ASSESSING election results is a bit like reading tea leaves. It’s tempting to imagine that they foretell momentous change.

SNP the largest party? We’ll be independent in five years. Alba left without a seat? No more Alex Salmond. Willie Rennie doubled his vote share? All hail the Everlasting Liberal Democratic Republic of North East Fife.

Real life is nowhere near as neat or predictable. Even so, we should not overlook the changes that appear to be taking place to long-standing political allegiances, in Scotland, the rest of the UK and in Europe. They suggest that a historic shift might – just might – be taking place.

Lift the giant Saltire that suffocates wider debate in Scottish politics, heave aside the mighty referendum question, and the picture of Scottish politics could be changing underneath. That may turn out, with hindsight, to be the real story of these elections.

The twin nationalisms of the SNP and Boris Johnson’s Tories have dominated the debate in Scotland for several years and the centuries-old political philosophies of socialism, conservatism and liberalism have been pushed aside. Are they even still relevant? And are the much-discussed culture wars a passing wave, or will being a “woke warrior”, a greenie or a Brexiteer come to define our politics once the constitutional question is finally settled?

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We don’t know yet but two things stand out. One is the rise, albeit moderately, of the Scottish Greens. It was already the fourth largest party at Holyrood with six MSPs but now has eight.

Has the party benefited from being a pro-independence list party that isn’t Alba? Yes, to be blunt. But the interesting question is whether there is more to it than that. The Green Party has also gained councillors in England (albeit, again, from a low base) and finished second in the Bristol mayoral election. Importantly, the pattern for the Greens has broadly been one of advancement, with occasional setbacks, for several elections now.

Boosts for smaller parties all too often turn out to be false dawns and the disappointment can be crushing. You only have to ask a Lib Dem (remember to take a box of tissues). The Greens in Scotland have faced setbacks of their own before now.

But in the wider context of what might be a realignment of politics in England, and given how the independence issue distorts the political picture in Scotland, you have to wonder whether something significant is starting to happen here. Could the Greens be benefitting from a change away from class-based behemoths like Labour and the Tories, towards parties stridently associated with single policy issues or particular values? Such a change would reflect the move towards culture as a determinant of how people vote.

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A bit fanciful at this stage? Maybe, but bear with me while we consider what actually happened last week in England. Labour is reeling from the loss of Hartlepool, which in spite of the placatory talk of a vaccine boost for the Tories, it knows to be devastating. The party has been forced to ask itself what and whom it stands for. Working class voters in many seats have abandoned it, feeling that their values are better reflected by the pro-Brexit Tories.

In a slew of other seats, Labour MPs are sitting on slashed majorities and fear what’s coming at the next election. Meanwhile, the party is buoyant in metropolitan areas, but faces competition there from the Lib Dems and the Greens. If the new fault line in politics is a cultural one between what University of Kent politics professor Matthew Goodwin calls the “cosmopolitans” and the “traditionalists”, then Labour, haemorrhaging its traditionalists and fighting other parties for the cosmopolitans, is on a losing streak.

New political identities are emerging, particularly among younger voters. Where people used to vote Labour because they wanted high public spending, muscular unions and higher taxes on the rich, people often vote Green because they’re worried about a single issue: climate change.

Goodwin, writing in the Sunday Times, hailed the “quietly impressive” performance by the Greens around Britain and speculated that British politics could be headed the way of several European nations where “cosmopolitan parties are eclipsing the old centre-left”. He paints a picture of a world 10 years from now where the Lib Dems (a party strongly associated with progressive values and human rights), or the Greens, are doing rather better than now, having harnessed the support of educated middle-class professionals while Labour dithers over its true identity.

The Tories, having rallied the “traditionalists” and seen off would-be competitors like Nigel Farage, can just sit and watch.

This phenomenon matters in Scotland because a shift to voting according to values instead of class and economics is happening in other European nations besides England. There is no reason to think Scotland is different.

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Were it not for the all-conquering constitutional debate, my suspicion is that it would be more apparent here too. The real political identity of Scottish voters is obscured by that debate. It’s only once the referendum is done, whichever way it goes, that voters will be able to cast their ballot according to priorities other than independence.

Parties in Scotland ignore these trends elsewhere at their peril. Scottish Labour already knows only too well that it cannot afford to be complacent. Party figures have already donned the sackcloth and begged forgiveness for their former arrogance, since it was Scotland’s heartlands that the party lost first. But it still faces some of the same challenges as its sister party in England.

After a referendum, it might well prove to be the SNP that is the next mass appeal party to be given some shock treatment by voters. Once the constitutional question has been posed to the people and answered, folk who have formerly voted SNP are likely to feel at liberty to ask themselves whether the SNP truly represents their views on other issues. The answer may well be: no.

So in future, small Scottish parties may grow and big ones shrink. Given its more proportional voting system, the Holyrood parliament could in future years have a much more pluralistic feel.

The values of the electorate are shifting. The big question seems to be whether the old parties can adjust or whether some will wither away.

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