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Shout of joy for SNP

Brian Taylor | 14:12 UK time, Friday, 6 May 2011

On the occasion of his first victory, Alex Salmond declared: "I heard a rumour. I think we won the election."

No single seat victory this time. No murmured rumour, even expressed ironically.

This is a yell, a holler.

For the SNP, a shout of joy.

For Labour and others, a shriek of pain.

This is a magnificent victory for the SNP: Scotland-wide, deep and embedded.

The Borders, Caithness, the whole of the North-east. Glasgow Shettleston. Everywhere.

The reasons? A concatenation of circumstances which, combined, have given the SNP the most convincing and stunning victory in their history.

Firstly, the SNP and Alex Salmond fought a good campaign. Focused, planned, sustained, based upon record, team and vision - as they promised.

Secondly, voters preferred Mr Salmond to Labour's Iain Gray. It is futile Labour complaining that the SNP featured Mr Salmond's name as a subsidiary element on the list ballot paper.

Had Labour chosen, they could have advanced Iain Gray in the same fashion. Head to head, folk opted for Alex Salmond by a mile.

Thirdly, there was a collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote in particular, driven by distrust of their role in the UK coalition.

But that vanishing vote had to be garnered. The SNP succeeded. Labour failed.

Fourthly, there was a decline in the Tory vote. But Labour could not contrive to make sufficient headway from that to counter their catastophic failings elsewhere.

Fifthly, Labour's strategy was misplaced.

It was perhaps summed up by the speech delivered by Ed Miliband to the Scottish Labour conference in Glasgow at the outset of the campaign.

Yes, Mr Miliband talked about the SNP. But his prime focus was to assure his colleagues that they were about to take the first step (by winning in Scotland) towards victory for Labour (and, thus, E. Miliband) at the next UK general election.

That was wrong on two counts.

One, it talked about party prospects, not popular concerns.

Two, it over-emphasised the subsidiary nature of the contest.

Folk in Scotland understand devolution. They get the concept. But they believed that they were voting in a parliamentary election - a Scottish Parliamentary election. Not a rehearsal, not a dry run.

In similar vein, Labour's opening strategy misfired. "Now that the Tories are back.." was the totemic line.

From that, Scots were invited to infer that only Labour could defend them from this externalised evil, as posited by Iain Gray.

But, even if Scots entirely bought that rhetoric, they looked around and concluded that, just perhaps, the Scottish National Party could be trusted to stand up for Scottish interests.

The more Labour reminded people that the main Unionist party was back in Westminster power, the more folk in Scotland appeared to calculate that they could counter that by voting for the SNP.

In the latter stage of the campaign, Mr Gray modified that to lay a greater stress on attacking independence directly.

Different problem, same outcome. Voters were not sufficiently frightened, if at all, by these tactics.

Final thought. To amend a phrase from the Scotland Act, "there shall be a Scottish referendum". It will happen during the forthcoming parliament - still towards the second half, according to the all-potent SNP.

Will people say "I like that" - as Donald Dewar did of devolution? Maybe. Today does not tell us definitively.

People were voting for a government. A government whose record they found acceptable.

They were not voting directly for independence. Mr Salmond openly acknowledges that.

But a referendum there will be.

I can just hear Alex Salmond now.

They told us, he will say, there would never be a Scottish Parliament.

Then never an SNP Government.

Then never an SNP majority.

Now they will tell us, he will add, that Scots will never vote for independence.

Perhaps, perhaps. That referendum campaign has yet to be called, let alone decided.

But right now Mr Salmond is entitled - fully entitled - to bask in the delight of a simply stunning victory.

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