Everyone is evolving as new messages, new voters and new branding sets in, so what does that mean for the each of the parties.
The SNP are back on the return to their rightful place in Scottish Politics – still the dominant force but far from sheer supremacy shown at the 2011 Holyrood and 2015 Westminster elections. They were anomalies that party insiders knew they could never live up to. However, it is notable the key seats that the nationalists lost to the Tories were in the North East – their own first heartland. Pre-landslide, half the SNPs seats were in the NE: Angus, Banff and Buchan and Dundee East. Of these, only Dundee East remains their own (now their other NE seats are Aberdeen North and Dundee West). Another one of their pre-2015, Perth and North Perthshire, was scarily close to being won by the Conservatives, with Pete Wishart’s majority being slashed to just 20 votes. This shows that SNP heartland is changing, as its grip is loosened on rural Northern Scotland and the stronghold map moves towards the Central Belt. However, there are certainly some seats that anomalously went blue, the most notable one being Stirling. The SNP must be kidding itself if it didn’t think that they suffered a setback, but it was certainly expected. The transfer of votes away from the SNP was, in most cases to Labour in the Central Belt (SNP losses in rural areas can mainly be attributed to unionist tactical voting and in some areas, a collapse in support for the Liberal Democrats), Electoral Calculus estimates on current support, the SNP would gain six seats (five from the Conservatives: Angus; Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock; Gordon; Ochil and South Perthshire and Stirling and one from the Liberal Democrats: Edinburgh West.) However, they are set to lose two Glasgow seats (East and South West) to Labour, if this prediction is correct. That is slightly worrying as Nicola Sturgeon holds the Holyrood equivalent seat, and may need to rely on her personal vote to avoid one of the biggest shocks in Scottish political history come 2021.
At the 2017 Local Elections, Ruth Davidson must have thought she’d been able to cement the Conservatives position as the main opposition party in Scotland. However, as Corbynmania came to Scotland, Labour’s prominent revival have meant a return to the post-referendum situation where Labour and Conservative were about neck and neck. The only difference is, the percentage numbers are higher this time. While the 2016 election saw polling numbers in the low twenties and high teens, this battle is occurring in the high twenties in terms of polling. In terms of UK-wide politics, Ruth Davidson saved Theresa May, as the gain of 12 seats from the SNP made the confidence and supply deal with the DUP possible. However, the Conservatives cannot rely on support for their policies, as their rise is solely down to a collapse in Lib Dem support combined with unionist tactical voting. However, as Richard Leonard’s election as Labour leader moved their policy base to the left of the SNP, some Sarwar-backing Labour voters may find themselves attracted to Ruth Davidson’s brand of Classical Liberalism. At the moment, the Tories are set (according to Electoral Calculus) to lose six seats, but in my opinion, that is not necessarily true. While Stirling is certainly vulnerable, they can definitely keep Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock and probably Gordon with relative ease (the Inverurie by-election for Aberdeenshire council returned a Conservative despite a strong SNP challenge).
Labour in Scotland has finally replicated the move to the left on a UK level as the support garnered by Jeremy Corbyn helped sweep Richard Leonard to the leadership. What we are surprisingly seeing is symmetrical transfer of votes to and away from the Labour Party. SNP supporters sympathetic to Corbyn’s message are very susceptible to becoming Red, as the Central Belt looks like a prime target for more Labour votes. However, Labour saw people on the right of the party with a staunch commitment to unionism abandon the party at a similar level in favour of the more evidently unionist Tories. If Richard Leonard’s Labour becomes more sympathetic to Nationalists, then the votes and members can only go on an upward trend. However, members hostile to Leonard could very well continue the general trend of votes moving towards the Conservatives, or possibly the more palatable Liberal Democrats. During the referendum, the Yes campaigned constantly uttered the mantra “A vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP”. However, only now has that really become true.
Greens and Liberal Democrats
The Greens are in a weird position where anything can really happen. Patrick Harvie fell flat on his face in his attempt to take Glasgow North from the SNP at the 2017 General Election, (considering that he had come so close in the Scottish Parliament equivalent seat, Glasgow Kelvin, that must be regarded as a setback). However, for the Greens, they can certainly continue their upward trajectory if they start engaging in debate with Labour over why policies they share (such as Rail Nationalisation and Income Tax Rises) will be more quickly realised in an Independent Scotland (the Green Party are key to keeping a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament).
The Liberal Democrats have been in a stable state ever since their collapse in vote-share at the 2011 Holyrood election, most probably a reaction to going into coalition with the Conservatives at a UK Level, to the chagrin of most Scottish members and representatives (most notably, former leaders Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell). However, Willie Rennie has a great opportunity to restore Liberal Democrat support to pre-2010 levels, through the significant number of Labour voters that are dissatisfied with the direction the party is going. The way this is done is clear. Commitment to unionism is key. Labour centrism shares a lot in terms of policy with the SNP, however, they stuck with Labour due to fervent anti-nationalism. Therefore, for these voters to be tempted to the Lib Dems, showing fierce loyalty to the union is necessary. Secondly, keeping their general liberal left agenda in tandem with this unionism can only serve to help them. However, they will need to brave the forthcoming storm that is the potential electoral fraud in Edinburgh West and East Dunbartonshire. While by-elections are out of the question, they can only serve to damage their standing in seats they only just clawed back from the SNP. However, they can certainly make that up in North East Fife, where they missed out on another Westminster seat by a paltry 2 votes. This was primarily down to a Conservative surge and next time out, if these people can be persuaded to tactically vote Liberal Democrat, there is nothing the SNP can do.
All in all, we’re in for a bit of a rollercoaster ride, even if it is the beginning of a period of 3 years without an election