I wrote a blog post on the 5th of October 2014 (just a couple of weeks after the No vote) called “Which Westminster seats can the SNP realistically win?“. In this, I pointed out that if the referendum results were replicated in May 2015, the SNP would gain 56 seats. However, I didn’t really believe this myself, so I looked at the figures in various ways and came up with a more believable figure of 28 seats. I clearly should have gone straight down to the bookies instead!
I’d like to think that my predictions helped SNP activists believe that victory really was possible. I know my article about East Renfrewshire was widely circulated and discussed in the constituency, and perhaps it contributed a bit to the immense activity levels we’ve seen amongst SNP activists in the past months.
As an SNP member I’m obviously delighted with the Scottish results. My main worry is that the Unionist parties have been weakened so much that they’ll find it hard to provide effective opposition to the SNP in Scotland. Perhaps the Greens will have to step into those shoes next year — my impression is definitely that many Scottish Green supporters voted tactically for the SNP this time, and they’re unlikely to repeat that next year. If the Unionist parties have any sense, they will now set up separate parties in Scotland to enable them to speak with authentic Scottish voices, but I have my doubts.
I’m less pleased with the UK-wide results. The Tories are going to have a small majority on their own and I dread what the Tories will get up to now that their worst ideas won’t get vetoed by the Lib Dems any more. For instance, there’s now nothing we can do to prevent them from holding a referendum about leaving the EU.
It’s instructive to look at the results in two ways: The main figures (after 647 of 650 have been declared) are Con +23, Lab -26, SNP +50, LD -48, which looks like the Tories have taken seats from Labour. However, if we look at England on its own, the figures are Con +20, Lab +15, LD -36, so the real story is that the Tories and Labour murdered the Lib Dems and divided the spoils between themselves; because the Tories were significantly bigger than Labour to start with, that helped them more than Labour. What this means is that — contrary to what Scottish Labour are spinning — even if Labour had swept the board in Scotland, it wouldn’t have made a Labour government possible. Labour needed to take a few dozen seats from the Tories in England. They failed to do that, and that’s why a Labour government with SNP support isn’t now possible.
Another consequence of this election is that UK-wide opinion polls probably won’t be produced any more. They’ve excluded Northern Ireland forever because the political parties there are so different, but Scotland is now just as different, and it’s likely to lead to less useful results if the fortunes of Scottish Labour constantly get mixed up with those of English Labour.
Scotland now seems to have a system with one huge party and four or five small ones, while England has reverted to a two-party system with a few almost unelectable parties.
Incidentally, I reckon this means we can wave goodbye to electoral reform. The parties that would benefit from proportional representation are the Scottish Unionist parties, UKIP and the English Lib Dems, and all of these have almost no seats in the Westminster parliament. What would the Tories gain by introducing PR? Nothing. What would English Labour gain? More Scottish MPs. What would the SNP gain? Nothing, unless they started contesting English seats.
What the 56 SNP MPs will now have to do is to challenge every unpopular decision made by the Tory government and ask for the policy area to be devolved. If they cut child tax credits, demand that this benefit is devolved. If they cut down immigration, request separate immigration quotas for Scotland. When they hold their Brexit referendum, tie it in with a new independence referendum.
And when the next independence referendum is held, we’ll win it. The activity levels during this election campaign were much higher than before the referendum, due to all the new members. If we can hold on to all these activists and get them to campaign just as energetically for a Yes, we’ll win it by a landslide.
I’ve decided to update my prediction of winnable SNP seats which I wrote two weeks after we lost the referendum. At the time it seemed incredibly optimistic, but since then it’s been overtaken by lots of polls by YouGov and other well-known SNP cheerleaders.
Shockingly, it looks like the LibDems and the Tories might fare slightly better than expected due to the inverse Ashcroft effect (if the swing towards the SNP is greater in Labour-held seats, it must be smaller in other seats) and tactical voting.
If this prediction is correct, the Lib Dems will hold onto three of their seats, the Tories will go from one to two (by winning a Lib Dem seat), Labour will be reduced to one, and the SNP will win the remaining 53 Westminster seats.
BBC Scotlandshire’s April Fool’s story about the SNP standing for election in England was very amusing, but it also made me wonder whether it could happen.
Naturally the SNP in its own right would never stand in England (not even in South Berwick or Corby), but the excellent partnership between the SNP and Plaid Cymru could — and should — be extended to England.
Unfortunately, English political parties have tended to belong to the xenophobic right, but now that Nicola Sturgeon is taking part in the leadership debates, the SNP’s political programme will become better known in England, and surely a lot of voters there will be thinking to themselves that they agree with her (and with PC) more than with any of the parties standing in England.
