Thursday, December 28, 2017

Was the SNP's victory in June 2017 the last time Scotland will participate in a UK general election?

You might remember that a few months ago Alastair Meeks royally entertained us by claiming, in all apparent seriousness, that the SNP could never even hope to 'recover' from the terrible setback of comfortably winning the general election in Scotland unless it ditched Nicola Sturgeon as leader.  Quite honestly, even if the narrative of 'SNP crisis' hadn't been so obviously bogus, Alastair's advice would still have been pretty dreadful because the alternatives to Nicola Sturgeon would all - at least for the moment - be a step backwards.  Humza Yousaf is presumably the long-term heir apparent, but he's still a bit too young and inexperienced if a vacancy were to occur any time soon.  Angus Robertson would be the best available replacement for now, but he doesn't currently have a seat in the Scottish Parliament and trying to engineer one for him via a constituency by-election would be fraught with danger.  That would probably leave us with John Swinney as a safe pair of hands - but we know from his own track record as leader between 2000 and 2004 that he'd be unlikely to prove more of an electoral asset than Nicola Sturgeon.  In a nutshell, regardless of your interpretation of the election result in June, the SNP would be completely nuts to change leader.

Alastair still seems to be banging the same drum today, albeit with a tad more circumspection: "The SNP meanwhile...[lost] seats to both Labour and the Conservatives in a unionist pincer movement. The risk of this being extended at a future election is obvious to all. The SNP need a strategy for dealing with this, and fast." That's fair comment as far as it goes, but it is, of course, only one side of the coin.  The SNP now hold a number of ultra-marginal seats that could be lost on a tiny swing, but exactly the same is true of the two main unionist parties, and especially of Labour, who could find themselves once again facing a near-wipeout if they suffer the kind of modest swing to the SNP that was being suggested by a couple of opinion polls in the early autumn.  Presumably Labour need a strategy for dealing with that risk - and fast - every bit as much as the SNP do.  For some strange reason we don't hear as much about Labour's extreme vulnerability, though.

As far as the SNP's electoral strategy is concerned, it's surely pretty obvious that they made a tactical error in May and June by downplaying their own USP.  People who voted Tory believed they were voting "against Indyref 2", and people who voted Labour reckoned they were voting for a real Labour government of the type that hadn't been seen since at least the 1970s, if not earlier.  The SNP weren't offering anything that could compete with the clarity of those pitches - which is ironic, given that the party's whole raison d'etre is as radical and inspiring as you can possibly get.  They did make a half-hearted attempt to mobilise the pro-independence vote by suggesting that if they won a majority of Scottish seats, that would constitute a triple-lock mandate for a second independence referendum - but then mystifyingly gave the impression of backtracking a little on that pledge for the first few days after the majority was duly achieved, which will have sent the dangerous message to some indy supporters that their vote for the SNP was not the vote for a referendum that they were explicitly told it was.  What is needed is the rectification of those tactical mistakes - not a change of leader.

However, all of the above assumes that the SNP will actually have to face another national election prior to independence, and it's by no means clear that they will.  The only one that is sort-of-scheduled to take place before May 2021 is the European election of 2019, which will not go ahead in the UK if Brexit happens on the planned date (although to be honest I don't have a clue if it'll go ahead if Brexit is delayed by a few months).  There is no better strategy for avoiding any risks attached to the next UK general election than making sure that Scotland is an independent country by the time it is held.  As I've noted many times, the SNP will have no option but to do their best to help bring about an early general election if the opportunity arises - but at the moment no such opportunity is on the horizon, and if that continues to be the case, a Yes vote in a 2019 indyref would ensure that the last ever Scottish contribution to a UK general election was the handsome SNP victory of June 2017.  Now, there's a thought to conjure with.

*  *  *

Five new Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls have been published since my last update...

