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The SNP won the election but the biggest story is the success of Ruth Davidson

The SNP won the election but the biggest story is the success of Ruth Davidson

The story was always going to be a lose for the SNP, a triumph for the Tories and a catastrophe for Labour, and so it came to pass.

Expectations, pumped by successive polls, were such that unless the SNP had smashed its previous record of winning a majority in a Scottish Parliamentary election – in a system designed to never let that happen - then it would always be seen as a setback for Nicola Sturgeon.

And so despite the SNP under her leadership winning a third term, winning a massive mandate – just two short of yet another outright majority, recording its best ever constituency vote and upping its vote share, the story is less about their win and more about the success of Ruth Davidson.


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Davidson has undoubtedly done an incredible thing. She has managed to reverse decades of Tory decline, handed the baton of toxicity to Scottish Labour and has led the Conservatives into being the second party in the Scottish Parliament - pushing Kezia Dugdale’s party into the ignominious position of third place.

Quite an achievement from Davidson that she should personally feel justly proud. Let’s not forget that only last year in the general election her party recorded its worst share of the vote since records began.

And so that reversal of fortunes, which she has undoubtedly presided over, can be squarely pinned on a successful campaign that at times may have seemed to hang on the flimsy principle of the more ridiculous the photo opp the better, but actually had so much more to it.

It had Davidson and she is clearly a vote winner. And what Davidson had was a simple, clear and consistent message – the Tories would be the opposition to the SNP and that she would protect the Union. That claim never wavered and who wouldn’t believe a woman who can ride a buffalo and drive a tank?

For Scots who had voted ‘no’ and who were scunnered by the mixed messages from Labour’s Dugdale on the Union, on which voters she was targeting and on her feeble attempts at holding the SNP to account, there was a seductive and easy sell from an energetic, coherent Tory leader who had also shown she could separate herself from some of the more toxic elements of her UK colleagues in government.

I suspect there were some voters who simply held their noses and voted Tory for the very first time. And once done, that might be a position that is not for turning.

Dugdale, meanwhile, wasn’t sure which party she was taking the fight to, which voters she was targeting and often what her position was on anything other than she needed to tax the rich.

She relied on the polls that said people liked her tax policy but she ignored the rider that said they didn’t support the idea of having different tax rates set within the United Kingdom, which is what she wanted to do.

Instead of looking at ‘no’ voters and realising she needed to attract the ones who were for moving – the middle classes, she went for the former Labour supporters who have gone, gone, gone.

And throughout this campaign, Labour has talked of the middle classes like some cash cow that could fill a gap but be given little feel-good factor. No wonder they moved to the Tories.

She has also picked on issues like the Named Person policy which she had previously supported and said we should think again. That followed Davidson being adamant that the Tories would oppose it every step of the way. It looked like opportunism from Dugdale and flip-flopping became a hallmark excused by her inexperience.

Almost every narrative about Dugdale starts or ends with the fact that she’s a nice lassie, is well intentioned and just needs time to grow. But I’m sorry, a leader needs to lead, and has to be seen to be leading.

Labour needs to change. That much has been clear for decades now. But after each election, they have an excuse that never really lies with them; it’s the SNP, the Tories or even the voters.

But last night, Dugdale said that there was no doubt that her attempts to change the party had lost them even more voters. For the first time that seemed to be an admission that there was something rotten at the heart of the party. But she ignored the fact that right now after a decade of decline, her challenge is not to turn voters away from the Labour Party, it is to bring them back, and on the evidence of last night she has unequivocally failed.

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