Some Home Truths For The SNP – and Scottish Unionists – from #GE2017

The Exit Poll figures, released as the polls closed, later proved to be accurate

Since the exit poll for the 2017 General Election (dare I say #GE2017 Mark 1?) and the unfolding of the actual results, whilst being pleasantly surprised at the Tories’ losses overall, and their failure to get an overall majority, I have been perplexed by two things. The first is that the Tories may yet cling to power thanks to working with the DUP (tbc), but secondly, that they could at all is largely due to the number of seats that the Tories gained from the SNP in Scotland.

Being fairly shocked that the SNP managed to lose almost as many seats as was predicted by the exit poll, and are now left with 35 from the 56 they obtained in 2015, I have been scratching my head as to why, when beforehand I didn’t think they would lose anywhere near that, and was even hoping that they might get rid of Mundell.

Was it due to the Jeremy Corbyn inspired Labour surge? Did Scottish Labour go Tory? Was the weather a factor meaning more supporters stayed at home? Was there also complacency? Did Brexit supporting SNP voters defect? Some or all of the above?

Yes, I have concluded all of the above. But still, 21 seats lost? Do all these factors explain that? It didn’t seem to add up to me. It didn’t seem to fully explain it.

It was then that I came across the blog of Eric Joyce yesterday, who offered me the missing piece of this jigsaw puzzle.

I realised that my own perspective was too narrow. I realised that I needed to go back to the General Election of 2010 to understand the patterns emerging from the Scottish electorate.

I also realised that due to life and to politics around and since that time, I had forgotten those results. Not too surprising really, seeing as they were almost completely identical to the 2005 results. There was no movement whatsoever in terms of seats won or lost. It was the most boring of Scottish Election results, whereas results in the rest of the UK were tumultuous and have had a massive impact ever since.

2010 General Election Results for Scotland

Party Seats Seats
Votes  %  %
Labour 41 0 1,035,528 42.0 +2.5
Liberal Democrat 11 0 465,471 18.9 −3.7
SNP 6 0 491,386 19.9 +2.3
Conservative 1 0 412,855 16.7 +0.9
Turnout: 2,465,722 63.8


2015 General Election Results for Scotland

Party Seats Seats
Votes Votes, of total (%) Change (%)
SNP 56 50 59 1,454,436 50.0 Increase30.1
Labour 1 −40 59* 707,147 24.3 Decrease17.7
Conservative 1 0 59 434,097 14.9 Decrease1.8
Liberal Democrat 1 −10 59 219,675 7.5 Decrease11.3
UKIP 0 0 41 47,078 1.6 Increase0.9
Scottish Green 0 0 32 39,205 1.3 Increase0.7
CISTA 0 0 8 1,807 0.1 N/A
TUSC 0 0 10 1,720 0.1 0.0
Scottish Christian 0 0 2 1,467 0.1 Increase0.1
Scottish Socialist 0 0 4 895 0.0 Decrease0.1
National Front 0 0 2 289 0.0 N/A
Others 0 0 11 2,649 0.1
Turnout 2,910,465 71.1


2017 General Election Results for Scotland

Party Seats Votes
Total Gained Lost Net Total % Change (%)
SNP 35 0 21 −21 977,569 36.9 −13.1
Conservative 13 12 0 +12 757,949 28.6 +13.7
Labour 7 6 0 +6 717,007 27.1 +2.8
Liberal Democrat 4 3 0 +3 179,061 6.8 −0.8
Scottish Green 0 0 0 0 5,886 0.2 −1.1
UKIP 0 0 0 0 5,302 0.2 −1.4
Others 0 0 0 0 6,920 0.3 +0.2
Total 59 2,649,695 Turnout 66.4%

All the above numbers/tables were obtained from Wikipedia.

Let’s now look specifically at the four main parties and their voting numbers over these three general elections.

