m: this is content from my press persona, as will all subsequent devolved coverage.
As Holyrood elections come upon the nation, proper analysis of the previous terms happenings and how the parties stand going into the election will serve as a vital tool for the public to inform themselves on how to move forward.
The term has been eventful for all involved. The best way to summarize it would be a trend of policy continuity but changing personnel. Lets break down where all the parties stand.
For the Scottish Conservatives, they face the chance to strengthen their mandate, while still reconciling the differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Hovering at a bare majority in polling, the Conservatives are on the cusp of achieving results seldom seen in the history of proportional representation. Despite this, tensions still exist between their policy and the rest of their party. The First Minister, to take a phrase from the across the pond in 2008, styles themselves as a maverick, having repeatedly broken with his party this term on issues related to the devolved nations, particularly around accountability and Brexit. A similar needle has been threaded by them internally, as the Conservatives have sought to soften their tone on issues such as language accommodations while pushing newly controversial policies such as prescription charges. All of this exists over the contentious agreement to accept a reduced block grant as a result of the F4 negotiations. Additional choices will be faced by the Conservatives as they assess their relationship with the Liberal Democrats, who despite serving in government have produced a term not devoid of tensions and private counter briefing.
For Scottish Labour, expectation management is beginning to run into long term reality. The past two elections have seen Labour overperform their polls, while still failing to enter government. However, after 2 elections of this narrative, it may be becoming increasingly clear to their voters that overperformance matters less than the amount of time the party has spent out of government. The inability to re-enter Bute House therefore likely weighs heavily on party higher up's minds. This is of course a leadership that has been ever changing. In the first example of this term's changing personnel, Scottish Labour has seen multiple leadership shakeups. The departure of long term leader Youmaton set off a chain of leadership elections one after another. Weebru's ascension to leadership was cut short by the loss of a crucial internal vote on becoming a unionist party, a loss interpreted by them as a rejection of their mandate, triggering their immediate resignation as leader and from the party altogether. The subsequent leadership election saw the second consecutive defeat of CaptainPlat, widely seen as the leading advocate of the more left faction within Scottish Labour, and the beginning of NeatSaucer's tenure. Immediately upon taking up the job, they won a vote on becoming a unionist party, this time having removed the "Other" option that beat out Weebru's stance. This move likely leaves their voters wondering why Labour went through a process twice that could have been done once, and risks leaving the impression that the first leadership election was a waste of time. As Labour goes into the election, they face the task of both presenting their own vision to the electorate while attempting to maintain a cordial relationship with the Scottish Conservatives, who may very well retain Bute House and therefore retain political leverage.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats face a task of reconciling contradictions. On the one hand, their position in government probably feels like a good chance for a polling boost and gives them the ability to impact legislation. On the other hand, the majority the Scottish Conservatives and the Scottish Libertarians enjoy has at times left them out of the loop on formulating policy, with prescription charges being pushed through without their support on the backs of the aforementioned Blurple majority. The choice for the party this election is therefore a decision around if the leverage they enjoy in government is worth the hassle of an at times unstable coalition and increased strained relationships with their national coalition partners in Labour. The repeated tensions that have emerged between government members on issues such as the Olympics and language protections make this choice doubly difficult, as the Liberal Democrats will have to predict whether or not these conflicts will increase or decrease if they choose to campaign on their government record.
For the Scottish Libertarians, their key issue is differentiation from their allies in blue. A constant junior partner in the Conservative led governments, LPUK's breaks from the Conservatives on policy have been few and far between. This has resulted in the party both maintaining strong positions in government while at the same time facing a decline in the polls. This paradox is exaggerated by the departure of their primary source of activity, Lord Grantham. Without the outspoken personality of their now former leader to carry them to the finish line, the Libertarians face an even larger challenge. Lord Grantham's continued occupancy of the Lord Advocate's office also raises the question of what potential cabinet spots the Scottish Libertarians could request in the event that a new term begins and Lord Grantham wishes to retain their role as an independent Lord Advocate.
The Scottish National Party can only grow, as they are starting from scratch, but the number of nationalist voters in Scotland compared to party polling numbers raises concerns for them. Their aggressive push in both press and Holyrood speeches in recent times can only do so much with an electorate that often rewards long term presence versus party's that emerge in the short term. New openings seem to have been sensed by them, with moves being made to contrast themselves from Scottish Labour on issues such as diversity appointments in the Scottish judiciary, while areas of common messaging between the two parties on stances such as the welfare referendum persist.
For the Scottish Progressives, their main strategy this term and in the upcoming election appears to be a desire to appeal to a specific subset of the Scottish electorate who remain frustrated with perceived Labour stagnation while having more moderate stances on the union.
In summation, the upcoming Holyrood election occurs during a time where both change and continuity battle out for dominance. Current political trends may persist into the next term, but with a new set of leaders, how those trends are acted upon remains anyone's guess.