7 ways the Scottish election result is good for the independence movement

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 16.26.41Well what was said to be a boring campaign became very exciting with some surprising results in the early hours.  Despite the SNP not maintaining its majority it was a very good night for the the party that won a record third term, more seats than the next three parties combined and a record number of constituency seats. In the medium term, it was also good night for the Yes movement.

The SNP captured over a million votes setting a new record in the constituency contest but didn’t secure a majority due to a combination of the vagaries of the Scottish proportional representation system, due partly to the Greens doing well on the list ballot at the expense of the SNP and party it seems because of significant tactical vote switching between the three main unionists parties.

I predicted the Greens would edge the Lib Dems out of 4th place and therefore even more out of the spotlight but I didn’t predict the mass tactical voting which saw some unionist Labour voters switching to support the Tories who campaigned principally as the de facto protectors of the Union. And now they are.  I do wonder how many people think that the Tories demolishing Labour by polarising politics down constitutional lines and then leading the No Campaign in the next referendum is likely to be good for the Union?

7 ways the Scottish election result is good for the independence movement

1) The Tories as leaders of the No campaign could prove to be disastrous for the Union. The battle lines of Scottish politics are re-drawn. Now we have a clearer dynamic of “Scotland” versus the Tories with probably an increasingly unpopular Westminster Tory Government. This will dominate future constitutional debates in a way it couldn’t when UK opposition Labour led the unionist cause.

2) As an opposition the Tories are woefully short of Parliamentary votes to challenge the SNP and this is where it gets interesting.  There can be no more “Scotland is a one party state” jibes and no more “SNP are dictators”. To stop anything the SNP want to put through Parliament, the Tories will have to convince Labour and the Liberals to side with them again and again and again … and in doing so side against the party that won close to 50% of the vote and is seen as standing up for Scotland. How does Labour’s skeleton crew standing side by side with the Tories until 2021 help them mount a comeback?

3) The Greens may hold the balance of power if the unionist parties gang up on the SNP but their list vote breakthrough was partly dependent on SNP supporters giving their second vote to the Greens as they thought the SNP wouldn’t need it for a majority. That proved mistaken. If the Greens vote against the SNP too often, especially on the bigger questions, or side with the unionists to oppose an SNP budget as they have in the past then they will be lucky to get any MSPs back in 2021, an election which will now very likely be completely dominated by the independence question. The Green Party’s influence will be limited to greening up the SNP agenda and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for both Yes parties.

4) The SNP don’t have a majority and so as minority can’t be expected to deliver their entire manifesto which takes some of the pressure off. Another term of professionalism as a minority government with a pragmatic deal by deal approach and their credibility will continue to benefit, in the interests of the whole Yes movement.

5) Labour is between a rock and a hard place. To recover they must either be ambitious and creative by going for true Devo Max or Home Rule thereby carving out a unique and appealing third way on the constitution which might attract Lib Dems and isolate the Tories. Either way, the arguments for Devo Max are complimentary to independence and it will help move the voters away from Westminster centralisation on another step in the journey towards independence. Labour could of course support independence but they are too tribal to stomach it. It is much more likely they will try to double down on unionism and take on the Tories as protectors of the Union. Not only will that split the No vote in 2021, it will in my view likely destroy what is left of Labour in Scotland whilst further boosting votes for the SNP amongst some traditional Labour voters.

6) The Tories are looking forward to being the main opposition party in Scotland. However, because we are still part of the Westminster system, every week at FMQ’s Ruth Davidson will be on the back foot having to justify Westminster’s track record. This will contrast well for the purposes of making the independence case if the Scottish people think that the SNP is doing a better job than Westminster on education,  the NHS, welfare and the economy. That then damages the Unionist cause in a way that Labour proclaiming opposition to the SNP and Westminster’s Tory Government never could. It is going to be a much clearer fault line in Scottish politics. It is now SNP versus the Tories and with any of the potential successors to David Cameron in Downing Street, the comparison and choice will become acute.

