Do you ever get that feeling as you approach 6 January? The one which is part relief that ‘Christmas’ (which started in October with the shops putting up decorations) is finally over? But which is also part sadness that, with the decorations being put away, the reality of normal life and routine is fast approaching?
I am getting that same sense of climax/anti-climax two weeks on from the Scottish Parliament election results. The long build-up to the campaign, the change of leaders of both the Conservatives and Labour a few months before the election, the short Covid campaign, the reappearance of Alex Salmond, the opinion polls, the protracted results weekend… and now we get back to business, with the election of a Presiding Officer last week, and this week the reappointment of Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister and the putting together of a new Cabinet.
The headline figures in terms of numbers of seats compared to the 2016 results seem to show very little political change. So what can we expect to see?
The first thing is that behind the almost static numbers of political representation, the Parliament looks pretty different. There are more than 40 new MSPs (out of a total of 129), and Holyrood now has women sitting in 45% of the seats. There are now six MSPs from ethnic minority backgrounds, up from two in the last Parliament. Both these statistics mean that, on these characteristics, Holyrood is getting closer to looking like the population of Scotland as a whole. There are new young faces, including 23 year old Emma Roddick who is the youngest MSP, representing the Highlands and Islands region.
Emma has said that the lowering of the voting age to 16 in Scotland for all elections apart from UK General Elections has done “wonders” for youth engagement in politics. This 2021 election also saw any legal resident of Scotland, including refugees, having the right to vote. Overall turnout was up nearly 8 points from the previous election at 63.5% – the highest ever for a Scottish Parliament election.
And so as we move from the campaign and election to the future, we already know what to expect. The SNP published a guide as to what they would do in the first 100 days, including two issues I wanted to highlight:
- Setting up a Cross-Party steering group on Covid recovery
- Beginning a formal consultation on reform of adult social care and the creation of a National Care Service
It is heartening to see cross-party agreement and collaboration on issues that matter in the Scottish Parliament. Collaborative working around key issues is seen, perhaps, less often in Westminster – churches could pray that constructive cross-party dialogue might be seen in all Parliaments around the UK.
The proposals for adult social care and the National Care Service include a promise that legislation will be introduced within a year. Contrastingly, at Westminster, the UK Government was criticised for its failure to make progress on social care reform.
The constitutional question remains unanswered, but it seems that all the main players are happy to park it – for now – to deal with other priorities.