The biggest winners of the 2011 elections anywhere in Britain are surely Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party.
What had looked like being a neck and neck battle with Labour until the final weeks of the campaign proper has turned into an SNP rout. This is a very personal triumph for Salmond, who dominated the campaign, with an enormous lead in personal profile and preferences for First Minister over Labour’s Iain Gray.
Having edged to minority power in a knife-edge election in 2007, he has got resoundingly re-elected at a time when that is no mean feat anywhere in Europe.
Scottish Labour was lulled into a false sense of security by its very strong general election performance in Scotland a year ago. The emphasis on trying to keep the Tories out generated a swing to Labour. The strategic mistake was to run the same campaign in a context when it was not relevant, running primarily against the third placed Tories in the Holyrood elections too. Meanwhile, Labour’s emphasis on the dangers of SNP separatism was a message weakened by the inoculation of a referendum.
Those anti-Tory and anti-SNP negative messages largely crowded out any positive argument from Scottish Labour. That particularly mattered in Scotland, where Labour does not have the advantage of being the only large party making a centre-left social democratic pitch to the voters. That the SNP who picked up most support from the LibDem retreat, and were able to pick up votes from the Tories too, has given them a commanding result.
How Salmond would now deal with the possibility of being able to hold an independence referendum is one of the intriguing conundrums thrown up by the result.
It would surely be a once in a generation effort. At this election, the SNP won the argument that Salmond was best placed to stand up for Scotland within the Union, and in dealings with the Tory-led coalition at Westminster. And that was an argument strengthened because the prospect of independence had tangibly receded after the 2008 financial crisis.
Independence remains the central, animating mission of the SNP – and yet is not why the voters have valued the chance to challenge Labour’s Scottish hegemony.
The Scottish Tories are now established as the third party, despite probably falling back, due to the much sharper decline in the LibDem Scottish vote. Scottish LibDems have not been the biggest cheerleaders for the Tory-LibDem coalition at Westminster, but have paid a heavy price for their association with it, losing many deposits across the country.
How deep will the Scottish Labour inquest go?
There may turn out to be some significant differences of view between the massed ranks of Scottish MPs at Westminster and the now reduced Holyrood tribe.
But the 2011 election is a significant development in devolved politics of the United Kingdom.
One of the key messages of the inquest may well be the need for Scottish Labour to ensure it develops a more distinct identity when fighting on the Scottish stage. And that might also be welcomed, rather than resisted, by those at Westminster who believe that Labour also needs a more distinctly English Labour identity in England.
Sudner Katwala also blogs at Next Left.