I therefore call on such English voters to create their own English version of the SNP. To ensure that voters don’t mistake it for a UKIP or BNP clone, perhaps the best name for this party would be “England’s Social Democrats” or similar.
The SNP could liaise with the ESD to ensure their aims were compatible, and they could be voting together at Westminster a lot of the time.
The ESD would define itself as a non-violent, non-xenophobic, anti-austerity social democratic party in favour of the creation of an English parliament as a step towards English independence.
Being English rather than Scottish, it would of course not agree with the SNP in every regard, just like Plaid Cymru doesn’t. However, using the SNP’s policies as a blueprint for this new English party would surely be a winning formula.
Of all the seats that the SNP would like to win in May 2015, surely East Renfrewshire must be the jewel in the crown. In 1997, when Jim Murphy won what had until then been a safe Tory seat, it demonstrated the strength of New Labour. Today Jim Murphy is still one of the most faithful believers in Tony Blair’s project and it is with this background that he’s trying to become leader of Labour’s Scottish Branch Office. If the SNP manages to win his seat, it will symbolise the final defeat of the New Labour project in Scotland.
The way to read this is as follows: The SNP got a poor result in 2010, ending up as number four just behind the LibDems. Once we’ve applied uniform swing (according to last month’s opinion polls), the SNP is up at number three, getting close to overtaking the Tories; however, Labour is still far ahead. The prospects look similar if we look at the 2011 Holyrood election. Only if we look at the referendum results and assume the No voters would divide up in the same way as in 2010 would the SNP win, providing a Yes Alliance was in place. However, once we look at everything together, an SNP victory looks like quite a challenge.
This table doesn’t show the full picture, however. For instance, if we apply uniform swing based on the recent sensational Ipsos MORI poll, the result would be SNP 20,964, Labour 16,263, Cons 12,138 — in other words a very safe SNP victory.
There’s another reason to believe the SNP can win East Renfrewshire, and this has to do with voter psychology and tactical voting.
Many people like to think of East Renfrewshire as a Tory stronghold although Labour has been the strongest party for two decades. The number of Conservative voters seems to be relatively constant, normally fluctuating between 26% and 33% of the votes — Westminster Tory support: 46.8% (1992), 33.5% (1997), 28.7% (2001), 29.9% (2005 [boundary changed]), 30.4% (2010); Holyrood: 32.7% (1999), 26.3% (2003), 33.6% (2007), 33.4% (2011); East Renfrewshire Council: 40% of seats (1999), 35% (2003), 35% (2007), 30% (2011).
Given that it strikes me as unlikely that very many people would vote Tory tactically to get rid of Labour, it’s probably safe to assume that the Conservatives will get about 30% of the vote in 2015.
If the Tories get this many votes and the LibDems get less than 5% (the uniform swing predicts they won’t get any votes at all, but let’s be generous), it follows that Labour + SNP are fighting over 65% of the vote. This means that if they split it evenly, both get 32.5% of the vote, which is more than the Tories, and in all other scenarios, the winning party will be significantly larger. This means the Tories cannot realistically take East Renfrewshire back.
However, just because the Conservatives cannot win it doesn’t automatically imply that the SNP can do so (although both the referendum result and the recent Ipsos MORI poll suggest that they can).
The reason the SNP has traditionally done so badly in East Renfrewshire is because the Tories have been seen as a real threat. In other Scottish seats, the Tories disappeared from the horizon a long time ago, but here the Tories have been seen like real contenders until recently. Many people have therefore voted for anyone-but-the-Tories, and that has normally benefited Labour.
However, if we can convince the voters that the Tories cannot win in East Renfrewshire (based on the arguments above), it follows that there’s no point in voting Labour tactically to keep them out. This might weaken the probably significant number of tactical anti-Tory voters in this constituency.
At the same time, many people are strongly against Murphy. Of course the Yes voters from the SNP, the Greens and Labour for Independence want to see him lose, but there must also be many No voters who cannot stand the man for various reasons. If they believe the SNP has the best chance of getting rid of him, they might vote tactically for the SNP candidate.
Finally, Jim Murphy’s candidacy for the leadership of Scottish Labour means that one of the following will be the case in May 2015:
He lost the leadership battle and now looks like a loser condemned to returning to Westminster when he really wanted to become First Minister. This is hardly a good platform for winning East Renfrewshire.