BMG: SNP 36%, Labour 24%, Conservatives 22%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Greens 7%, UKIP 2%

ICM (a): SNP 34%, Conservatives 29%, Labour 23%, Greens 6%, Liberal Democrats 5%, UKIP 3%

YouGov: Conservatives 37%, SNP 34%, Labour 21%, Liberal Democrats 4%, UKIP 2%, Women's Equality 1%

Opinium: SNP 37%, Labour 27%, Conservatives 25%, Greens 5%, UKIP 2%, Liberal Democrats 2%

ICM (b): SNP 41%, Conservatives 27%, Labour 26%, Greens 2%, Liberal Democrats 2%, UKIP 1%

No cause for alarm in any of that.  The YouGov results are a bit of an oddity, because since the election YouGov subsamples have more or less consistently put the Tories in third place, and yet this time the Tories are suddenly in the lead - but that just demonstrates what a large margin of error any individual subsample has, even when it's correctly weighted (as YouGov subsamples apparently are).

Across all firms, thirty-one of the last thirty-four subsamples have put the SNP ahead.


  1. Bring it on! A good New Year to you James, really value your insights.

  2. I hadn’t really factored the next round of European elections into my own ponderings! May 2019 would perhaps be a suitable combination European election, Scottish election - back to our own original election cycle dates- and *cough* independence referendum. �� just need to delay the Brexit thing a couple of months and forego the referendum in favour of simple parliamentary arithmetic elections?

  3. The SNP will always have my vote because that vote isn't for me but my Country.

    1. You're just in the huff because you weren't included in the email.

  4. It will be very interesting to see if the European election in the UK goes ahead in 2019, and if UKIP maintains their Scottish seat, I doubt both though.

    The main article suggests there will be another independence referendum in 2019 but the UK govt will almost certainly delay that and demand a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament, for 2021, with a promise of a referendum - something that didn’t happen in the last Scottish Parliament election). Therefore I will stick my neck out and say with certainty there won’t be another Indyref before the next Scottish Election (not even an ‘unofficial one’ as the SNP won’t go there.

    If the SNP and Greens both promise that and together have a majority then the UK Govt won’t have a counter-argument. That’s my view.

    1. It's not in the gift of the UK government to "almost certainly delay that". The SNP have well and truly wised up to the delaying tactics, and if they decide to use their mandate for an independence referendum before 2021, as I expect they probably will, they'll be under no illusions that it may well have to be done without a Section 30 order.

      On your latter point, this may have escaped your notice but there's already a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament. This endless tactic of "oh no, that's not enough, try jumping over this higher hurdle" just looks a bit pathetic after a while.

    2. Dear James,

      Reading you’re articles I can tell you’re obviously a very intelligent and passionate man. I don’t want to sound confrontational and let me know if you want me gone & I’ll go (I recognise this is a pro independence forum and I’m pro-union).

      I’m not trying to troll by pointing this out, I’m arguing:

      1) the SNP probably won’t go for a referendum without a section 30 order, as it won’t be recognised internationally (see Catalonia). It is in their interest to make it legal...

      ...which brings me to point 2....

      2) they will have to convince the UK govt (not you or me) that there is a WATERTIGHT mandate for another Indyref, as obviously the UK govt won’t want to see the country broken up. This means a majority or MSPs who promise a second indyref.

      The SNP merely stated it ‘reserves the right’ to call one - which was more vague than its 2011 promise, and the greens didn’t promise one at all in 2016.

      This is why, without that, it will get delayed until 2021, in my opinion. I hope this argument sounds reasonable to you & not pathetic.

      The UK govt won’t want to vote for its own demise (it would take an act of Parliament to do so) unless the mandate is watertight and it can’t argue otherwise.

      You may not think this is fair but do you agree it’s logical?

    3. No, of course I don't agree it's logical, it's an absolutely obscene argument. I am fast losing my patience with people who put forward these increasingly extreme 'supermajority' hurdles, especially when they do so retrospectively. The government of Scotland was elected on a crystal-clear manifesto commitment that mandated them to hold a referendum in the event of Brexit. Brexit is now going to occur. If they put forward a referendum bill in the elected Scottish Parliament, you know as well as I do that they will have a majority for it.

      This is democracy, and yes, I'm afraid your mission to come up with ever more implausible excuses for standing in the way of democracy does sound pathetic. And with all due respect, you're not ideally placed to work out what the SNP are likely to do. You think they're going to get down on their knees and beg the UK government for 'permission' to do something they already have a democratic mandate AND the legal means to do? What planet are you living on?

    4. I’m sorry sir but whatever you think of my argument the SNP’s commitment gained them only a minority of seats in the Scottish Parliament.

