It was 20 years ago today….

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2,350,327 people, 58.2% of the electorate in Scotland, turned out to vote in the first elections to the newly devolved Scottish Parliament (unfortunately, I was too young to be one of them).  This blog looks at the turnout and the results of the election.

Turnout varied across the country. The South of Scotland region saw the highest turnout at 61.7%, while less than half of the electorate of Glasgow voted (47.9%). Stirling was the constituency with the highest turn out at 67.0% while only 40.3% of those in Glasgow Shettleston voted.

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The 1999 election was the first time a proportional system for elections – the Additional Member System – was used in Great Britain. As a result, the Parliament’s 129 representatives were made up of a combination of 73 constituency seats and 56 regional seats.  This balance has remained unchanged since 1999.

At 11:16pm on 6 May 1999 Tom McCabe of the Labour Party was declared the winner of the Hamilton South constituency, becoming the first member of the newly devolved Scottish Parliament. Labour dominated the constituency contests, winning 53 of the available 73, while the Liberal Democrats won 12, the SNP won 7 with one seat going to Dennis Canavan.

The SNP won most regional Members, securing half of the 56 seats. The Conservatives won 18, the Liberal Democrats 5 and Labour 3. The other regional seats were won by Robin Harper for the Green Party, becoming the first Green parliamentarian in the UK, and Tommy Sheridan for the Scottish Socialist Party.

The original constituency boundaries for the Scottish Parliament mirrored the UK Parliament constituencies except for the islands of Orkney and Shetland, which formed a single constituency for the UK Parliament. The party breakdown of constituency seats in the newly established Scottish Parliament looked very similar to that at Westminster (from the recent 1997 UK election). Only three constituencies swung from Labour. They were Falkirk West (Dennis Canavan); Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber (Scottish National Party) and Aberdeen South (Liberal Democrat).

The largest majority in Scotland went to Dennis Canavan, who secured 55% of the vote in his constituency, a winning margin of 12,192.

The lowest majority was in the Ayr constituency, where Ian Welsh of Labour won by only 25 votes after two recounts. He resigned on 21 December 1999, which triggered the first by-election for the Scottish Parliament. This initial Labour victory was overturned after the seat was won by John Scott, for the Scottish Conservatives. While this majority seems tiny, the smallest in Scottish Parliament history was in 2011 when Bill Kidd, of the SNP, secured a majority of 7 in the Glasgow Anniesland constituency.

Overall, Labour won the most seats with 56, 9 short of 65, the figure required to secure a majority in the Scottish Parliament. A governing coalition partnership agreement was subsequently agreed between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

SPICe_2019_Blog_1999 Election_Results_01If you are interested in finding out more about the history of the Scottish Parliament SPICe provide factsheets as well as the statistics volume.

Andrew Aiton, Data Visualisation Manager

Blog Image: SPICe