Scotland: another day, another election

by Alex Orr

Another day, another election as Scottish voters head to the polls for the seventh time in three years

As Nicola Sturgeon took to the stage in Perth this morning to launch her party’s manifesto, her party was on an uncharacteristically unsure footing.

For Sturgeon, this election is the tricky second album, following the SNP’s storming success in 2015.  But with a Tory resurgence under their charismatic leader, Ruth Davidson, a number of the party’s astonishing 56 out of 59 MPs are under threat.

We already have a feeling for how the results will look on 9 June, with elections to Scotland’s 32 councils on 4 May providing a dress-rehearsal.

A Conservative strategy urging voters to use those elections to send a message to Nicola Sturgeon and say “no to a second referendum” proved highly successful and is naturally continuing into the General Election.

The Tories, now seen as the main guarantors of the Union, more than doubled their number of councillors from 115 to 276, garnering more than a quarter of first preference votes in the PR electoral system.

However, the SNP still dominates, with a modest increase in councillor numbers to 431, and just under a third of first preference votes. Labour was predicted to do badly, and did, losing more than 130 councillors. Taking just 20 per cent of first preference votes, that party was pushed into third place by the Conservatives.

For the SNP, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is framing the General Election as being a choice between a right-wing Tory party, which wants a hard Brexit, and her party which promises “to stand up for Scotland”.

The independence issue is being downplayed by the SNP in this election campaign, but if they do as well as is predicted they will claim this as yet another “cast-iron” mandate to hold a referendum. Opposition parties are in turn urging Scots to use the election to “say no” to a further ballot.

Part of the challenge for Sturgeon is that her party did so well in the 2015 election, with just shy of half the vote (49.97 per cent). Any drop will be seen by the Unionist parties as a victory, and a call for no independence referendum.

Since then the Tories have successfully positioned themselves as the main guarantors of the Union, and there is a quantifiable Tory revival in parts of Scotland, particularly in rural areas. Polling suggests that a swathe of former Conservative seats could return to the party for the first time in decades as Labour continue to decline and the SNP show signs of stagnating.

This election is likely to see the Conservatives leapfrog Labour to second place and are targeting constituency seats in former Tory heartlands. West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Perth and North Perthshire, Moray, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk and Dumfries and Galloway are very much in the Tory firing line.

Labour, on the other hand, will be content to try and hold onto its sole MP, Ian Murray in Edinburgh South, and try and stem the ongoing damage since 2015.

The Liberal Democrats are targeting seats they previously held and which voted No to independence but voted to remain in the EU. These Include Edinburgh West and East Dunbartonshire, where they will be seen as best-placed to oust SNP incumbents.

The Conservatives have rolled the dice, pitching the General Election in Scotland as a de facto vote on Scottish independence. Expect both the SNP and the Tories to claim that they have rolled double sixes on 9th June.