Thursday, 12 May 2016

The SNP: Running to Stand Still

Here’s how the SNP describe last week’s election result:
“The SNP has won an historic third term in the Scottish Parliament with 63 MSPs, over a million votes in Scotland’s constituencies – a first – and the highest share of the constituency vote ever achieved” - SNP Press Release
Of course there have only ever been five Holyrood elections, so the SNP’s achievement is “historic” and their constituency vote share the highest “ever achieved” only in the context of a rather short period of time, but nevertheless the statement accurately describes how the SNP have cemented their position as the dominant party in Scottish politics. But politics is all about the narrative, all about momentum and the direction of travel and (whisper it) the SNP are moving backwards.

Having 63 MSPs represents a loss of 6 SNP MSPs since 2011 and means they no longer command an overall majority at Holyrood. Coming within just 2 seats of retaining a majority in a voting system which is specifically designed to avoid that outcome is undoubtedly an impressive achievement, but it is also undeniably a step backwards.

Over 1 million constituency votes is a good headline number, but let’s not forget that it would have taken over 1.8 million votes for Yes to have won the independence referendum.

The SNP’s 46.5% constituency vote share was marginally up from the 45.4% they achieved in 2011 and compares extremely favourably with the 36.9% share with which the Conservatives won the UK general election. But you’d need to have been living in an isolation chamber for the last 3 months not to be aware of the “both votes SNP” campaign which focused on ensuring their supporters voted SNP on both constituency and regional ballot papers. Despite this, their share of the regional vote actually declined from 44.0% to 41.7%.

Add together the constituency and regional votes and the SNP’s combined vote share fell from 44.7% to 44.1%.

So the SNP achieved a thumping victory - but compared to 2011 they received a lower vote share, won fewer seats and lost their parliamentary majority. They can spin their “historic” victory as much as they like, but it is an observation of objective fact that the SNP are in a weaker position now than they were in 2011 prior to the independence referendum campaign.

As for the opposition, the Scottish Conservative & Unionist party saw a spectacular surge in their support while Scottish Labour took a pasting. This has gifted the SNP an explicitly unionist opposition who have to defend the current UK government’s record. It will now be easier than ever for the SNP to deflect attention away from their own record in office by rerunning tired independence referendum arguments and training their fire on the Tories.

Among the also-rans, the Greens passed the Lib Dems who effectively stood still. Some Nationalists argue that if you include the 6 Green MSPs you can say that “independence supporting parties” hold a majority at Holyrood. The problem with this argument is that every SNP or Green vote is not a vote for independence and that these parties combined still hold two less seats than they did in 2011 - so even on this measure support for independence has declined below 2011 levels.

So what does this mean for the prospects of a second independence referendum? Scots voted No to independence when presented with a case that assumed we’d benefit from £6.8 - 7.9billion a year of oil revenues. It’s now clear that the true figure is in fact going to be close to zero for the foreseeable future. That’s a difference between what the Yes campaign claimed and the inconvenient reality of around £1,500 per year for every man woman and child in Scotland. This is before we even start considering issues like what currency we’d use, what would happen to our EU membership terms and other costs of separation. The base from which the SNP have to argue we’d build following separation from the rest of the UK is far worse than they previously assumed. The economic case for independence lies in tatters and Nicola Sturgeon knows it.

The problem for the SNP is that they’re a one-trick pony. Their electoral success shows that it’s been a very good trick, but if you try to repeat any trick too often people eventually work out how it’s done and the magic is ruined. This particular trick only works if you have a credible economic case for independence, and that simply doesn’t exist.

In response to this problem Nicola Sturgeon has said the SNP will:
“undertake new work, starting this summer, with the aim of persuading a clear majority of people in Scotland that independence is the best future for our country”.
It's a shame that our First Minister isn't able to even consider the possibility that separation from the UK (like separation from the EU) may not in fact represent the best future for Scotland.

We can only live in hope that, despite their obsession with rerunning arguments they’ve already lost, our newly elected Scottish government finds time to use their extensive powers to improve the lot of those for whom they’re meant to be governing.


This article appeared in the Daily Record on May 14, 2016


Nial said...

I can't think of _one_ thing that's happened since the referendum that makes independence a more appealing proposition now than then.

The SNP have said they would do this, so fair enough, as long as they pay for it.

They shouldn't be allowed to waste tax payers money on something they have already been told we don't want.

Tanker said...

My Niece was telling me the other day that she would be voting for leaving the EU. I asked what her reasons were and she was honest enough to say that she was pro the EU, but if she voted out then there would be another Scottish Referendum. The World has went mad when you vote no and undermine something you actually believe in - that is where SNP politics lead us.

