Photo: The Herald

The next fight of the decade: the Tories versus the SNP

7 mins read
Photo: The Herald

With the council elections drawing nearer, the ordinary folk who come to your door to ask how the streetlights are working under your current administration, or how the bins should be taken in, are bustling about campaigning for their local candidate – someone your parents probably know from high school.

Then along comes the “popular kid” – they have the team, the PR guy with the smoothed back hair and spectacles, the tea-making intern, and an army of flyer distributors. They want to talk about taxes, the NHS, your pension – even war and the environment.

Who do you choose between? Well, there is one interesting statistic that will emerge in the council elections: turnout.

There are a number of scenarios which could play out in the upcoming council and general elections, and the turnout in the former may indicate something (or nothing) about the latter.

My guess is turnout will likely be lower in England than in Scotland. No doubt the shadow of the impending storm of a general election will draw many a gaze away from the little guy asking if your drainage is doing alright under Labour.

I say England, because there is not the same fervour as there is in Scotland, as I shall show below. It also looks like the Conservatives have a pretty firm grip on Labour (with a flopping Corbyn at the helm), and UKIP (with…who? Who at the helm?).

Do not be fooled by the Liberal Democrats in England, though. The LibDems do a fine job at a local level (just look at their strategies down the years in Edinburgh), and they could just outflank the Tories.

In Scotland, there may be a similar scenario, and it would be unsurprising if that were the case. However, my guess is turnout could be higher in Scotland for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, a core of energised Scottish Conservative voters, who have had enough of being unrepresented in Scotland, feel now is the time to go to the polls and vote. For many of them, they might never have voted in Scotland’s council elections because they were unlikely to be victorious.

The STV system of proportional representation did not do the Tories a massive favour in 2012, with them losing 28 councillors and 2.35% of first preferences. This time around, with polls looking favourable for them, Tory voters might feel empowered to vote in local elections.

And perhaps more so than in the general election: it is far more likely a Conservative candidate could win a council with STV than a whole constituency under a majoritarian system. Nevertheless, the Tories could win as multiple seats come June, but concentrating their 28% polling figure into seats might be tricky.

A further reason for a high Scottish council turnout is a worried SNP electorate. Reacting against an insurgent Tory party (and not having to worry about Labour anymore), SNP voters may well make the march to the ballot boxes to ward off a yellow and blue map of Scotland.

As we move on into June, there are, again, a number of possible diversions for fate to take. In England, the same predicted story of the council elections may replay in the general election, with people resigned to a Tory government.

That, or – in a show of ardent support for a Brexit government – there is a huge turnout. On the flip side, there could be many in England who see this as a chance to show the 48% are not happy with the current set-up.

There is not much hope for Corbyn, and 170 seats seems a likely result for Labour. But it could be not as much of a landslide as many expect, with a core of estranged Tory voters hoping to the LibDems. It would pump up turnout, with sentiments running deep.

In Scotland, a similar passion is simmering, just as it could in the council elections. The SNP have proved themselves to be a credible party of parliament (just ask John Bercow), but it will be tough for them to replicate their sweep in 2015.

There are many in the SNP social media brigade who appear to be thumping their chests and saying “let’s kick out the last Tory in Scotland”, accompanied by a sad-faced David Mundell.

This is a largely foolish prospect. If the Conservatives are being accused of trying to make a one-party state, the SNP did that before it was cool amongst their opposers. With a dying Labour party in Scotland, there is nowhere for SNP opposition to turn.

One can sympathise with these voters: the SNP have done well, but aren’t flawless, and it seems the only credible party in Scotland (who have a popular leader and opposed Brexit) are the Tories.

Thus, either way there could be another high turnout relative to England, with an SNP versus Tory dynamic playing out fiercely. Still, SNP insiders have said the war chest is small, but that won’t seriously harm a party who make effective use of social media to encourage their voters to get out there.

These will be some of the most fascinating elections in the UK and Scotland for a long time, and the council elections might act as a signal as to the mood for the election in June.

Will the fervour in SNP and Tory camps come to fruition, or might the SNP get wrong-footed by an excited Tory vote?

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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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