Comeuppance is a dish best served scalding hot. That’s the first thing to be said about this glorious election result. Like Ted Heath, Theresa May asked ‘Who governs Britain?’ and received the answer ‘Preferably not you’. Her election campaign – a word that grants it greater dignity than it merits – will be remembered for decades to come as a classic example of what not to do.
Until yesterday we had thought her victory would be tainted by the fact she had only beaten Jeremy Corbyn; now we might reappraise our view to note that poor Jeremy Corbyn has been such a hapless leader of the Labour party he couldn’t even beat Theresa May.
One lesson is clear: never, ever, take the voters for granted. Never, ever, presume only one result is possible. The British people have a thick contrary streak and they demonstrated as much yesterday. Mrs May seems intent on trying to form a government of some sort but her authority lies in tatters. She is not so much damaged goods as ruined goods.
Other ancient wisdoms must also be discarded. Sometimes campaigns really do matter. Whatever else may be said about him, Corbyn ran a creditable campaign. He offered an alternative, even if one that was largely uncosted. The contrast between his gentle demeanour on television and the Jeremy Corbyn portrayed in the popular press was so extreme that many voters, I suspect, couldn’t believe that Corbyn could be the kind of extremist, in terms of his past associations, the newspapers claimed. He is, of course, but that mattered little in an election that was forced upon a reluctant public by an overbearing, overweening, over-arrogant Conservative party.
And Scotland! In its way, this was just as stunning a result as the SNP tsunami in 2015. One thing is clear: IndyRef2 is a duck that won’t fly and a dog that won’t hunt. It’s gone. Not happening, at least not in the foreseeable future.
Of course that might change, not least because there is every possibility that we will enjoy another election before the end of the year at which point the balance of power – and momentum – may shift again. SNP spinners gamely tried to insist that this was still a corking result for the nationalists but they weren’t fooling anyone. If Theresa May was the election’s biggest loser, Nicola Sturgeon was its second greatest loser.
No-one, least of all the SNP themselves, thought the party might lose more than 20 seats. No-one really thought their share of the vote could fall by more than 13 points. The Tories had dreamed of taking Moray and even, on a great night, Banff and Buchan but no-one really thought they had a realistic chance of defeating Alex Salmond. But the Great Poohbah of Strichen fell anyway and you could feel the celebrations in living rooms all across Scotland when his result was announced.
This was Scotland’s silent majority reasserting itself. Ruth Davidson campaigned on a simple message: We said No in 2014 and we meant it. The people, whether they voted Tory, Labour or Lib Dem, rammed that point home last night. This was the worst SNP result in a generation (sic). If it were a normal or ordinary political party, Nicola Sturgeon’s position would now be a matter of some debate. Because make no mistake, this was a humiliating, chastening, night for the nationalists.
It wasn’t just the defeats, it was the scale of them that was startling. Ian Murray had been expected to hold Edinburgh South but not by a whopping 15,000 votes. And while Labour had been expected to do a little better in Glasgow and its old west of Scotland heartlands, the scale of the party’s recovery was remarkable. This, it must be allowed, owed more to Jez than Kez but still, what does that matter right now?
These are volatile times, right enough, but the opposition parties’ decision to make this election a proxy referendum on another independence referendum was thoroughly vindicated. If this, per the SNP, demonstrated an unhealthy ‘obsession’ with the constitution it was one invited by the SNP themselves. Sturgeon, after all, had wasted no time after Brexit before putting independence back on the table, where it has remained ever since. It was Sturgeon who said independence ‘transcends’ all other issues.
Voters rebuked her for that. If the election had a single message it was this: ‘Enough is enough; give us peace’. That was sufficient to see the Tories double their share of the vote from 2015 to 2017. For the first time in an actual generation the Tories are major players in Scottish politics; this was their best result since 1983. And who thought we would see an election in which the Tories in England were saved from an even greater catastrophe by their cousins in Scotland?
Last year’s Holyrood elections were a small setback for the SNP; so were last month’s council elections. This, however, was a calamity on an entirely different, logarithmic, scale. The SNP might have won the Scottish portion of this election but that’s like saying Theresa May still leads the largest party at Westminster. True, in other words, but only narrowly so.
Take a bow Ruth Davidson. Take a bow Kezia Dugdale. Take a bow Willie Rennie. The SNP’s claims to speak for Scotland have suffered a heavy blow today. The party is not, as it likes to think it is, the will of the Scottish people made flesh. Scotland is a larger, more generous, more expansive and more interesting place than that.
What a night. What a country.