Understanding Scotland's Historic Election Result

05/20/2015 05:32 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2016
ASSOCIATED PRESS

This week, a historic new class of fifty-six pro-Scottish independence Members of Parliament is being sworn into the House of Commons in London.

With a record high turnout -- significantly higher than the rest of the UK -- Scots voted in the recent UK election for 95 percent of their Parliamentary representatives to come from one party, the Scottish National Party (SNP). For all the talk of David Cameron's victory, his Conservative Party returned only one solitary Member of Parliament from Scotland, and that MP held on to his seat by just 798 votes.

As the Prime Minister prepares his legislative program for when the Queen opens the new Parliament next week, he will be aware that he has no mandate in Scotland for his agenda. The reality is that Scottish voters chose something markedly different than their English neighbors. But since more than 80 percent of UK voters live in England, the reality is that the UK will once again get the government that England votes for. And England voted Conservative.

It is exactly this democratic deficit that leaves so many Scottish voters frustrated by the political system. Scotland has not voted Conservative in a UK general election since 1955, but has spent most of the last 60 years living under Conservative governments. Understand that, and you can understand that the desire many have for independence is less about a flag and more about political disenfranchisement.

As popular as independence is for many Scots, the new class of Scottish MPs have been clear that the mandate from this election is to work for the good of their constituents within the UK system. And as the third largest party at Westminster, they also have a responsibility to act in goodwill towards voters in the rest of Great Britain, too.

Beyond that, the members of this newly powerful group defy easy categorization. Most of them have made their careers outside politics. They include a Queen's Council, a surgical oncologist, and a former speechwriter for U.S. Senator Daniel Moynihan.

And for people who mistakenly try to classify SNP politicians as purveyors of identity politics, what then to make of the SNP Westminster leader, a former BBC journalist who was born in Wimbledon to a German mother? The SNP also sent Scotland's first woman of color to Parliament -- Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, a Bollywood star turned successful lawyer whose mother is half-Czech and half-Welsh and whose father was Pakistani.

What all these Members of Parliament have in common is not their identity or their pasts -- it's their desire to see a fairer, more progressive Scotland. And top of that list is arguing against the deeply damaging austerity program of the Conservative government.

One of the most popular SNP slogans in recent months has been "BAIRNS NOT BOMBS." "Bairns" is Scottish for children, and considering that both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party proposed spending 100 billion pounds in new nuclear weapons as well as further cuts to social services, it's clear why many in Scotland voted as they did.

On my way to SNP headquarters on election night, my taxi driver -- once learning my destination -- excitedly asked me if I knew the leader of the SNP, the hugely popular Nicola Sturgeon, who he called "our Nicola." He stopped the cab to tell me that he was a Labour man. He was an ex-miner in his late 60s and said he voted SNP this time because he trusted them to speak up for Scotland. He told me he wanted "nae mair cuts and nae mair bombs."

David Cameron may have won the UK election, but he knows that he has no mandate in Scotland for further austerity -- and that almost half the country voted for independence only eight months ago. How the Prime Minister approaches Scotland in the coming months -- and how these 56 new MPs and their party react -- could well be the most defining legacy of his government.

Jennifer Erickson is the Director of Competitiveness and Economic Growth at the Center for American Progress. An American, she served as economic adviser to Alex Salmond MP at the Westminster Parliament in London and as special adviser to him as First Minister in the Scottish Government.