevention, water quality, Land reform, Physical and marine environment, Sustainable development, Biodiversity, Natural heritage, Environmental protection, Environmental and climate justice, National parks, Scottish Water.
Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs: Fiona Hyslop MSP
Culture and the arts, Broadcasting, Architecture, Built heritage, National identity, Cross government co-ordination on bringing major events to Scotland, National records, Fair trade, Tourism, International development, Cross-government co-ordination on European Union and international relations, Scottish diaspora.
Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities: Angela Constance MSP
Welfare policy, Community empowerment, Devolution to Communities and Reform of Local Government, Equalities, Religious and faith organisations, Protection and development of Social and Human Rights, Third sector and social economy, Democratic renewal, Local government, Housing, Homelessness, Community planning, Planning, Business improvement districts, Town centres, Building standards, Social security, Implementation of new powers, Measures against poverty, Disabilities, Older people.
Cabinet Secretary for Justice: Michael Matheson MSP
The Justice system, Criminal Law procedure, Civil law, Police, Fire and Rescue services, Legal profession, Violence reduction, Anti-sectarianism, Courts, Sentencing, Security, Human rights, Access to justice, Community safety, Anti-social behaviour, Prisons and prisoners, Female offenders, Criminal justice social work, Victims and witnesses, Reducing reoffending, Youth justice, Liquor licensing.
Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work: Keith Brown MSP
The Scottish Economy, Infrastructure Investment Policy, Scottish Enterprise, Trade & Inward Investment, Innovation, internationalisation, increasing productivity, Fair work and inclusive growth, Labour market strategy, Living wage, European Structural funds, Infrastructure Investment Policy, Consumer advocacy and advice, Employment policy, Trades Unions, Bankruptcy policy and Accountant in Bankruptcy (AIB), Business, Industry and Manufacturing, Cities, Energy and energy consent, Regional Economic Forums, Life sciences, Financial services, Low carbon economy, Renewable energy industries,Youth and Women’s Employment, Employability programmes
Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity: Fergus Ewing MSP
Rural Scotland, Highlands Islands Enterprise, Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Aquaculture, Food and drink, Crofting, Transport, Connectivity including 100 per cent broadband.
The full Scottish ministerial team is completed by the appointment of the following ministers:
Minister for Childcare and Early Years
Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science
Minister for Parliamentary Business
Minister for Transport and the Islands
Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy
Minister for Employability and Training
Jamie Hepburn (Reporting to cabinet secretaries for economy and education)
Tomorrow Nicola Sturgeon will be re-elected as First Minister tomorrow by the Scottish Parliament, after which she is expected to announce her new Government team of Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers.
So far she has already announced plans for a new cabinet post of Economy Secretary, splitting the responsibilities of the current Finance and Economic Growth brief held by John Swinney. Ms Sturgeon said the new powers over tax and welfare and the current economic challenges posed by unemployment figures and other difficulties facing businesses, including in the North Sea and Clyde shipyards, means a new cabinet secretary for economic growth is necessary.
Ms Sturgeon said the post holder’s responsibility would be to “stimulate growth, boost productivity and create jobs”, allowing the Finance Secretary to focus on the new tax and welfare powers that Holyrood will have for the first time.
If Mr Swinney remains in one of the two finance and economy posts it could mean promotion for another who has performed well and, given Ms. Sturgeon’s commitment to a gender balanced cabinet it is possible the roles, which would be considered the most senior positions after the First Minister could be split between a man and a woman, likely meaning a major reshuffle is on the cards around the Cabinet table.
Possible contenders include Infrastructure Secretary, Keith Brown, seen as a safe and competent Cabinet Secretary since his promotion from transport when he steadied the ship after Stewart Stevenson was forced to resign. Transport Minister, Derek Mackay, is another who could be promoted to a cabinet secretary role.
Angela Constance is expected to be moved from the education brief and the post will be one of the most important in Ms Sturgeon’s new government following her commitment to tackle the attainment gap between the most and least affluent pupils.
Pollok MSP, Humza Yousaf, is developing a growing reputation within the party and is close to Ms Sturgeon. After spending most of his first term as external affairs minister he could be in line for promotion.
New MSP, Jeane Freeman, could be catapulted straight into government with her experience already as a government adviser and enhanced reputation during the referendum campaign whilst former MSP, Shirley-Anne Somerville, destined for government before she lost her seat in 2011, could be in line for another job on her return.
With some junior ministers not returning to Parliament there are some posts to be filled and opportunities for long-standing MSPs and new faces to make their mark lower down the ministerial ladder. Housing Minister, Margaret Burgess MSP, did not seek re-election, like fellow Local Government Minister Marco Biagi and environment minister, Aileen McLeod lost her seat, leaving three junior posts to be filled.
Having secured her personal mandate, where previously she had inherited the post from Alex Salmond, along with his team, the new First Minister will now feel fully free to shape the new administration as she sees fit.
The SNP has won an historic third term in the Scottish Parliamentary election, but has fallen two seats short of winning an overall majority, meaning that it will have to do deals with opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament.
However, the real story of the night was the meteoric rise in Tory fortunes, pushing Kezia Dugdale’s Labour Party, whose vote collapsed, into third place.
The Conservatives secured 31 seats, more than double those it previously held (15), with leader Ruth Davidson winning the constituency of Edinburgh Central (formerly SNP) and Jackson Carlaw winning the formerly Labour seat of Eastwood.
The Conservatives took two of the three seats covering Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders. Finlay Carson held Galloway and West Dumfries, while Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire was held by John Lamont.
The Tories also won Aberdeenshire West from the SNP after a major swing in the vote. Alexander Burnett was elected after the party’s share surged 17% to leave Dennis Robertson in second place.
It was a night of woe for the Labour Party, with its number of seats collapsing from 37 to 24 (a drop of 13).
There were however some rare successes for Labour, with Daniel Johnson winning the seat of Edinburgh Southern; Iain Gray holding onto his seat in East Lothian and Jackie Baillie narrowly holding the seat of Dumbarton.
The results will however leave Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader who had hoped her call for a new 50p income tax rate would boost the party’s popularity, facing calls to consider her future.
With six seats (an increase from two) the Scottish Greens pushed the Lib Dems into fifth place, who despite some notable exceptions in North East Fife and Edinburgh Western, held the same number of seats as in 2011 (five).
The legacy of the independence referendum is still alive and well in Scotland and voting allegiances should be seen through the prism of that vote, split between Unionist and Nationalist.
It has been estimated that c. 90% of those who voted Yes to independence backed the SNP, and for those opposing it the clear and coherent Conservative message of no second referendum, delivered by a charismatic leader in the shape of Ruth Davidson, was highly successful. She was also seen by the electorate as a more credible alternative to Kezia Dugdale in holding the SNP to account.
This strategy, galvanizing the Unionist vote, saw the Conservative share of the vote increase by over 8% in constituency seats and 10% in regional seats. It therefore proved highly successful in seats which had previously voted No in the independence referendum. Hence its achievement in winning seats in the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and in Aberdeenshire.
In North East Fife and Edinburgh West strong local campaigns by the Liberal Democrats helped to unseat SNP incumbents, as well as Unionist voters galvanized in seeing that party as the best means to overturn the SNP.
Scotland is indeed a divided nation, not between right and left, but between those supporting independence and those backing the Union. It was something the Conservatives strongly exploited and it has proven highly successful.
With an SNP Government in power facing a Conservative opposition, the next five years will prove highly interesting.