7) There is a Yes majority in the Scottish Parliament. 63 SNP and 6 Green. So if independence support rises above 55% for a sustained period like, for example, after the Tories are re-elected in 2020, the Scottish Parliament can still call a referendum. However, the UK Tory Government will likely use the lack of an SNP majority as an excuse to attempt to block indyref2. Partly because they think they might lose. The very fact of Westminster refusing the sovereign will of a majority of the Scottish Parliament would create a constitutional crisis and I suspect increase Yes and SNP support to even higher levels. It is also likely to trigger a consolidation of Yes support around the SNP ahead of the 2021 elections. Indeed, in my view such a scenario would lead to an SNP majority in 2021, with an unequivocal referendum commitment in the SNP manifesto. There is a serious prospect of Scotland being free by 2023. In the meantime, let’s start by trying to unify, focus and persuade more of our fellow citizens of the case for independence. It’s going to be hard work but after the SNP’s historic third successive victory the path to independence is clearer and more credible.  We should be grateful for a second opportunity and more determined than ever to make it count.

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About the author

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is the Founder and Chief Executive of Business for Scotland. Before becoming CEO of Business for Scotland Gordon ran a business strategy and social media, sales & marketing consultancy.

With a degree in business, marketing and economics, Gordon has worked as an economic development planning professional, and in marketing roles specialising in pricing modelling and promotional evaluation for global companies (including P&G).

Gordon benefits (not suffers) from dyslexia, and is a proponent of the emerging New Economics School. Gordon contributes articles to Business for Scotland, The National and Believe in Scotland.


  • I honestly think this could shape up to be the most effective SNP term of the three… Like GoldieLocks and the porridge… first term was too cool with 47 MSP’s requiring too much assistance… 2nd term, too hot with overall majority… third term, just right at the degree of co-operation required to pass specific legislation and budgets.

  • Very good analysis.

    Reading the comments, there may be another way – an eighth way if you like.

    With Ruth the Tank leading the ‘Scots’ unionists to the ‘green and promised land’ then her line of attack on Independence will be so hostile and based on ‘aggressive scorn’. We know this does not work well with voters – especially younger ones who will be booths marking their crosses in 2021

  • The simple reality is that Labour are not in the business of making people nor indeed Scotland successful because they know a prosperous independent Scotland will have no further use for Labour. They are are still mired in their old dogma that they are the only ones to protect ordinary people from the nasty Tories. It does not wash anymore.

    • ”The simple reality is that Labour are not in the business of making people nor indeed Scotland successful because they know a prosperous independent Scotland will have no further use for Labour.”

      In an ideal world of course they would recognise and understand the international labour bond, go with the independence cause and become a real Scottish party.

      Maybe Ms Dugdale sort of gets that in the background? He’ll mend them, meantime.

  • The intention of the D’Hondt system is to reflect MSP’s allocated with share of the vote .i.e roughly 20% of the electorate voted Tory , so they get 23% of the MSP’s , 6%of electorate voted Liberal and they get 4% of the MSP’s etc .

    Its meant to be a proportional system , to encourage smaller parties to have representation , the Greens and the LIb Dems benefit from this

    As do the Tories (who have always suffered from the FPTP system in Scotland ) wheras they benfit from the FPTP system in Southern England .

    in the 2010 GE for example 480k Scots voted SNP , and got 6 MP’s , but 416k Tories got one MP , and this has been the case at GE’s going back 40 years .

    Interestingly enough 916k Scots voted Tory in 1979 , they voted for Thatcher , and only got 22MP’S

    The Tory share of the vote in Scotland reached its nadir in 1997 with 316k votes , and since then the amount of people voting Tory has been steadily increasing .

    Off course it helped when Tony Blair was running the country , as you could vote Labour and get Tory in any case .

  • This is nothing to do with SNP supporters splitting their second vote. This to do with green voters lending their first vote and God forbid they vote for their own party with the second vote!

    All that snp 1 and 2 did in the North East was let the unionists in the back door. Where as if they had voted green we would have helped keep them out. And snp would still have got zero list votes!

  • I’m actually very intrigued how a very strong SNP parliament (2 short of a majority), with 6 Green MSPs will play out. I never believed another referendum was on the cards during this next term, don’t believe there’s currently enough support for one.

    Thursday’s result is far from all doom-and-gloom for the independence movement. Who knows, perhaps it’s been unwittingly strengthened.

  • The ” once in a generation” vote was lost so get over it. Attempts for another vote just proves that the SNP are liars and cannot be taken on their word to accept the result of the first vote.

