How the vote was won

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Media captionNew research explains why voters turned to the SNP

Did you catch that remarkable report on Newsnight Scotland by my esteemed colleague Ken Macdonald, examining just why the SNP won the Holyrood election out of the park?

It was based upon the Scottish Election Survey, conducted by similarly esteemed academics from the universities of Strathclyde and Essex.

Of course, at the most elementary level, the SNP won the election because they got more votes than the other lot. They persuaded people to stick with them or shift to them.

But how? In what categories? The narrative is both complex - and simple.

It is complex in that there was not a straightforward, uniform collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote to the SNP.

Yes, the Nationalists picked up more of the fugitive LibDems than their rivals, partly because SNP strategists deliberately chose to sound notably supportive in the concomitant AV referendum, a LibDem project.

But some abandoned the LibDems for Labour - while Labour voters also fled in search of the SNP.

So, complex. But also simple in that the factor which stands out is public appreciation of the SNP for competence in office.

No' badness

Now, were happy factory workers mustering outside the gates in spontaneous demonstrations of support for Alex Salmond, perhaps bursting into joyous song?

Scarcely. Rather, I believe folk are prepared to accord Mr Salmond and his government the greatest honour which Scotland bestows. The Scottish gold star. They reckon he's done "no' bad".

Most significantly, they contrast his clear, demonstrable no' badness with the record of his rivals. They reckon the Tories in UK government are awful and the LibDems worse. They don't have particularly fond memories of Labour in office, at least by contrast with their views of the SNP team.

Which meant that one fundamental of the Scottish Labour campaign - that the sky would undoubtedly fall if Mr Salmond were to be returned - was flawed, to be polite, from the outset.

Iain Gray was running, fast, into a brick wall as he tried to depict Alex Salmond as a threat to Scotland. Experience, popular opinion, faced the other way.

And when popular opinion is agin you on fundamentals, when your analysis does not match popular perception, then the chances of getting a hearing on anything else are close to zero.

Other points from the election survey. The SNP was comfortably ahead in all social classes - including those who are working class either by self-description or external categorisation.

Further, the Nationalists were ahead in sundry religious categorisations. Kirk adherents, Catholics and agnostics/atheists all voted for the SNP, ahead of Labour - although the lead, a first-time phenomenon, was somewhat more narrow among Catholics.

Myself, I have long believed that the notion of a "Catholic" or "Protestant" block vote is false, at least in simplistic terms. I believe we must also consider other elements. However, a person's religious adherence may be one factor, among others, which influences the final electoral decision.

Certainly, the SNP believed that and have cultivated the Catholic Church over a long period. It would appear that those efforts have borne fruit, at least to the extent of neutralising or minimising any counter tendency. In short, folk rated the SNP for reasons of competence and leadership - and their religious adherence did not alter that verdict.

So, in conclusion, the SNP led among all classes, all religions and none. They rated highest for competence, unity, leadership, image and defending Scotland. They won.