Sam Duncan said...

Not only that, but turnout was back down to “normal” Holyrood levels, albeit still up slightly over 2011, after the excitement of the last couple of years. Their share of the electorate - a figure I'm fond of because it shows, behind all the headlines of how many seats you've won, the depth of your actual, active, support - was down a whole 10 points over last year's GE (26% to 36%), and by a similar scale, although it isn't comparing like with like, over the “yes” vote at the referendum. This despite an obviously massive get-out-the-vote effort, let alone the flood of new members. I've never seen so many people helping folk in and out of cars at the polling station, every one of them wearing yellow.

So “running to stand still” is exactly what I've been thinking over the last week. I can't recall a party that's apparently carrying all before it - and I saw both the Thatcher and Blair landslides - feeling it has to work so hard for every last vote. For all their bluster, I can't help getting a real sense of insecurity from the Nats. Maybe they just can't believe their luck, but I think there's more to it than that. Having won that record number of Commons seats, having attracted so many people to join their party, merely doing well isn't good enough any more. As a single-issue crusade, rather than Just Another Party, they need the impression of momentum. As political nationalists, they need the impression of representing the entire nation (which is why last year's Commons result was so important to them, even more than it would have been for another party). So they have to keep up this fever-pitch, because anything else looks like a decline. Even losing their overall majority - still with twice as many seats as anyone else - is a step backwards, a chink in their armour, the polish coming off, a blow to their claim to be The Party of Scotland. They peaked too soon.

Dumb Blonde said...

Can I thank you for this blog. I get so tired of the strurm und drang thrown at us by the intellectually challenged.

kailyard rules said...

Eat your hearts out.

John Silver said...

Gosh you're back. I must say I found it somewhat astonishing that a blog that promises "musings on business, the economy and Scottish politics" has been silent for the past 5 weeks which has coincided with the Holyrood election campaign.
As for that election, there was something in there for everyone to spin it as a great success & Sam Duncan gave some great examples of how you can pick'n'mix your statistics to suit your case - we could all do the same, but I won't insult anyone's intelligence by indulging in a similar exercise. The exception is,of course Scottish Labour. Having clumsily handed the anti-Indy baton to the Tories, surely this must be their low point and "Things can only get better for them"
Those who say there is no mandate for a second independence referendum are of course correct especially as no party had it as an explicit commitment in their manifesto. Equally, there is no mandate for some sort of embargo on a further referendum, unless we are now adding up votes of disparate opposition parties to produce one. How would that have worked in Westminster over the past 50 years? But there is a mandate for a referendum under certain circumstances as included in the SNP manifesto. If the UK government has a mandate to implement their policies with a bit more than a third of the votes, then the Scottish Government clearly has a mandate with 10% more.
As regards the economic arguments for or against independence, Sturgeon has made it pretty clear that in order to have any chance of winning a second indyref, they will need to persuade No voters to change their mind, & will need to come up with a more compelling case than the last time. This will have to include an economic case.
As you and your supporters are supremely confident that no such case can be made, I fail to see what all the fuss is about.

Papko said...

Interesting article which uses my favorite method of gauging political will, Voter Turnout .

When things really matter, people vote.

The 2015 GE had a 71% TO , the highest since 1997 which swept Tony Blair into power as the country was sick of Tory rule and wanted a change .

It then reverted to 60%+ in the intervening "boom" years, even 2010 where the Labour vote actually increased by approx 100k in Scotland , spite of the Banks collapse and Gordon Brown (seems to have been a delayed reaction here, Labour antipathy only settled in during and after the referendum.

Holyrood Elections (all 5 of them ) have a lower turnout, only the first in 1999 attracting 60% , all the rest were 50% save last week on 55% .

So there is still more interest in Holyrood since 2011, although I agree, the great turmoil of the referendum is dying down, and the GE of 2015 , can be seen more of an aftershock, coming only 7 months after the great event.

Its worth noting that 2011 had a 50% turnout , and half the vote or 25% of the electorate voted SNP, this off course is the "Sovereign will of the Scottish people" .

I do think that no one was more surprised than Salmond, as he suddenly found himself out on his own with just the keeper to beat.

I do believe he would have grandstanded for years, first a "consultative referendum " , then a multiple choice one , with Devo Max , Devo Mini , and Devo ME ME !.

