Market on alert
Tactical voting may deny SNP Holyrood majority
Nicola Sturgeon celebrates but the vote is on a knife-edge
Scotland looked on course to return an SNP government, though its hopes of winning an overall majority appear to have been scuppered by tactical voting.
Labour’s Jackie Baillie held what was Scotland’s most marginal seat, increasing her majority in Dumbarton from 109 to 1,483. This was seen as key target for the SNP, along with Eastwood in Glasgow which was held by Jackson Carlaw for the Tories.
Ms Baillie’s success appeared to have been part of a pattern of tactical voting with Tory and Labour supporters prepared to vote for the candidate best able to defend the unionist seat.
Political strategist Prof Sir John Curtice said: “Tactical voting has been strongest in seats that the unionist parties were trying to defend and played an important role in enabling a number of marginal opposition-held seats to be successfully defended.
“It has been more muted in seats where the opposition were trying to challenge the SNP, who have not suffered a single constituency loss in this election.”
By 10pm on Friday night three seats had changed hands – all of them won by the SNP. With 48 seats declared, the SNP had 39 MSPs, the Lib Dems four, the Conservatives three and Labour two.
The SNP’s Angus Robertson scored a big victory in Edinburgh Central, the seat held by Ruth Davidson who has left the parliament to take a seat in the House of Lords. Mr Robertson won with a majority of 4,732
Given the significance of the independence campaign, the markets were particularly responsive to results from Scotland and the prospect of an SNP majority.
“An outright majority would be seen as a mandate for the SNP to call a second independence referendum – prompting uncertainty and likely hitting the relative value of the pound,” said Russ Mould, director of investment platform AJ Bell.
Labour’s new Scottish leader Anas Sarwar enjoyed a good campaign, but the Tory leader Douglas Ross is expected to lead the official opposition at Holyrood. Mr Sarwar increased his vote in the constituency held by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.
The Greens are expected to do well and could eat into the SNP vote. Alex Salmond’s Alba Party looks set to be left empty-handed.
The final outcome will not be known until Saturday because of the late start to counting.
The Scottish poll followed a disastrous result for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in Hartlepool where the Tories scored a historic by-election victory.
Labour has held the seat since it was created in 1974 but the Conservatives secured a majority of almost 7,000 – overturning the previous margin of 3,500.
Sir Keir: failed first big electoral test
The result were accompanied by a string of defeats for Labour candidates in local elections across England.
In Hartlepool, Jill Mortimer defeated Labour contender Paul Williams.
Ms Mortimer, who won with 15,529 votes, against 8,589 cast for Mr Williams, said: “Labour have taken the people of Hartlepool for granted for too long… people have had enough.”
The 16% swing is believed to be the biggest to a governing party in a by-election since the Second World War.
It piles pressure on Sir Keir with party sources saying he has not done enough to change the party and make it electable.
However, amid vocal criticism of leadership from the hard left, former Labour minister Lord (Peter) Mandelson warned that returning to Socialist ‘la la land’ will not help.
He said former leader Jeremy Corbyn, who led the party to its worst general election defeat since 1935, was “still casting a very dark cloud over Labour”, adding: “He still gets them going on the doorstep.”
Sir Keir, who this afternoon broke his silence to admit full responsibility for the defeat, is said to be considering a reshuffle of his shadow cabinet within days.
Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds and Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth are tipped to make way for higher profile figures, with former work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper likely to return to the frontbench.
The Tories’ result in Hartlepool defied a month of bad headlines for Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the funding of decorations in Downing Street and claims of fixing the tax arrangements for businessman Sir James Dyson.
It also comes after complaints from businesses over the bungled EU talks that have left exporters and importers struggling to cope with new Brexit rules.
On the other hand, Mr Johnson is seen to have led one of the world’s most successful and rapid Covid vaccination programmes and a return to more normal living amid greater optimism about an economic recovery.
The Conservatives will hope the Hartlepool result is a sign of building on its 2019 election win in traditional Labour seats in the north of England.
Early results from the local elections in England show Labour has suffered a series of defeats in council wards across the country with huge swings to the Conservatives.