Alba gu bràth – maybe, but not on these results


There has been huge hype in the media about the “collapse” of  Labour’s vote in Scotland and the possibility the SNP will win a referendum on independence, when they eventually get around to calling it (they appear to be in no hurry).

The reality is rather less dramatic than the media pundits would have us believe.

First, Labour’s vote. It did indeed fall in the constituency portion of the voting from 32.2% at the last Scottish elections to 31.7% this time – a massive fall of all of 0.5%. Hardly catastrophic. In the (less influential) regional voting it did fall a bit more,  by -2.9% down to 26.3%.

At the constituency level the results were highly variable. Take two of the seats Labour lost to the SNP in Glasgow – in Glasgow Shettleston Labour was down significantly, by -7.8%, whereas in Glasgow Kelvin, which they also lost, they were up +6%.

The increase in the SNP vote across Scotland is mainly due to the collapse in Lib Dem and, to a lesser extent, the Tory votes. Overall in the constituency section the SNP gained 12.5%, whilst the Lib Dems dropped 8.2% and the Tories were down 2.7%, a combined drop of 10.9%. ‘Others’ also dropped by 1.1%. Mathematically this makes the switch from Labour to the SNP 0.5%.

Now, it is clearly possible to argue that Labour should have benefited more from the disaffection of Lib Dem voters and/or should have prevented the SNP mopping up the various protest votes. But to suggest the Labour vote “collapsed” as many commentators have is just nonsense.

As for the ‘independence is just around the corner’ scare stories – the SNP won just 45.4% of the constituency vote and 44% in the regional list vote – in neither case topping the 50% they’d need to win a referendum.

And that is assuming everyone who voted SNP is in favour of independence, which all the polling evidence suggests is untrue and even more untrue, I suspect, for many of the extra votes they have won from Lib Dems and Tories this time round.

Why does the SNP want to delay a referendum until late in Scottish parliamentary cycle. That’s easy and obvious – they are hoping (a) that by then there will be a majority Tory government at Westminster; (b) the effects of “Westminster imposed” cuts will have generated a heated opposition and (c) people will have forgotten about the near collapse of the Irish, Iceland and other small economies once hailed by the SNP as examples small nations success.

All of the above may be true, but the SNP should also remember that in five years they will have been governing alone, with a majority, and no excuses for all the inevitable “events” that so bedevil all governments.

Given all of the above, whilst a ‘yes’ vote for independence is still obviously possible it seems highly unlikely indeed. It might make for good copy in the papers but it is a fairly remote eventuality.

In their moment of triumph the SNP (and others) would do well to cast an eye over the Atlantic to Canada, where the Bloc Quebecois has just been replaced by the left-wing New Democrats. Quebec seems to have finally tired of the Bloc after several attempts to win independence referenda that failed.

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About Colin Talbot

Professor of Government. Universities of Cambridge and Manchester, England.
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