General Election Briefing
What Happened in Scotland?
A transformative election for Scottish politics: an election that marked a significant downturn in SNP fortunes, accelerating the party’s decline in electoral contests since their historic 49.7% share of the vote in the 2015 general election. The result will park any second Scottish Independence referendum for some time.
- The SNP lost 21 seats; the Conservatives gained 12, Labour 6 and the Liberal Democrats 3.
- The SNP’s share of the vote fell from 49.7% to 36.9%
- The Conservatives increased their share of the vote by 13.7% compared to 2015, contrasting to the 13.1% drop in SNP support
- There are now 9 SNP seats with majorities of less than 1,000; 6 SNP seats with majorities of less than 2,000 and 7 SNP seats with majorities of less than 3,000
- The SNP leader in the House of Commons, Angus Robertson and former First Minister, Alex Salmond were both defeated
- The big winners were the Scottish Conservatives. Their 12-seat increase saw them secure seats in the north east and the south of Scotland, as well as in Stirling and Renfrewshire East
- Labour regained Glasgow North East and reduced previously large majorities in the other 6 Glasgow seats. The SNP now hold Glasgow South West by 60 votes and Glasgow East by 75 votes
- Labour’s only sitting MP, Ian Murray increased his majority to 15,541 in Edinburgh South
- The Liberal Democrats’ Scottish revival continued winning back Edinburgh West, Dunbartonshire East and Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, and failing to win North East Fife by just 3 votes. However their share of the vote fell by 0.8%
Given that the SNP won 56 out of the 59 Scottish seats in 2015, a downward trajectory was likely. However the scale of their losses, coupled with a large number of remaining SNP seats becoming marginal seats, was not expected. Opinion polls had indicated that the SNP might lose up to 10 seats. They have lost an effective parliamentarian, Depute Leader Angus Robertson, along with other high profile SNP MPs such as Alex Salmond, leaving the party short of natural leaders.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is facing growing criticism that her decision to call for a second independence referendum on the back of the UK’s decision to leave the UK was premature and damaging –notably from former Cabinet members, Alex Neil and Kenny MacAskill, and from former SNP Deputy Leader Jim Sillars. Writing in the Sunday Times, Neil said: “Our demand for indyref2 was way ahead of its time and should only have been pursued once it was clear a majority of Scots actually want independence. Jumping too far ahead of public opinion on this issue cost us a lot of votes on Thursday.”
Writing in The Herald, Iain Macwhirter commented; “Sturgeon knew that there was no obvious groundswell of support for independence last March, but she thought “Tory hard Brexit” would bring Scots round to the cause of self-government. She was wrong.”
She has yet to face calls to stand down –perhaps because there is no readily available replacement – but there are calls for her husband, Peter Murrell, the SNP’s Chief Executive to be replaced.
The Scottish Conservative gains helped Theresa May remain as Prime Minister. It was the party’s best showing north of the border since 1983 when they won 21 seats. Their success was largely due to Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson’s belief that the majority of Scots wished the First Minister to accept the 2014 referendum result and that her continuing push for indyref2 would be politically damaging. And Davidson’s call for the SNP “to get on with the day job” also struck a chord, given poor performances in literacy, numeracy and science by Scotland’s schoolchildren, particularly when compared to international competitors.
Scottish Labour was surprised to secure 6 seats on a 2.8% increase in their share of the vote. Prior to polling day it was thought that at best Labour might just win a further 2 seats to add to its solitary Scottish MP. Some of its gains were a consequence of a transfer of support from the SNP to the Conservatives. Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, had misread the aftermath of the independence referendum saying that she could foresee circumstances, if the UK voted to leave the EU, where she might vote for independence
And during the election campaign there was confusion around Labour’s attitude to a second referendum, with Jeremy Corbyn indicating that he would speak to the SNP about the issue. While there have been calls for Dugdale to go, a leadership challenge is unlikely.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats did well to win a further 3 seats and lose by only 2 votes in North East Fife, since their share of the vote actually fell by 0.8%. Their gains, however, leave them well placed for further progress at Westminster and Holyrood.
The Scottish Green Party contested only 3 seats. Their co convener, Patrick Harvie, contested Glasgow North but finished in fourth place. He had tied his party to the fortunes of the SNP, a strategy with no obvious benefits at a time when support for the SNP was already in decline. There may be moves to remove him from his leadership position.
Where now for Scottish Politics?
A second independence referendum is now off the table for some time. And if current electoral trends continue the SNP, even with the support of the Green Party, is extremely unlikely to be in a position to secure a parliamentary majority for a second vote following the 2021 Scottish Parliament election.
It will be difficult for the First Minister to adjust her approach to her role. The SNP’s strategy has been to act as if “we are in the first days of a new country”. She will face immense pressure from fundamentalists not to drop plans for a referendum during this parliament, but political necessity suggests that she must. However the party has dropped its dedicated £1m fundraising drive for a second referendum, with all references to the appeal being removed from the SNP’s website. And she will have to be seen to seek to get the best deal for Scotland from Brexit, “get on with the day job”, grow the economy and turn around some of Scotland’s failing services.