Monday, 15 May 2017

About That Mandate...

Quite possibly the only true thing the leader of Holyrood’s opposition party, Ruth Davidson, has uttered is her belief that we have passed, in her own phrase, “peak Nat”.  Whether that is as true as Davidson would like it to be and that the SNP suffer 20-30 seat losses in three weeks remains to be seen. It somehow feels that for all we were lauding the Imperial phase of the SNP, this era has now ended.

The Tories remake of the video for Cher's "If I Could Turn
Back Time" proves to be a hit with the media.
Arguably the thinking about how to play this election has lead to some muddled arguments from the SNP.  Should they make this about Independence or should this be about Brexit and the holding of the government’s feet to the fire in relation to the EU referendum.  As a result, we have seen the SNP move away from Independence thought still saying that this election will have no bearing on their plans to hold a second Independence referendum.  This is a card that both Labour and the Conservatives are flipping and trying to turn into an issue.

That both parties are attempting to run an openly anti-Independence campaign perhaps says more about the thinking behind both parties than it does about the SNP.  For “Scottish” Labour, this is a line which has directly led them to being deposed as the SNP’s strongest challengers.  “Scottish” Labour’s  out and out hostility alienated lots of left wing voters, attracted not just by the SNP but the idea that “Another Scotland is Possible” to borrow the Common Weal’s tagline.  You would, have though that having seen lots of voters decamp to the SNP would cause Scottish Labour to pause for thought.  I think however it’s not their hostility to Independence which has done for them, more their unreconstructed hatred of the SNP resulting in a dislike of everything the SNP do.  This non constructive approach, which led to the #SNPBad hashtag and the ensuing ridicule which also drives away potential voters.

The Conservatives on the other hand have only recently hardened their stance on Independence and have seen some electoral success thanks to that new found ‘standing up for the union’ stance.  They took four FPTP seats in last years Holyrood Election, Jackson Carlaw’s victory in Eastwood on a swing of 5.7% to unseat Ken MacIntosh and to deprive the SNP of victory could perhaps be seen as the start of the Tories revival and proof that Davidson was on to something in standing up for the 55%ers.  More than the vagaries of the list vote, it was the SNP’s loss of seats to the Lib Dem’s (North East Fife on a swing of 9.5% and Edinburgh Western on a swing of 7.8%) which deprived the SNP of a second Holyrood majority.

Top 8 Conservative Target Seats
SNP Vote
Swing Required
Berwickshire, Roxborough & Selkirk
Dumfries & Galloway
Aberdeen West & Kincardine
Perth & North Perthshire
East Renfrewshire*
Aberdeen South*
Edinburgh South West*
* = currently third placed in this constituency

While the SNP are perfectly correct in saying that they hold a mandate to hold a second referendum thanks to that Holyrood win, perhaps the question should be whether they should.  With the EU Referendum and the result of the last UK Election, everything has changed.  Except that nothing has really changed at all with the SNP’s outlook towards selling an Independent Scotland firmly within the EU.  And that’s a problem when there’s a sizable minority happy to be leaving the EU.  The other issue the SNP have created is their creation of and interpretation of “material change”.  It is this interpretation which, given the Holyrood election last year, might backfire.

For the first time, and due in no small thanks to the EU Referendum, the SNP are not in control of the narrative.  The signs though were there in the Holyrood elections with those unexpected reverses to the Lib Dems.  It is the Conservative’s who are in charge of the media narrative and the SNP on the defensive.  While we are certainly past peak Tsunami SNP, and this was self evident two weeks ago whether you believed in the nominal figures or not, whether we have gone past ‘peak Nat’ is another matter entirely.  The latest polling suggests a swing to the Tories of around 10.5%.  If this is to be believed, then both Pete Wishart (Perth & North Perthshire) and the Westminster Leader Angus Robertson (Moray) are at risk of losing their seats to their Conservative opponents.

Top 5 Lib Dem Target Seats
SNP Vote
Swing Required
East Dumbartonshire
Edinburgh West
North East Fife
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross
Ross, Skye & Lochaber

Polling also suggests a drop in support for the SNP.  It might be because of the SNP’s post EU referendum tactics or it could be because of dissatisfaction with the SNP’s performance as Scottish Government.  This drop could also enable the Lib Dem’s to repeat their trick from Holyrood.  The Westminster equivalent’s to the seats taken by the Lib Dem’s last May do appear in the five winnable seats but are topped by John Nicholson’s East Dumbartonshire.  The re-run of 2015 with Jo Swinson attempting to retake this seat looks like being a contest to watch.

The Tory narrative is to vote for them to derail Indyref 2.  I think the only way that this can be derailed will be if the Tories make big gains, gains which at the moment look highly unlikely, having said that I think that the SNP can maybe afford three losses.  On the other hand, if the Lib Dem’s regain North East Fife and Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross and if Pete Wishart or Angus Robertson lose their seats to the Tories – scenarios which are likely – then all of a sudden the narrative shifts once again and Indyref 2 will look like a not very winnable prospect.

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