In 2014 the Scottish Independence referendum resulted in a massive increase in the political awareness of the Scottish electorate and, despite participation in the ‘Yes’ campaign by other smaller parties like the Scottish Green Party, the SNP has received the support of almost all ‘Yes’ voters putting their vote at at least 45% among an electorate that has remained politically engaged and active. As a result of this heightened political engagement the SNP saw 56 MPs elected as the supporters of the ‘No’ campaign splintered amongst the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems.
Due to the politicisation of the Scottish people, Nicola Sturgeon’s ability as SNP leader, the collapse of Scottish Labour and the SNP’s policy propositions, I predict that not only will the SNP win another majority government in Holyrood but I believe that the SNP will increase their majority thus making Scottish Independence more likely in the next few years.
Before the outcome of the 2015 General Election I was quietly confident that the media was ignoring the severity of the political revolution that had taken place after the Independence referendum. In the run up to the General Election the media was confident that the SNP would make significant gains and could win up to 30 maybe even 35 seats. Admittedly I thought that the Tories wouldn’t be re-elected so I wouldn’t go on for too long about the accuracy of my predictions however there was one thing that I was proven right about: the electoral rise of the SNP.
Independence advocates have almost entirely flocked to the SNP which means that the 45% vote that supported independence, which is around 1.6 million people who are now highly politicised and more likely to vote, are a reliable SNP voting block; the reduced turnout of the 2015 General Election can only therefore be attributed to apathy among unionists. The Scottish electorate is around 4.3 million people and turnout was 71% which is just over 3 million votes; it therefore shouldn’t surprise people that the SNP won more than 50% of the vote when 1.6 million people (in other words more than 50% of 3 million) are now actively supporting the SNP.
It is this same statistical point that will see the SNP elected by a landslide; the 2011 Holyrood election saw the election of an SNP majority government but turnout was 50% with around 2 million people voting. The combined vote total of the three main unionist parties was around 964,000 constituency votes and around 871,000 regional votes, compared with the SNP’s 903,000 constituency votes and 876,000 regional votes.
The support for the SNP as a result of the Independence referendum will therefore see the SNP gain around another 700,000 votes and, if we are generous to the unionists by saying that their vote will remain the same despite the rise of the SNP, this would see the influx of ‘Yes’ voters increasing the turnout of the election to about 63% but would give the SNP just over 59% of the vote; considering the SNP won a landslide majority on 45% of the vote in 2011, the SNP should be prepared to make bold pledges in their manifesto in order to energise grassroots activists and ensure this explosion in electoral support.
Another key difference between 2011 and 2016 is the change in the leadership of the SNP. Alex Salmond’s style of leadership was based on a more combative form of rhetoric that inspired a left-wing nationalism in response to the legacy of Thatcherism. Support for the SNP in 2011 was rooted in providing resistance to the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition’s cuts and the SNP positioned itself to the left of Labour to tap into that core vote that had propped up Labour governments in Westminster; galvanising supporters had been a great strength of Alex Salmond’s style of leadership as his tone of political speech was archetypal of resistance to Westminster.
Salmond’s resignation after the Independence referendum was essential to the future of the SNP as, although his rhetoric energised supporters, it alienated people who were agnostic on independence but who else would be ideologically sympathetic to a party to thee left of Labour.Due to Nicola Strugeon’s prominent role in the Independence referendum the voters gained by Salmond’s rhetoric was consolidated and Sturgeon’s less divisive tone opened the SNP up to people previously more hostile to the party; Salmond’s support of Sturgeon as party leader has prevented the factionalism that has dogged the Labour Party since Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister in 1997.
Sturgeon’s leadership has seen the SNP’s opinion poll numbers soar to 60% in constituency votes and 54% in regional votes which is significantly higher than the 45% in both categorises that gave the SNP their 2011 landslide. The First Minister’s ability to widen support and market the SNP as the vanguard party of the pro-independence movement will result in the unionist parties looking on in horror as the SNP win, I predict, in excess of 75 seats, giving the Nationalists an outright majority in the 129 member Scottish Parliament.
However the collapse of the SNP’s main political rival cannot be ignored. Since the SNP won a majority in 2011 Scottish Labour has been in disarray which has only been amplified by the structure of the Labour Party, the repeatedly stupid decision to elect centrist leaders and the perceived lack of policy differences between Labour and the Tories which was exacerbated by the two parties’ alliance during the Independence referendum.
The structure of the Labour Party had been far too centralised for far too long as a consequence of Johann Lamont’s resignation as Scottish Labour leader Ed Miliband reformed Labour so the Scottish party would have more autonomy. Although this reform was correct it is somewhat ironic that Kezia Dugdale is now seen as the main Labour figure in Scotland at a time when the Westminster leader could well be Jeremy Corbyn who I believe would be able to appeal to left-wing SNP voters. On the subject of leaders, Scottish Labour had a brilliant opportunity to elect a leader to the left of the Westminster party so Labour could stem the flow of anti-independence voters supporting the SNP because of the Nationalists’ position to the left of Labour.
The election of Jim Murphy was never going to do anything other than strengthen the SNP’s grip on voters to the left of Labour as Murphy was a minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown thus allying him with New Labour’s faults especially the introduction of university tuition fees, failures in bank regulation and the Iraq War. The recently elected new leader of Scottish Labour Kezia Dugdale is better than Jim Murphy as she is less of a centrist but she is far from radical enough to stop the SNP monopolizing support to the left of Labour.
These structural problems have resulted in Labour proposing policies that are essentially watered down versions of what the SNP are proposing or Labour going out on a limb with organically unpopular stuff. For example on Welfare the SNP and Labour agree that the Bedroom Tax should be abolished however the SNP is in government and, as a result of the newly devolved powers that have been sent to Holyrood, will be abolishing it before the next Holyrood elections. On austerity the SNP, together with the Greens and Plaid Cymru, established itself as the anti-austerity choice and Labour was successfully portrayed as offering ‘austerity light’. The SNP have maintained free university tuition fees whereas Labour committed itself to cutting fees from £9,000 to £6,000. Most importantly Labour remains committed to the renewal of Trident unlike the SNP, and the Scottish public, who want to see it abolished. This difference in policy between Labour and the SNP has been increased due to the debate over independence but Labour cannot keep giving piecemeal policy suggestions to an electorate that are largely to the left of New Labour.
For all of these reasons I can see no other outcome than an SNP landslide with Labour being the main casualty. Statistics show that the SNP will pick up seats thus increasing their majority and if Labour’s left-wing supporters continue to vote for the SNP there is a serious danger the Labour could well finish third behind the Tories. I do not think that Labour will capitulate enough to finish behind the Tories but either way the SNP will clean up in 2016 and Nicola Sturgeon will be both the most powerful First Minister in Scottish history and the leader of the party with the largest mandate since the founding of the Scottish Parliament.