May 2007, Scotland. After the third general election of the devolved Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) became the largest party in the country. It gained 47 of the 129 available seats compared to Labour's 46, the SNP's largest rival.
SNP leader Alex Salmond himself was involved in a fierce struggle for his own constituency of Gordon, winning with 14,650 votes - a close margin of 2,062 votes over his opponent, Liberal Democrat Nora Radcliffe, who claimed 12,588.
The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats gained 17 and 16 seats respectively.
Turnout at the election was notably higher than in previous years: 51.7 per cent in the constituency vote and 52.4 per cent in the regional vote, compared to 49.4 per cent in both in 2003. Whether this surge in voters was due to the appeal of a Referendum on Independence is unclear.
However this increase in turnout was paired with significant controversy. The election saw up to 150,000 votes discounted overall. In the constituency vote, 1,197 votes were spoiled on average across 64 constituencies. In the same constituencies in 2003 there was a total of 10,757 spoiled ballots, a notably smaller average at 168 per constituency.
Nonetheless the election was an historic one. It saw the first ever nationalist party seize power in Scotland, witnessing the defeat of the previously untouchable Labour Party which had effectively governed Scotland since 1955.
Under the Union of the Crowns Act, 1707, Scotland and England ceased to be auld enemies and decided to move forward together as partners for a brighter future. The years that followed saw the rise of the largest maritime empire ever to exist, of which Scotland was an integral part. Scotland fought in Great Britain's wars, traded in its merchandise and colonised its lands across the globe, effectively creating its own private empire within that of the united countries.
The SNP's victory on the Union's 300th anniversary was as symbolic as it was historic, but what does it actually mean? Does the fact that so many voters in Scotland chose SNP mean that they all want independence from their Southern neighbours after all these years?
The core issue of Alex Salmond's campaign was the Referendum on Independence planned for 2010, an issue which puts the SNP at odds with Scotland's other parties. However, statistics show that the majority of Scots do not actually want national independence. Some figures indicate that only 25 per cent of the population are in favour of independence, with the highest estimation at only 50 per cent.
The real significance behind the SNP's victory is not its own gains, but Labour's losses.
The clash of the titans in Scotland took place at a time when Labour's support across the whole of Britain was cracking at the seams. The fact that Labour's fall from grace was not simply a Scottish phenomenon means that the SNP's gains should perhaps be interpreted as a result of decreasing confidence in the other Scottish parties rather than just simply a desire to become an independent entity.
One could argue that for many, the SNP was the best of a bad bunch.
Charlie Jeffrey, Professor of Politics at the University of Edinburgh, holds that the SNP’s victory is nothing to be surprised about, viewing the affair merely as a simple rotation in government, a cyclical affair which will eventually come back on itself. Pointing out that Labour had been running the show for years, Professor Jeffrey said that “time was getting on for a change.”
The SNP's victory is all the more significant because the figure head of Labour's Scottish campaign was Gordon Brown. A strong believer in the strength of Britain under the Union, Brown actively tried to dissuade the Scottish public from voting SNP, a victory he knew would threaten the Union. Despite wielding considerable influence in Scotland, Brown's attempts to sway the Scots were unsuccessful.
This failure has caused many to question Brown's overall leadership skills; if he was unable to help Labour keep a hold on Scotland - his birth place and personal fiefdom as many think of it - then how will he run a stable Britain?
It is clear that the SNP focused heavily on the 'independence from Westminster' card, but many voted for the party due to their other policies, such as those on Iraq, Trident, healthcare and education reforms.
Historically, the nationalist party's victory threatens the Union. However, the SNP is just a party like any other, holding policies that supporters of the party will both approve and disapprove of. We must not assume that because independence was one of their key policies that all their voters voted SNP simply because of that. After all, most Scots do not want independence as such, but rather greater powers for the Scottish Parliament whilst still being part of the United Kingdom, and many voters saw the SNP as the party to bring this change about.
It is also worth noting that the SNP promised a referendum on Scottish independence, not independence itself. Whether they do or do not support it, many Scottish people simply want to be given the choice on the Union, unlike in 1707 when many felt that their country was "bought and sold for English gold."