    • First of all both Sturgeon and Salmond said they thought it was a once in a lifetime decision, they said in their personal opinion – it wasn’t mine and they were wrong. Had it been less close or even if the behaviour of Westminster unionists parties afterwards been more about delivering the promisees and Vow then it probably would be over for a generation. “Respect the result of the referendum” the unionist parties and press scream at our re-elected First Minister but its a hollow soundbite, worse its insincere as from the moment David Cameron announced English Votes for English Laws having challenged Scotland to “lead the Union, not leave it” the unionists have been wildly disrespecting that result and disrespecting the promises made to get it. Was it respecting the referendum result to promise to keep tax offices open and then announce their closure, to promise orders for the clyde and then to cut them and delay the contracts? Was it respecting the result to guarantee EU membership then to lead us into an referendum that’s now to too close to call, or to say that only the UK can support Aberdeen’s oil industry then to let that city down with a half hearted city deal in its moment of need? Was it respecting the referendum result to say renewables require the UK and then to cut grants early, endangering Scotland’s renewable energy future, or to offer devo max / something close to home rule and then offer a Scotland Bill that misses even the watered down Smith Commission by a mile? Yes the nation narrowly voted No in 2014 but the reason that the independence debate is still alive and the reason SNP support has soared is because of the disrespect shown by the Westminster parties, not just to the YES voters but to the No voters who were swayed by the now broken promises and fear mongering.

      So maybe you should be posting on Tory blogs asking why they broke their word and opened up the constitutional debate. Ask them why they didn’t respect the result.

      • Well said Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp. Westminster has shown nothing but contempt for Scotland and in the time since the referendum it derision of Scotland’s wishes has fuelled the independence movement. Think of the promises made, the pleading and the begging during the few days before the referendum. The ‘illegally’ made Vow, the politicians dragged out of retirement to persuade Scotland that they where ‘Better Together’. All these falsehoods caused the polls to swing in the last few days from a pro independence victory to a narrow unionist win. Without these lies we would not be having this discussion. Since the referendum the Westminster government has had an atrocious record and support for it is even lower than before September2014. A referendum today would not see the Scottish people so easily turned by forked tongued false promises. The result of an independently audited referendum today would have Westminster in a panic. Scotland is awake, this is what they fear.

      • More importantly, there was no mention of future referendums on the ballot paper. We voted on one question only “should Scotland be an independent country?” . If the No side wanted it to be over for a generation they should have asked the people of Scotland to approve it.

    • As a more mature voter if I had accepted the vote in 1979 as the one and only opportunity I would not have been voting last Thursday for MSPs to enter into a Scottish government so Steven get over the fact you won in 2014 because the Yes movement has. We have moved on and no matter what Salmond or Sturgeon said they are not the leaders of the Yes movement as the Yes movement does not belong to the SNP party.

    • We need seriously not to get involved with Steven type banter. Once in lifetime is a turn of phrase not as vow signed in blood. His is a typical attempt to get a reaction in order to create the impression of a rift that the unionists so badly want to be able to blame the independence supporters. They’re going for the player because of a lack of ability to go for the ball. A conspicuous effective grass roots movement is now needed more than ever to present the facts of the independence case broadly, clearly, fully and with honest integrity, confident that the truth will win the vote in end. Is it any surprise that as the volcano of unionism erodes with Labour the remaining core will look like a more conspicuous feature on the landscape.

    • The phrase ‘once in a generation’ was a personal opinion of Alex Salmond’s and he admitted that subsequently. The SNP are not ‘liars’: they have followed through on almost every manifesto policy (New Bridge, no tolls, free prescriptions and free eye tests, 1,000 more police, more nurses, Aberdeen by pass etc etc.) that they made. All that referendum proved was that when people are scared they tend to stick with the status quo, and the Fear Factor played a very big part in it, courtesy of the British Press and the BBC.

  • Don’t forget its early days there will be without question bye elections where there is a possibility of the SNP getting another TWO or more MSPs and after the people who voted Tory say to themselves “What have we done”

  • What intrigues me is our gradual shift to the right, reemergence of historic voting patterns as political positions harden and the relative ease with which those of us who do vote can shift political allegiance. The next parliament will be a defining one. Hopefully by rising above consitutional schenanigans.

  • Top piece, enjoying listening to the Tories today, there joy seemed deep rooted but ignorant that in fact their successes are but a mega nail in the coffin of the Unionist cause. I laughed at a woman who ripped into NS labelling her a liar, she retreated somewhat red faced. The long game of politics is approaching an interesting period

  • Re the timing and strategy discussed – isn’t the next Scottish election in 2020, the same year as the Westminster election. This affects quite strongly the likely focus of voters…

    • I have assumed that the Scottish election will be put back a year as has been done before to avoid a clash.