Scottish GE Results 2010 – 2017
Party Votes 2010 Votes 2015 Votes 2017
SNP 491,386 1,454,436 977,569
Conservative 412,855 434,097 757,949
Labour 1,035,528 707,147 717,007
Liberal Democrats 465,471 219,675 179,061

As the 2005 and 2010 results were virtually identical, they should be our base line to analyse what has happened, and I think this last table above helps to clarify that Eric Joyce is right. The 2015 results for the SNP have proven to be artificially high.

It appears that the backlash against Scottish Labour in 2015, due to its Indyref campaign, has permanently (or in the long-term, at least) lost them c300,000 votes, some of which went to the SNP.

The Liberal Democrats have also lost a similar number of voters as Labour have, in the same period. It also appears that traditional Lib Dem and Tory voters voted for the SNP in order to take tactical advantage of the SNP’s post Indyref surge and slash the number of Labour MPs in Scotland. In 2017, these tactical voters appear to have switched to the Tories in order to undermine the SNP vote.

When you add in the higher turnouts in 2015 and 2017, as compared to 2005 and 2010, you can start to see that these voters have either moved away from Scottish Labour and the Lib Dems, and/or added to the SNP and the Tory vote, with the SNP being the larger beneficiary, despite the recent election losses.

It also seems that there was very little of the anecdotal ‘Scottish Labour going Scottish Tory’ vote. Although there may be a degree of truth to it, I suspect many could not stomach voting Tory in the end and stayed Labour, or stayed home. Otherwise, it very much seems that the Scottish Labour vote held up across Scotland, improving slightly from 2015, and any swing of Labour voters to elsewhere has largely already occurred. If anything, it seems that the Liberal Democrat vote has largely gone Tory.

Broadly speaking, what seems to have happened is that the core SNP vote has been overestimated following the 2015 result. Remember that, in 2015, the Indyref had just been voted upon, so many Scottish anti-independence voters would have been happier to vote SNP on their policies alone, and/or to strike out at Scottish Labour.

The Corbyn effect does however seem to have shored-up Scottish Labour this time. Their slight increase in voter numbers would have been almost meaningless but for the fact that the SNP vote dropped so much, allowing them back into some Scottish seats at the SNP’s expense.

With another independence referendum potentially now in play following Brexit, it seems that Joyce’s so-called “Tartan Tories” have now jumped ship from the SNP to go back ‘hame’ to the biggest unionist party, which is now the Scottish Tories.

What we are now seeing is, somewhat as predicted, a new alignment along the lines of pro or anti independence, and behind what is now considered the main party of each; the SNP and the Tories. However, there are fewer SNP voters and more Tory voters than many people thought beforehand.

As Joyce also predicted, there has been an outcry against another Scottish Independence referendum. Unionists now claim that this election vote means that support for independence has fallen.

But has it? Or is it that Scots are just fed-up of elections and referendums in general? Or is the state of the electorate a little more complex than that?

If you accept the view that the 2015 SNP vote included a lot of anti-independence voters (which, to be fair, we realised back then, with that vote share being a tiny fraction short of 50%), who, in 2017, have now left the SNP, then you realise that support for independence is even more complex than most of us realised, even for those who did appreciate already that it has cross-party support.

If the SNP vote in 2015 was artificially high, whilst mirroring the approximate level of support for independence (according to polls), then this election result goes to show that not all SNP supporters were indy supporters, and not all indy supporters are SNP.

Therefore, if you associate support for independence too closely with support for the SNP, you will come a cropper. There are Labour voting independence supporters, there are even some Tory and Lib Dem independence supporters, but also there is support for independence amongst the Scottish Greens and other minor parties, and other non-aligned or independent voters, who are too thinly spread to gain a UK parliamentary seat.

In short, support for independence is now accurately reflecting what it should be – and that support for independence is greater than the actual level of support is for the SNP.

But what is increasingly clear is that Scots are getting fed-up of referenda and elections. Many Scots are looking for that “strong and stable government” that Theresa May preached about, but was never going to deliver, with or without ‘the Corbyn effect’, and especially after Brexit.

