Well 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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