The surprise would also explain the lack of preparedness,advancing on a broad front, promising much and specifying little, was seize don by the hard left , who had a platform way beyond their vote share. (not 1% vote Sheridan or Cat Boyd) , yet there promises of better this and that , end of capitalism profit before people , all very well on a summers day in May , in practice a trip back to the Red Clyde, and ensuing social dysfunction.

What we have is "competent govt", an we may well have that for 10 more years , by that time hope has turned to disillusion , future vision only dull mundane "competence".

Saying that I sympathize with many in the SNP (never for their main policy ) but as people.

It is over till at least 2035.

Kevin Hague said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Hague said...

Dear John "Gosh you're back" Silver

If you're so easily "astonished" then you'd better be sure you're sitting down when you read this; I have more things to do in my life than write this blog, not least running a business that gets extremely busy when the sun shines. This is not a crowd-funded lifestyle choice, it's something I do when time allows. If you've taken the time to create a similar body of work I'd love to see it - if you haven't, maybe consider that sarcastic sniping from the sidelines just makes you look like a dick.



Anonymous said...

"Mandates" are marvellous things, aren't they? Very useful for conflating party and policy, and generally muddling the waters to give an impression of popular will. However, no political party can claim that it has a mandate for anything that is not in its power. Indyref2 is not in the gift of the Scottish Government or the SNP, but of Westminster, and as far as they are concerned the question has been asked and conclusively answered. For them to grant another referendum, given the absence of ANY material improvement to the case for independence (in fact entirely the reverse) since the last one only two years ago, would be completely irresponsible, towards the people of Scotland and rUK, as both would suffer the consequences of a failed state. Sturgeon, by choosing government by decibel and wishful thinking over building a solid track record of achievement in power or confronting honestly the real issues that independence would bring, merely signals her intention to ensure that the SNP narrative continues to be one pitched at gullible, grievance-laden jingoists: "whatever the problem, it will (only ever) be solved by independence from the hated oppressor, whose fault it always is." I can see this ad nauseam line continuing to alienate even further those who expect their government to roll up its sleeves and deal with reality, rather than continue to trot out a false prospectus for Scotopia. rocoham

Anonymous said...

As you and your supporters are supremely confident that no such case can be made, I fail to see what all the fuss is about.

Because it takes time and attention to explain to people that 15 billion pounds is a huge amount and "using all fiscal levers" isn't going fix things for many a year.

And, frankly, it was agreed that after the referendum there would be a period of quiet. People are sick of it.

Ken Bell said...

The SNP vote went up by 1.1 percent over 2011, so I am unclear how you can claim that the SNP are "moving backwards."

They lost seats because, quite rightly, the system ensures that a party which dominates the constituencies gets done over on the list. 2011 was a perfect fluke, where the SNP got just enough constituencies for it not to tell too badly on the list.

I voted SNP and Labour, because I have a thing about pluralism and an aversion to strong governments. I am more than happy to see the SNP stay in power and very happy indeed that they do not have too much power. They will have to cut deals with the Greenies, Labour and even the Lib-Dems who are desperately trying to prove that they are no longer Tory stooges.

There are enough votes there to sideline the Tories, who can be left to scream impotently on the sidelines. That should be fun to watch and may even make First Minister's Questions interesting.

Kevin Hague said...

Yes Ken, the 1.1% figure is shown on the table of data I present - that's their share of the constituency vote - I couldn't be clearer about the figures I'm using.

Maybe you should reread what I actually wrote and you'll be less unclear?

The SNP will be disappointed you didn't get the #bothvotesSNP memo

Anonymous said...

Many are saying the same but the logic in my humble opinion is flawed. In the event of a UK vote to leave the EU and if analysis of the voting trends show that a significant number or even a majority of Scots have voted to leave then the outcome/ decision cannot be described as against the will of the Scottish people something that the SNP say could trigger another Referendum.

Kevin Hague said...

Even if the UK votes to leave the EU (an outcome I neither want nor expect) the SNP know they'd lose another indyref - the numbers simply don't work, the fiscal framework is worth too much to Scotland

John Silver said...

Hi Kevin, you will be relieved to know I was sitting down when I read your response, hence avoiding serious injury.
I don't for a minute think you have any responsibility or duty to publish your views any more often than you wish. Equally, I feel comfortable with gently ribbing you about the frequency of your "musings." Please accept my apologies if I have caused offence.
On another note, I am always amused by those (not you, Kevin) who love to express voting turnout as a % of the electorate but only ever apply this principle to one side. I could redress the balance, but I don't feel its really necessary

Kevin Hague said...

John - fair enough, you maybe caught me at a bad moment - apology accepted and (on reflection) probably unnecessary