Unionists will no doubt see this time as an opportunity to put the idea of Scottish independence to bed, or put it into ‘the long grass’, as they say, but in doing so they must offer that strong and stable alternative – and they can’t.

With Brexit still a ‘go’, with the current UK Government now in utter turmoil following the hung Parliament result of last Thursday, then it seems all the more likely that there will be another general election, possibly even another referendum on Brexit, before Scotland has the chance to opt out of a Brexit-headed UK again.

Neither the UK, nor just the Scottish electorate, are likely to have any kind of stable situation in order to make the kind of decisions that they might want to make over the future of the UK, or Scotland’s place within it, anytime soon. As Wee Ginger Dug said:

Remember when the safety, security and certainty of Britain were major selling points for the Unionist campaign to keep Scotland a part of the UK? Those days are gone now. They will not be back any time soon. Britain is now the European country that offers its citizens the least certain, least secure and least safe future of all.

So the Scottish independence movement, as well as Scots in general, are going to have to realise that all this turmoil is here to stay for some years and that there could be more unscheduled elections and referenda on the way, without even including another Scottish independence referendum.

All need to realise that this is really down to Westminster, and the Tories in particular. But this is also down to an appalling British main stream media, and whilst much of it is connected to the Tory party, the gutter right-wing press in particular, the broadcast media parrots it, if not takes its lead from it, or mimics it, whilst also being run or managed by Tories.

It is their rampant propaganda that appalls and angers so many of us, as we know that it will affect the thinking of the more gullible, weak-minded or ill-informed of the electorate.

The bull that we have to put up with is really what makes these campaign periods so infuriating – and that is one reason why so many people have turned away from voting in the past, and not just because the politicians and their parties have been a constant source of disappointment, as well as being a hegemony since at least 1990, if not long before that (if not always).

Unsurprisingly, with so many elections and referenda since 2010, people are getting fed-up because the media has been at a frenzied fever pitch, spewing tons of visceral garbage almost non-stop since then. People are probably more fed-up with the campaigns rather than the act of voting at the end of it.

What independence campaigners can do is assert that Scottish independence can rid Scotland of the ongoing need of much of this by becoming independent thereby solving at least some of these problems. The media is largely London centric, so the loss of that will give a Scottish based media the chance to fill its place, hopefully without its shrillness or any of its excesses.

The final thing worth pointing out is that the 2017 election saw an upsurge in the UK-wide Labour vote despite a hostile mainstream media, particularly that of the frenzied right-wing press, whilst at the same time there was a drop in support for the SNP, when there has been anecdotal evidence, at the very least, of a targeted social media campaign by The Tories in Scotland.

Although this social media campaign seems to have played a part in the Tory success, at the expense of the SNP, the independence movement is well-entrenched on social media and is far better placed to counter a Unionist campaign on the subject. However, whilst some expected a social media campaign against the SNP and independence as part of the election campaign, there was no co-ordinated effort against it when it came (or if there was, it was woefully inadequate), which is probably down to a lack of preparation for the snap election, and the hype generated by the Corbyn campaign.

Now that Jeremy Corbyn has demonstrated that the MSM is wilting demonstrably in its effectiveness, this should place any future independence campaign on a far more equal footing. Whilst Unionists might have the money to place ads and make mass campaigns, independence has the active social media presence in enough numbers to counteract it.

To sum-up, the SNP, and many independence campaigners, over-estimated its core vote, but it would be a mistake for Unionists to underestimate support for independence because of SNP losses in the General Election – and it would be a mistake for the SNP to wilt to pressure and take independence off the table because of these losses.

Independence supporters can now at least see things a little clearer, and the path forward is also clearing. The SNP must continue to commit to the already achieved mandate it has for another referendum, whilst stepping-up to work within a wider independence movement, to explain why Scotland should take the opportunity to parachute out of the UK, before Brexit hurts Scotland even more than merely being a region of Britain already has done.

