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The 2010 UK elections and the democratic deficit

Updated Tuesday, 30th April 2013

Article seven of ten: What was the effect of the UK elections on Scotland?

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The outcome of the UK general election in May 2010 sharpened political differences between Scotland and other parts of the Union, once again confirming that Scotland had a very distinctive political landscape. One feature shared across the UK was that voters did not choose a majority Conservative government. Gaining 307 seats (out of 650), the Conservatives had to form a coalition government with the LibDems (57). This coalition provided the Conservatives with a slender but effective majority with which to push through their austerity programme. It can be argued that this outcome roughly reflected how the electorate voted in England, or perhaps more correctly, in parts of it, although many LibDem members felt this particular coalition was contrary to the values for which they stood.

The contrast with Scotland could not have been greater. Scotland returned only 1 Conservative and 11 LibDem MPs. Out of a total of 59 Scottish constituencies, 47 were shared between Labour (41) and the Scottish National Party (SNP) (6), both of which had campaigned on centre-left manifestos. The return of a Conservative-led government in London, thanks to votes in England, led to claims that a democratic deficit had re-emerged whereby the UK government, as with the Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s, did not reflect the political wishes of the Scottish people. Whereas the two parliaments had been 'in tune' with each other only three years previously, when Labour controlled both (until May 2007), the parliaments were now severely out of sync in terms of what voters wanted from 'their' government. Instead of having a single but multi-tier government in which parties could feasibly share power across two parliaments and administrations, Scotland now had two governments pulling in opposed political directions – one of these had been elected in Scotland and the other, as the SNP put it, was totally unwanted.

Take your learning further

The BBC's website on the 2010 general election provides clear, colourful maps of the UK and Scotland which neatly display the contrast in voting patterns. Have a look at the UK-wide results and the results for the 'region' (sic) of Scotland.

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