      • I assume the same, but I am very disappointed with the seeming readiness of our msps to simply extend each Scottish parliament term from here on in to 5 yes so as to avoid a clash with Westminster.
        Personally, I’d like us to fuse the two votes in 2020 and declare in advance that simple majorities elected to each house will trigger an immediate referendum. I don’t like the idea of our elections always responding to Westminster elections. Better to make our choices and let them react.

  • Good article and pretty much in line with my views since 2014. Scotland now is down a constitutional vote line. 63 + 6 pro Indy is a massive result. The Tory opposition may be a massive boost that the old labour ” no” voters finally need to bring them over to yes. The Snp also need to , in my opinion, be open to a broad centre left movement once again. Free by 23 has a nice ring to it!

    • Take it by free you don’t want to be part of the EU then? The SNP are a centre-right party with some populist measures thrown in, so certainly being forced to adopt some leftish measures would be novel. Ironically, the Scottish Green’s top policy proposal is likely to be tax increases for higher earners, something that was Scottish Labour’s policy. Interesting times indeed. Beware though the Scottish Greens have done well before then lost their MSPs when it became clear voting was going to be tight.

  • While we’re on typos:

    “The vagrancies of the proportional representation system”?

    Think you may have meant ‘vagaries’ there…

    Good piece otherwise, though.

    • Yup that was pointed out thanks – it originally said paramilitary rather than parliamentary – the joys of dyslexia when there is no one around to check your blog!

  • Well Gordon after feeling deflated all day and having seen some of the comments and posts from Facebook today, you have cheered me up. Giving me a different angle on the results and of what the future may hold.

    Thank you.

  • Labours mantra will be that they are the party of Kier Hardie the party of Home rule
    So far so good

    There version of Home rule will not be Kier s for they still want to play a part in Westminster. And there in lies the problem as at Smith they will always put London first.
    Had they backed Home rule they would have saved the Union
    Instead they have opened the door

  • good points Gordon but Scottish Labour would repeat the mantra at the last GE that a Labour party would look after Scotland’s interest and ask the voters to focus back on Westminster. Further I have no idea what ‘home rule’ is but unless Dugdale et al face up to this dilemma I for one will not be going back to them.

    • Yup they might say that again but to be frank given where they are now they have no credibility unless they do something radical as Macleish suggests and actually define home rule!

    • Home Rule:
      A union definition~

      You go out, earn your own money, and have your own apartment. Except you give all that money to some one else and let them have control over the majority of lifes decisions. While still being personally responsible if the flat burns down or the water gets cut off.

      Frankly, home rule, can only ever been independence, or at best federalisation which gives Scotland independent control over the entirety of the methods available, merely putting something towards military and shared infrastructure.

      Ironically, akin in many ways to the EU.

      • In which case, could someone please explain to me the logic behind the SNP wanting to leave the UK but remain in the EU? To me, that’s a classic example of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire…..

        • The 2014 white paper suggested Scotland and the UK sharing a common market open borders heath and safety rules and even a currency – in other words an independent Scotland would have an open trading, interconnected and interdependent relationship with the rUK and EU nations after independence. The relationship BfS seeks for Scotland to have with the EU is entirely consistent with the modern form of independence called for in 2014. Ironically that means that Scottish Nationalists are internationalist in their outlook but the better together supporters who now support a Brexut are the separatists.

          There are two other problems with a Brexit for Scotland – first that it will not lead to more powers or a better deal for Scotland on worker rights, human rights etc SEE> Brexit would give Westminster more power over Scotland

          And >> What is the true cost of Scotland’s EU membership? – which explains why Scotland budget will be hit hard by a lack of EU cash post Brexit unless the UK massively increases our budget – which it neither wants to nor can afford to do!

          There is some water but I imagine you won’t drink!

  • Once again non-voters weaken the democratic process, with just over 55% actually casting a vote. The one million who voted SNP are well short of the 1.6 million who voted YES and not even half of the total electorate. A mandate based on a biased and rigged system has no moral authority. Lots more work to be done. Next step the local councils.

  • Wee typo there:

    2) As an opposition the Tories are woefully short of Paramilitary votes

    Let’s not encourage the worst elements in their support, George Square looks better without bullet holes.

    • I just checked and it didn’t say that but its possible one of my editors spotted and changed it! Thanks

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