It has become clear from this election that momentum for independence is being lost through the distractions of the here and now; with the Scottish Parliament, with Brexit, with Westminster, and with regular election and referenda campaigns. The larger players in the independence movement are the ones that are best placed to address this voter fatigue.

The SNP and the wider movement needs to move together and put some resources into fashioning a general plan for an independent Scotland, with some potential policies and budgets, with the usual caveats about negotiations with the UK taken into account, whilst the SNP continues to govern at Holyrood.

I think the movement needs some sort of all-party conference or convention to do this with, so that the SNP is not solely responsible, and also so that the SNP can avoid the clichéd accusation of not doing the “day job”.

It can be something for the whole movement to coalesce around, rather than just the SNP and The Scottish Greens. It can use Common Weal’s White Paper Project as a starting point. It can go from there and fashion some meat and bones policies and projections, to help make the case for independence to our own sceptics, as well as against what staunch Unionists would claim.

So, if you are pro-independence, don’t be despondent at SNP losses. It may mean some political hay being made by Unionists, but if anything their responses will be predictable, and the SNP should stand firmly against them, just as Jeremy Corbyn did when he performed his Corbyn Maneuver, and stood up to the PLP, by simply sticking to his guns and not resigning.

The SNP have the mandate already. If they stand firm and start to work with the wider movement to rekindle that spirit that brought independence so close in 2014, then there is every reason to believe that the Unionist case will buckle, as it was showing signs of doing before May called the General Election.

Let’s not forget that the movement was making the case, especially the financial one, and why GERS isn’t the be-all and end-all as Unionists wish it do be, just several weeks ago, before May threw the spanner in the works with a General Election call.


7 Replies to “Some Home Truths For The SNP – and Scottish Unionists – from #GE2017”

  1. I think there’s another angle that is getting overlooked, which I call the what’s-the-point angle. I agree that 2015 saw an unusually high SNP vote for all of the above reasons. What we have also seen in the time since was the fact that even if Scotland sends 56 very articulate, vocal and dedicated MPs, in the end it makes bugger all difference. Did we/they manage to stop Brexit? No. Did we/they manage to force another Indyref? Not yet. Did we/they manage to protect the devolution settlement? Increasingly not. So I think there’s also a feeling in voters who are not married to their choice of political party to re-evaluate who they vote for in what election and that if Scottish SNP MPs are going to get totally ignored at Westminster, no matter what they do, it is a lesser evil to send the next best thing – which in the far North has tended to be Liberals and in the Central belt Labour on the basis that more Labour and Liberals in Westminster might be a more feasible way of moving the country away from a Conservative Government.


    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I can accept that this may have been a way of thinking for some voters, even if I do not agree with the some of the reasoning behind it, but I very much doubt that there was a significant number of people who both thought and voted the way you suggest.

      First of all, I think that if a significant number of people thought the way you describe, and had already voted SNP, they would instead have determined that this is an argument for independence and would have been more likely to vote SNP again, rather than vote for a Unionist party.

      And I don’t see the argument that the SNP not being able to stop the UK Parliament, especially whilst under Tory control, would have been a reason in itself to switch their party vote, as it applies just as much to Labour and the Lib Dems. This would most likely have resulted in a significant surge in the Labour vote, rather than the Lib Dems, because the Labour vote is larger, but there was only a very modest rise in Labour support across Scotland (some would say statistically static), which we can clearly attribute to the enthusiasm of the Corbyn campaign, because polling shortly before the election was starting to pick this up, when Scottish Labour support had previously been falling.

      Finally, your argument falls down because it ignores one of the main points of my piece, which is that it is undeniable that many voters switched from voting SNP in 2015 to voting Tory this time, as opposed to going to Labour or to the Lib Dems, as you suggest. The Labour vote was, as said, almost static. The Liberal vote fell, but because the SNP vote fell even more from its 2015 level, both parties gained seats from the SNP where their support was more concentrated.


