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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 21:31 GMT 22:31 UK

The choices in a hybrid election

BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor examines the impact of a hybrid election.

Scotland's voters have made their decision in the country's first post-devolution election.

They went to the polling stations in a very different political landscape from any that the electorate has known before.

In stark terms, the domestic governance of Scotland was NOT at issue in this general election.

The Scottish Parliament continued in place. Its members were not dislodged by the electoral upheaval affecting their Westminster colleagues.

MSPs do not face election until 2003, when their fixed four-year term expires.

Similarly, the governing Scottish Executive stays in post, charged by Her Majesty with overseeing Scotland's law, health, education and the rest of the devolved panoply of power.

Those few MSPs who retained Westminster seats for an interim period after their election to Holyrood have had to pick a parliament.

All bar one have chosen to give up Westminster, with the Scottish National Party's Alex Salmond the only one who is seeking to return there.

His decision prompted one of two simultaneous Scottish Parliament by-elections, the other caused by the decision of Labour's Sam Galbraith to retire.

No direct remit

But, again strictly, the Scottish Parliament was NOT affected by the UK general election.

That meant that the election battleground in Scotland ought to have been completely different.

For Scotland, health, education, justice, social affairs, the criminal law, business development, the environment, housing, transport, sport, the arts and many other issues are entirely or mainly governed by the Scottish Parliament and executive.

The Westminster Parliament has no mandate, no direct remit over these matters in Scotland.

Strictly, that should have meant that the battleground in Scotland comprised those issues reserved to Westminster by the Scotland Act.

The issues should have been defence, foreign affairs, the macro-economy and social security.

Again, strictly, that is because Westminster MPs have no remit in devolved areas in Scotland.

But that did not prove to be the case, as the voters - and the parties - wanted to talk about (devolved) hospitals and schools as well as (reserved) pensions and income tax.

This made the general election a hybrid contest in Scotland.

It did feature those issues like taxation which the Westminster candidates could influence directly.

But it also featured those issues, like health and the criminal law, which the Westminster candidates do NOT cover directly.

For Scotland, this hybrid contest made it, at one and the same time, an election to choose members of the Westminster Parliament and a plebiscite upon the performance to date of the SCOTTISH Parliament.

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