      They will have a majority for another referendum bill if they choose to go ahead but what good is that if the UK don’t see their mandate as being as strong as 2011?

      It’s not about begging it’s about agreeing a process between Scotland’s two governments.

      How would you feel if in a year’s time we had a situation like that in Catalonia?

    5. "I’m sorry sir but whatever you think of my argument the SNP’s commitment gained them only a minority of seats in the Scottish Parliament."

      Then what a jolly fine stroke of luck that another pro-independence party won six seats, thus earning an absolute pro-independence majority in parliament, sir/madam! And what even better luck that the Greens are, if anything, even more enthusiastic about Indyref 2 than the SNP are! There is a comfortable parliamentary majority for a referendum if Nicola Sturgeon decides to hold one. You clearly don't like that, but hey, that's democracy. Try harder not to get outvoted next time.

      Scotland doesn't have "two governments", as you know perfectly well. There is a Scottish government, and there is a British government which has no mandate in Scotland.

      What do you actually mean by "a situation like that in Catalonia"? If you mean that there will have been a consultative independence referendum which will have produced a massive Yes majority, then naturally I'll be overjoyed. But if, on the other hand, you seriously believe that the British government will use state violence against voters and lock up elected politicians, I'd suggest that's far more of a problem for you than it is for me.

    6. I don’t for a minute think the British state will behave in that way but doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be an impasse.

      There are two governments which govern Scotland, both are minority ones, both have minors support in Scotland. These two governments would have to agree for a legal referendum to be internationally recognised, you can’t refute that?

      I’m going to bed now I’ll see you in the morning! Respectfully, Adam.

  5. My own views are that the SNP was really wing-footed by the announcement of the election, as they didnt believe that it was necessary, as they were used to governing with a small majority in Scotland. My evidence for this comes from my observations of how long it took the SNP election machine to get going, how little messaging was coming out on social media from MP and MSP and from my wife. My wife is friendly with both our MSP and MP, and she volunteered to help out campaigning. The candidate didn't have any materials or messages for the first ten days and if you recall the manifesto was very very late after the TV debates.

    The SNP also didn't buy into the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn and didn't guard that flank well enough. NS was fairly dismissive of him. The effect of not motivating the people who had voted SNP in 2015 left the SNP exposed to Scottish Labour, who didn't expect much.
    An element of tactical voting.

    Surprised by the announcement.
    Ill-prepared and unable to motivate the people who voted for them last time.
    Under-estimated left wing appeal of JC.

    All of these lie at the door of the party management, or Chief Executive.

    1. Completely agree Finlander ,caught completely off-guard which is disgraceful .If they don't see these things coming then they are not fit for office .They will need to up the smarts from now on , all of them .I feel there is now too much complacency in the SNP camp , none of them are out there hustling the way they should be , the opportunities will never be greater for the SNP to make big inroads into the minds of No voters .

    2. Corbyn's an interesting case. There was a surge of support for him, as he was seen as a return to the pre-Blair Labour party. I think that that support won't increase, as he consistently fails to be decisive and mostly responds to things rather than instigating things to respond to. I think that he means well, but he's not forthright enough to give that well-meaning any drive. The difference in passion between Foot speaking and Corbyn speaking is immense. Derek.

    3. You condemn too severely IMO John. Why should SNP, in a Westminster Parliament, which has 5 years normal duration, have been constantly on the alert for a snap election? There were errors IMO in a very proper campaign strategy in response to dirty work from other "Scottish" political parties, I agree, and the party has had to pay the price. Scots must ensure that those small errors are not allowed to jeopardise the much more important effort to be made by the wider YES movement for #ScotRef. If Westminster does the dirty again and calls another snap election it is imperative that SNP make it into an election on Indy.

  6. We are preparing the ground properly for our fresh independence referendum,this time with observers and exit polls.We can also insist on any promises made by unionists must be fulfilled under penalty,by making election promises on par with the oath of witnesses in court,perhaps enforced honesty and integrity.Others smarter than me can pick holes and then fill the gaps and see if its possible.

    1. You sound like one of those Sinn Fein IRA fanatics. They prepared the ground under people.

    2. You're just in the huff because you weren't included in the email.

  7. SIR J Curtice! Hope you've learned how to curtsey!