  2. Just looking at the bottom line figures can be misleading. Curtice has an interesting analysis out of an Ashcroft which suggests that:
    – SNP leaker mostly to Labour
    – a lot of tactical Lib/Lab to Con voting

    Thing is, I don’t think that voting Labour is necessarily a vote against Independence. In 2013 when the Referendum Act was passed at Westminster, we had a grand total of *SIX* SNP MPs and zero Scottish Greens. It it therefore not an illogical conclusion to argue that the absolute number of pro-Indy MPs is pretty irrelevant to the ability to wrangle a referendum. But the number of non-Tory MPs is indeed relevant to the ability of the Tories to form another government.

    Which is somewhat backed up by the SNP leaking more to Labour than to the Cons (twice as many according to Curtice)


  3. Yes, I agree that the dynamics are probably more convoluted at a local level, but you’ll note that there was little context to the percentages that were being talked about in that article.

    It would be a remarkable coincidence for a significant movement of voters from the SNP to Labour and from Labour to Tory to effectively cancel each other out at a national level.

    It would be less remarkable and more likely if the actual number of voters moving in those directions was not that large.


  4. Thank you for this thoughtful piece. As someone ( not a member of the SNP ) but who canvassed for the SNP in the GE, here are a few points from my door knocking experiences in two areas, in Edinburgh and in North East Scotland.
    1. The May factor. This definitely eased off significantly during the last two weeks of the campaign but by then it appeared that many people had fallen for the ‘strong and stable’ rubbish, and were sticking to it. Only in the last week did the Corbyn factor raise its head, ( by this time I was in the north-east) and only with people who had pre-15, voted Labour and a few young voters.

    2. Brexit. This was hardly mentioned in my Edinburgh canvassing but in the north-east, a considerable number of people expressed dismay that the SNP appeared to be wedded to staying in Europe, and people who had voted out, clearly felt that the SNP were ignoring their views.

    3. Indyref2. It appeared that the relentless attacks by Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson on Indyref2 and the ” day job” had got through to many folks, some of them believed that the SNPs plan was to hold one referendum after another till the desired result (ie independence) was achieved. And the media coverage of the accusations eg., the falling educational​ standards had obviously resulted in some people believing that the SNP were neglecting core services, so concentrated were they on the next referendum.

    4. Some people said (along the lines of ) ” no, not interested “. etc etc, ( thankful nobody verbally ( or physically!) attacked me. And the dogs were friendly . If anyone engaged with me on the doorstep ( and many invited me in for a cuppa ) I told them, at the earliest possible opportunity, that I wasn’t a member of the SNP but that I believed in independence for Scotland, and in my view, a vote for the SNP in this election was the best route to this.. I am of tbe view that this made people more likely to engage with me in debate.
    I became convinced that independence for Scotland is now perceived as SNP, in the same way that Americans refer to ‘England’ when they mean U.K.

    You are absolutely right to call for a conference ( probably on going conferences ), involving all pro independence parties. This election has demonstrated that many people, particularly young people, understand real passion when they witness it ( the Corbyn factor). In Scotland we understood this in 2015, and if we are ever to have independence, we, as a nation need to feel that again. I have great respect for the SNP, and a sense of loss in the defeat of Robertson and Salmond, but the SNP alone will not bring about independence. We must have a united stand. Of course, all those people, organisations and parties will have differing views, no bad thing,. but unless they (we) can all unite behind Independence, then we might as well forget it.
    And finally, the power of the media. This, to me, was the most dispiriting part of my whole experience, the faith that many people place in the newspaper headlines and the BBC. How do we get past this enormous power?

    5. Apologies….this is a far too long post and I’m aware that it contains a good many vague references ” many people” ” some people” etc,etc. But it is based solely on my experiences on many, many doorsteps.
    Would I do it again? Yes, but p!ease, not soon !


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