Sunday, 8 December 2019

My final election blog: A strangely British Election.

It has been a strangely British election in Scotland.

In 2015 and 2017 the UK General elections were essentially different events north and south of the border.

Here, there were "local" debates with the Scottish Party leaders up front and centre and distinctively different television coverage. That was to some extent the preference of all of the main Scottish Parties. The SNP naturally welcomed an assumption that Scotland was already semi-independent but the other three Parties also had a vested interest. Labour and the Libs assumed that their Scottish "brand" and leader had an appeal beyond the UK franchise. The Tories initially simply wanted to be seen to be "different" here but by 2017 had worked out that they possessed a Scottish leader with a  Heineken reach.

That was then however, this is now. Even in two and a half years we have a much changed media. Uniquely Scottish newspapers are in relative decline in relation to the readership of the Scottish editions of their UK based competitors and that does mean that coverage of the election has more of a UK tinge but, more importantly still, the BBC, still most peoples's source of news, has shuffled off much of its Scottish political coverage to a channel literally nobody watches. The SNP should perhaps have been more careful about what they wished for in that regard.

And then there are the specific circumstances of this contest applying to each of the four main Parties. On any view this is not so much a Tory election campaign as a Boris Johnson election campaign and the Scottish Tories have had little option but to buy into that. Johnson has been far more prominent here than either Cameron or May, interestingly directly taking on the nationalist mantra that "the Tories don't care about Scotland". That in turn has rather disguised the fact that the Scottish Tories don't actually have a permanent leader and freed up Ruth Davidson to play the role of a Scottish El Cid, taking the battle to where she wants to go without having to carry the burden of kingship.

Labour has also had to make a virtue of necessity. The absence of any identifiable Scottish leadership has left us with little alternative to Corbyn being here far more than in 2017, although he continues to feature little if at all in local campaign literature. By now the election here for Labour has become a struggle for survival, retaining as many "touching distance" second places as possible. Time will tell if this has worked.

And the Libs, led by a Scottish MP at Westminster, clearly have an interest in promoting her over giving Willie Rennie much more than a bit part this time round.

Finally, we have the SNP. Or should I say Nicola. For the rest of the Nats have been more or less invisible. Nicola seems to be on the UK telly just about every night, not as the voice of independence but as a sort of fantasy, social democratic, candidate for the position of a Remain Prime Minister. I am genuinely at a loss as to the purpose of this, for she is not seeking that position, indeed she is not seeking, at this election, any position at all. It also seems somewhat strange to effectively write off the votes of North East Scotland in pursuit of the votes of south east England.

Anyway, as I say, the net effect of this is that this has been the most British election in Scotland since at least 2010.

And that will have consequence.

It increasingly looks that there is going to be a UK Tory landslide and Tory landslides (or indeed Labour landslides, remember them?) do not pass parts of the country entirely by.

I started my election blogs by pointing out that the opening question at this election should not have been how many seats the Scottish Tories were going to lose lose but rather how many they were going to gain. How the press report matters is entirely a matter for them but I don't think that it is unfair to observe that, purely from the point of view of trade, Scottish political journalists have a vested interest in a narrative that the SNP are still going forward and that a second independence referendum remains very much on the horizon. That might explain why, even now, no-one has really been prepared to dive in to the inviting pool of seats the Tories might pick up. But there are in fact a good number.

And two things particularly favour the Tories this time.

In 2017 there was, in truth, little tactical voting. Where the Tories picked up seats the Labour vote actually went up. Where the Tories got close, and were clearly close, it also remarkably held up. But since then the nationalist cause, on the streets at least, has developed a much more distinctive  republican tone, including overt parallels to Irish republicanism. There is a certain section of the electorate who really don't buy into this but who for reasons of class or family history have been previously reluctant to ever vote Tory. My own view however is that these people are open to the Tory call to be "lent" their vote to stop a second independence referendum. Particularly as their objections to nationalism mirror their objections to Corbynism. That's not just my view however, it is pretty much every piece of Tory literature is saying. For a reason.

The second thing which favours the Tories is that they are going to win. And there is a certain logic, with that as a given, that it favours Scotland to have large numbers on the winning side. Playing the sort of role that was probably most famously played in the past  by George Younger. But, additionally, if the SNP are not going to hold the balance of power and if there is not going to be another referendum, what exactly, in a Westminster context, is their function? Moaning?

In 1979 the Scottish Tories got 31.4% of the Scottish popular vote. I think they will beat that in 2019.
31.4% brought them 31% of the seats then available (22 of 71). I think that's pretty much where we are now. So my final election prediction? Labour 3; Lib-Dems 5; Tories 18; SNP 33.


  1. Very interesting. I actually think Labour could do slightly better than that. Think Rutherglen and Midlothian are the only write offs.

  2. Hi Ian, fascinating blog post.

    I think you are probably correct in this call.

    You might be interested in reading my political betting post, which is based in your forecast, from my personal blog.

  3. I've enjoyed these blogs.

  4. Hello, though I read your blog this is the first time I've made any comment. It's not an earth shattering observation. I cannot fault your reasoning. I think that the cards may well fall as you foresee and I will watch/listen diligently to the relative squirming and carping hubris that usually follows in the wake of our narrowly pluralistic acts of democracy. I can almost see the losers in my minds eye mounting their high horses, drawing their long knives and charging into full 'I told you so' and 'we was robbed' mode.

  5. A very good read. I've said since 1995 our unity as the UK is our best protection against the encroachments of the EU when a Canadian told me not long before the Quebec independence of that year many Canadians saw their unity as the defence against America's encroachments. I realise at once what was meant. Many other Canadians since then have told me the same. If Quebec had voted independence, the English speaking provinces either said of her would eventually become American states. The same would happen to us. if we are broken up into our constituent countries we will be subsumed into that Franco-German dominated federal union scheduled for the future.

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