Scottish Local Government Elections 2022: The Results

9th May 2022

The polls have closed, winners have been announced and those not elected will be licking their wounds and probably catching up on some much needed rest from the election campaign.  Those fortunate to have been elected for the first-time will be starting their induction processes into their respective Councils.  The machinery of local government is not always straightforward so do give your newly elected Councillors some breathing space as they get up to speed.

It is fair to say that local Council elections in Scotland do not have the same excitement and anticipation as a Parliamentary election, but in the midst of ‘partygate’, talk of a second independence referendum and the cost of living crisis, the stakes could not have been higher for the political parties.

An election sets incredibly high expectations, not just from the voters but from the political parties themselves, and in this local election you could say those high expectations may not have been met entirely.

Meeting or exceeding expectations is the name of the game at the moment and both the Greens and the Liberal Democrats did just that. The SNP, were expected to win the most seats and perhaps add a few more to their tally, but he real contest was the battle for second place. After years in third place, a narrow second place win for Anas Sarwar feels like a breakthrough for the Labour Party. The Scottish Conservatives and Douglas Ross were relegated to third place, facing a reduction of 63 seats. Nevertheless, the single transferrable voting system has, once again, ensured that 27 of Scotland’s 32 Councils have no one party in overall control.

It feels like déjà vu to say that the SNP has won this election, but after 11 successive election wins and 15 years in power at Holyrood, it is becoming the norm. Nevertheless, even though the SNP is used to winning and we, the public are used to seeing them as a dominant force in Scottish politics, the win is no less remarkable. To gain 22 seats in the turmoil of the ferry crisis, post-covid backlogs and a troubled education reform to name but a few issues, was impressive. With a total of 453 Councillors and gaining control of Dundee Council, the influence of the party will extend across the 32 Councils and will be a significant help to the Scottish Government’s agenda. However, all eyes were on Glasgow City Council where the party was knocked by a strong Labour challenge and an impressive rising support for the Greens. After months of controversy in this Council for the SNP, to remain the largest party, albeit by one seat, will have brought a sigh of relief to Nicola Sturgeon as a loss in her own backyard would have been politically damaging.

The Greens’ impressive showing in Glasgow and other areas serves to highlight that that the power-sharing deal with the SNP in the Scottish Government has perhaps helped rather than hindered the party. With gains across the country, the Greens could now hold the balance of power in areas like Glasgow where a deal with the SNP would produce an overall majority. After a few poor elections at Holyrood, the Liberal Democrats have had very little to celebrate, although this election provided a reason to bring out a smile. They gained 20 seats across the country, which is a strong start in the recovery of the party with notable benefits coming from the collapse of the Conservative vote in some areas, particularly in Edinburgh where the Liberal Democrats have traditionally been strong.

The story of the recovery of the Scottish Labour Party reached its climatic moment on Thursday, snatching the second place victory from the Scottish Conservatives for the first time since 2016. The party declared that the Ruth Davidson project is dead” after sealing its second place victory at the Glasgow count. While the Party’s vote share only increased slightly, the party seemed happy with a narrow lead over the Conservatives for now. To add to celebrations, Labour enjoyed an unexpected win in West Dunbartonshire, home of Depute Leader Jackie Baillie, to take overall control of the Council.

The biggest story of the election is the fall of the Scottish Conservative Party which is now relegated to third as voters punished it over ‘partygate’ and the cost of living crisis by abstaining or switching their support to other parties. Despite gains in Moray and Aberdeenshire that softened some of the blow, a loss of 63 seats has called into question the leadership of the party, with voters disgruntled at Douglas Ross’ U-turn on calling for the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign over ‘partygate’. While being asked about his position on the Prime Minister, Mr Ross all but called for the PM’s resignation saying hesimply cannot ignore the message that has been sent by voters across Scotland. While there has been no official call for Douglas Ross to resign, he has said he will continue to lead the party, but a poor election showing means it is up to the party to decide if voter apathy will pass or if a new leader is needed.

The only party to have a worse day than the Conservatives, was Alex Salmond’s Alba Party, as the Party failed to win a single Council seat despite contesting over one hundred.

So as the dust has settled on another election. The SNP remains Scotland’s largest political party; Labour has started to make a come-back; the Liberal Democrats and the Greens have sprouted as political kingmakers; the Scottish Conservatives are facing the consequences of ‘partygate’; and Alba has still to win a single seat.  That’s a lot to digest for one day.