By Lloyd Melville
After a short Christmas break and the start of a new decade, I thought I’d recount my election experience. Anyone who knows me (or has taken one look at my Twitter) will tell you that I’m fairly active in the SNP. Here in Stirling we’d been campaigning hard long before the election was even called, and I’d had the privilege to spent lots of time out in all weathers with a cracking team of activists. The campaign itself was excellent – and our fantastic volunteers were energised by a first-class candidate (who is now the sitting MP). Stirling University Scottish Nationalist Association put in a real shift, and I couldn’t be prouder of members who helped out during the election – whether here in Stirling or in their home constituencies.
There is no mistaking that this was indeed a historic election – its results and the aftermath will set the direction of the United Kingdom for decades to come. On polling day, I had to be at work through in Dundee, but I finished my shift in late afternoon, and drove through to Stirling to help my colleagues get out our vote. I arrived at my polling station, the wee Boys Brigade hall, just after 5pm, and the first thing that struck me was the queue of people waiting patiently to exercise their democratic voice. With this election sometimes lauded as the most important election in modern history, it felt somehow mundane to place a small cross in a box; though I did it proudly. Unsurprisingly, my vote went to the SNP candidate Alyn Smith who worked so hard in Stirling to achieve an SNP victory. Afterwards, I headed to the campaign hub to help with the last push of polling day, and later out with a small but cheery team to chap up our support.
Incredibly, at almost every door we received a response from, it was immensely cheery. From “Oh aye, I voted SNP” to “Good luck!” – our support was indeed turning out, and this was the first sign that we were going to do well – though I did not let confidence get the better of me. We kept at it for a few hours, but headed back after it was clear our work was done. I headed to the Albert Hall just before 10pm with a few friends, and we settled in the bar around the TV, which was playing BBC Scotland’s election coverage. The room was abuzz with activists of all parties waiting in tense anticipation of the exit poll. I was nervous too, as I was unsure at whether we would gain as many seats as I had hoped. Glenn Campbell was sat in front of a digital version of Big Ben’s clockface, and as the bells chimed, the exit poll was, at last, revealed.
A Conservative victory; the biggest Tory majority since Thatcher, on a promise to rip Scotland out of the EU against our democratically expressed will. We were all ashen-faced at this announcement, even more so at the Labour seat tally; at a historic low. “Get Brexit Done” had knocked straight through Labour’s red wall, and had won Boris Johnson a mandate for Brexit in England. That Labour was projected to win in under 200 seats was a testament to the chronic inability of the Corbyn leadership to effectively communicate with real people in the face of one of the cruellest governments in history, and a press that leaned heavily towards the Tories.
But we were mere moments away from finding out if all our hard work in Scotland had paid off. Brian Taylor was musing about Ruth Davidson’s skinny-dipping comments, where she said she would swim naked in Loch Ness if the SNP won 50 seats, just before revealing our result.“If this poll is correct, she’d better get to the banks of the loch…” 55 seats – cheers and whoops from my colleagues and I, although we knew that it was a stretch for us to achieve this result, given the many opinion polls throughout the campaign. I had said throughout the campaign that any increase in seats would be a victory – and to achieve the result we ended up with in Scotland was incredible.
Results rolled in for hours, Tory gains from Labour in England, SNP gains and holds, Labour losses. It was 3.15am when Stirling declared, and I managed to get up to the observation balcony for the numbers. I was quietly confident we’d win, though admittedly I did think it would be by a small majority. I was, however, immensely pleased to have been proven wrong. The Tories’ vote was down slightly, and Labour’s more than halved – to just over 4,000. A thumping win for Alyn Smith though, with a majority of 9,254 – and 51.1% of the votes cast. A decisive mandate from the people of Stirling for a candidate who pledged to keep Scotland in the European Union, and fight against the Tories for Scotland’s right to choose.
But though we won 47 seats, around 80 per cent of seats in Scotland, we were facing yet another hard-line Tory Government that we didn’t vote for – intent on dragging Scotland out of the EU against our will. This means, much to my dismay and the disappointment of those of us who believe our future lies in Europe, that Brexit is definitely happening. It is no longer a hypothetical bogeyman haunting us from the shadows. We will be leaving the European Union, despite Scotland’s overwhelming Remain vote, on January 31st. This means students’ ability to study across the EU will end, as the UK Government pulls us out of the Erasmus + scheme, and Scotland no longer benefits from being in the largest trading bloc in the world.
The political paradigm has shifted. With the biggest majority for Tories the since the Thatcher years, we are looking at another decade or more of austerity-obsessed Tory rule. Independence is now Scotland’s only route to achieving a progressive society, where we value those who choose to live here, and don’t have to suffer governments we repeatedly reject.
Overall, a bittersweet victory for the SNP; from unseating Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, to regaining most of the seats we lost in 2017, it was a night to celebrate for us. However, there will be a huge clash of words over an independence referendum to come, and with the SNP winning a renewed mandate for a vote, it is more than likely that one is coming sooner rather than later. But whether or not there is a referendum later this year, it is clear that Scotland has climbed the foothills of our independence. Our task now as a movement and as a government, is to persuade the nation to continue with us on our journey to the summit.
Featured Image credit:Lee Robb