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Sturgeon's Last Stand

22/06/2017 13:09
PA Wire/PA Images

This election has thrown the political rulebook out of the window. The youth turned out. Campaigns can change the course of an election, and the two party system is back. The last point is very bad news for Nicola Sturgeon who has relied on the absence of Labour and the Conservatives in Scotland to fill with her blank cheque nationalism. Like Theresa May she banked on a referendum being enough to get her over the finishing line. However they were both on the wrong side of the brexit and independence argument. On top of this ,the austerity the Scottish National Party has inflicted upon local authorities and schools, has caught up with her. The myth the SNP spouted of Scotland's progressive exceptionalism, that Scotland is somehow more progressive than the rest of the UK has been blown out of the water with the fact that there are now 13 Conservatives MP in Scotland.The SNP's appeal was that voters could project what they wanted onto their brand of nationalism. But now the Unionist parties are in the insurgency and a large part of the SNP base supports Brexit. Sturgeon, like May, made a gamble at this election and it backfired.

Of course Scotland has a rich radical history from Keir Hardie to the Red Clydesiders. At the same time Scotland has been as much a traditional Tory heartland as a Labour one. Many see the SNP as putting forward a radical left wing message, when in fact their message is aimed at Tories as much as Labour voters.  

The Tories were the dominant political force between the 1930's to the 1950's being the largest party in Scotland in four out of the seven general elections held during this period. Even at the height of Thatcherism, in 1983, the Tories still held 21 seats in Scotland. The majority of the six seats the SNP held on to at Westminster elections since 1997 (bar 2001 when they held five), had been previously Conservative strongholds. Scotland like many other parts of the UK has a strong radical heritage but also deep rooted conservative traditions.

One of the main reasons the SNP froze Council Tax from 2007 was because they wanted to court the Tory vote. This has been an extremely popular measure in Scotland, yet it has inflicted a massive amount of austerity upon local councils, with the council tax freeze leading to Scottish local authorities facing £14.8billion of debt, and having to make frontline cuts.

The general election paid testament to how reliant the SNP are upon conservative voters. Labour did make seven gains increasing their vote share in every seat. But it is conservative voters leaving the SNP who they really owe their seats to. Just look at Gordon Brown's former super safe Labour seat of Kircaldy and Cowdenbeath, that he won with a majority of 23,009 in 2010.In 2017 although Labour won the seat with 17,016 votes, the number of Labour votes was down from 2015 when they lost with 17,654. This was because the Conservative vote surged with 13.4% swing from the SNP to them, doubling their votes to 10,762 whilst halving the SNP vote from 27,628 to 16,757. Even in seats where Labour did get substantial swings such as Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill or Glasgow North East were pretty much matched by the Conservatives.

But the seat that Davidson won in were much less astonishing than the ones she helped Labour gain. Half of the seats that Conservatives won such as Moray are former Conservatives seats, and the other half such as Sterling and Aberdeen South were seats that they lost to Labour in the 1990's.

The Scottish revival did not start with the general election but was confirmed when the Conservaties became the second largest party in the Scottish parliament. Before the 2016 Scottish Parliament election Nicola Sturgeon asserted there would be "a sharp intake of breath" if the conservatives came in second and this would be due to "the spectacular collapse we've seen of Labour's vote across all parts of Scotland". However Davidson's Party did come in second and we now know that was not because of a Labour collapse but because of the decline of the SNP vote.

Of course Davidson is at odds with the hard brexit, social conservative brand of conservatism that became central to Mayism . Davidson is one of last Cameronians standing in a prominent position within the conservative party. She is socially liberal, a remainer and unlike the Cameroons ambivalent towards austerity. So the Conservative revival is very much down to Davidson's brand of conservatism and unionism. She and her MP's are now in a coalition with the conservative party. Her 13 MP's are central to the Conservatives being the largest party and will be even more pivotal than the DUP at holding the Conservative party together.

Another element of this election was Brexit. Sturgeon didn't bet on Brexit being so popular with her voters. She thought Brexit would provide her with the opportunity to win over remainers unionists to the independence cause. However You Gov estimate 16% of those who voted for in Independence in the 2014 referendum voted to leave. For example in what was considered the SNP heartland in seats such as Moray there was only 0.2% between leave and remain. The logic of voting for independence and Brexit, hangs much more together than voting for independence and remain. If you want a truly Independent Scotland do you want to be at the behest of an institution would require you succeed your country's sovereignty? The SNP's unique version of nationalism, that you can only be nationalist if you're internationalist could only hold together for so long.

The Conservatives are no longer a toxic brand in Scotland. There lost tribe of socially conservative voters who they lost in 1997 have come back to them. This is a watershed moment in the history of scottish politics when the SNP myth of Scotland as a progressive mecca has been called into question. The SNP's reliance on Conservatives voters has been revealed. In light of the pro-union surge, the independence question would seem to be off the table for at least to the next Scottish parliamentary election. But whether Sturgeon will be leading the party then is another question

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