Has the tide turned in Scottish politics?

6 mins read
Photo: First Minister of Scotland

As the celebrations continue in the Scottish Conservative camp, and the Scottish Labour party lick their wounds after a cataclysmic Scottish election, one has to ask if this is a sea-change in Scottish politics?

The SNP have walked away with the greatest number of seats, but fell short of achieving the 65 seats required to win a majority, claiming 63 of the 129.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives gained a whopping 16 seats, taking two of Labour’s 13 lost seats. It makes the Conservatives the second largest party in Scotland, with their 31 seats outstripping Labour’s 24.

The result is the best SNP constituency result ever, but leaves the question: Why did they not claim a majority?

Considering the SNP stormed to victory with 69 seats in 2011, and claimed all but two of Scotland’s Westminster seats in 2015, why did their regional list vote drop 3 points?

Now I have had more than 90 minutes sleep, I have given it consideration.

The answer is threefold:

  1. The idea of an SNP clear majority before the election;
  2. The constitutional question
  3. Scottish Labour decline

Firstly, the polls have said for a long time the SNP would waltz to victory, steaming far beyond their 69 seats of 2011.

It would be understandable people felt uneasy about the idea of another SNP majority, with a majority of voters reminiscing about the times when Scottish politics was made of coalitions and minorities.

In an electoral system based on creating non-majority governments, it is an uneasy thought to have a single party in government, with all of the new powers being devolved to Scotland.

Photo: BBC

This leads to the second point: constitution, and new powers.

There are a large number of people who vote for the SNP who do not support independence.

Shocking, is it not?

In fact, close to a third of the SNP support is from “pro-Union” voters, which might explain a reluctance to vote for the SNP on the second ballot.

It is evident by the constituency votes the SNP are seen as a party capable of government, who are competent enough to be voted on the FPTP ballot.

However, those who are concerned about indy 2.0, or are uneasy about the new tax raising powers being devolved to Scotland, might just vote Conservative on their list vote.

This would explain the 1% rise in the SNP’s constituency vote, but a 3-point drop on the list.

So, if you support SNP policy and record, but not independence, who do you vote for? The Greens? No, they also support independence.

The LibDems? You may think not initially, due to the who Lib-Cons coalition of 2010-15, but the LibDems did push keep their 5 seats, and gained classic Liberal territory in Edinburgh, and took North East Fife from the SNP.

Scottish Labour? This is the third point: Scottish Labour are not in a good place.

Photo: Reuters/ Russell Cheyne

This is by no means aided by the fiascos of UK Labour, which have had a damaging impact on the party’s image.

Some may argue it is not so bad, considering they won the London Mayoral election, and kept their council seats.

But Labour should be doing a lot, lot better. With a Conservative government hitting local councils hard, it is surprising Labour did not take more council seats, but they did not.

Further, Dugdale’s 1p in the pound tax rise was not received with open arms by voters, and their attempts to outflank the SNP seem to have been waylaid. (Some might argue the SNP are not a left-wing party, but – in the eyes of scholars – they are).

So, who do you vote for? Who appears generally likeable, not pro-independence, and is doing OK in Parliament?

The Scottish Conservatives. As bizarre as it sounds, the reported today of people voting SNP on the first ballot, and Tory on the second.

Not just that, but the Thatcher image the Tories used to have might just be starting to wash off in a modern-day Scotland.

It is perhaps a positive thing the SNP are not a majority again, as it will ensure the Parliament operates as a single unit moving forward.

We can be sure for now, though, that Labour have a lot of homework to do.

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“It is worth ascending unexiting heights if for nothing else than to see the big ones from nearer their own level.” - Nan Shepherd

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