He won the leadership battle but is returning to Westminster for a year until the next Holyrood election because Labour’s rules say you have to be either an MP or an MSP but not both to be leader. This means that he isn’t committed to representing the constituency and a good candidate should be able to use this against him. Also, it means a good SNP candidate will get a second shot in the subsequent by-election.
He won the leadership battle and managed to get into Holyrood through a by-election. In this case a new Labour candidate will be fighting this seat, and the incumbency effect practically disappears.
In other words, because the Tories cannot win, because Murphy is hated by a large number of voters and because Murphy will be weakened in this seat by the leadership battle, it should be possible to get an SNP candidate elected in May 2015. It will require a strong candidate however — it remains one of the most challenging seats for the SNP in the entire country.
It’s very clear that the best way to ensure that Westminster keeps paying attention to Scotland and to the promises they made during the referendum campaign is to elect as many Yes MPs in May 2015 as possible.
I’d love to see some Scottish Green MPs elected together with a strong SNP contingent, and a Yes Alliance might be the way forward. However, given the weak Green performance in 2010, I’ll concentrate on the SNP’s chances in the following.
How many seats can the SNP realistically win? To find out, I decided to look at the question from three different angles.
Secondly, I took the constituency votes cast at the 2011 Holyrood election and calculated the equivalent Westminster result. For instance, my calculations showed that Banff and Buchan consists of 74.8% of Aberdeenshire East plus 90.2% of Banffshire and Buchan Coast, so I simply applied these percentages to the 2011 results.
Thirdly, I took the independence referendum results, assigned the results to the Westminster constituencies (in a way similar to the above, just based on the council areas instead, except for Glasgow, which published the results for the Holyrood constituencies, and Edinburgh, which used Westminster ones), and mapped the Yes vote to SNP votes and the No votes to Labour, LD and Conservative votes according to their distribution at the last UK election. Of course the referendum was very different from an election, but it shows what a united Yes Alliance could potentially achieve.
Finally, I calculated the average of the three predictions described above and the actual 2010 result, which should take the incumbency effect into account.
The results are very interesting:
This means that according to uniform swing, the SNP stands to win 24 seats, but if we can convince the voters to vote like they did in 2011, the SNP will get no less than 45 seats, and if we can replicate the referendum result, a total of 56 seats is possible. However, if we look at the average of the predictions and of the 2010 result, the SNP will get 28 seats, one more than Labour.
I’ve listed all the Westminster constituencies below, ranked from formidable ones (where the SNP is not in the lead according to any of these measures) to safe ones.
Although I’ve written hundreds of blog posts over the past couple of years, I’ve never described my personal journey to Yes. With just a few days to go before the referendum, here it is.
Getting to know Scotland
When I moved to Scotland from Denmark in 2002, I hadn’t thought much about Scottish independence, but I was broadly in favour of it. It would be hard not to when you come from a successful independent country the same size as Scotland.
However, at first I wasn’t really aware of the differences between Scotland and the other UK nations. I think I thought the differences were mainly cultural and linguistic, but I gradually started to notice the differences were much more fundamental than that, that Scotland really isn’t just another region of Britain (something which most English people never seem to have realised).
Indeed, surprisingly to foreigners, most Scots seem to consider Scotland to be a country within a political union called the UK. Sometimes believed to be too wee, too poor and too stupid to be independent, perhaps, but a country nonetheless. This is very different from how the UK is seen abroad. In most languages, ‘Britain’, ‘the UK’ and ‘England’ are used with exactly the same meaning. For instance, I have often received letters from Denmark addressed to ‘…, Glasgow, Scotland, England’.
The reason that it took me a long time to work out that Scotland wasn’t just a region wasn’t helped by the media. At first I watched BBC News, Channel 4 News and all that, and it took me some time to realise that half the news stories they were reporting weren’t relevant to Scotland. (Thank goodness I picked The Scotsman as my daily newspaper — I could just as easily have gone for The Independent!) The lack of devolution of the media is bizarre — it should have been a very easy thing to devolve.
However, once you start to realise that Scotland is indeed a country, a lot of things fall into place. You also start noticing how the native culture of Scotland is considered inferior by many people. For instance, although I had learnt some Gaelic before moving to Scotland, I only really started learning Scots after I moved here. It was very difficult, however, because most people will look at you like you’ve got three heads when you speak Scots with a foreign accent. It’s such a strange situation — a language that is spoken by almost half of the population but that people treat as an embarrassing dialect. The language of Dunbar and Burns, for crying out loud! It should be celebrated and be an obligatory subject in all schools as far as I’m concerned!
A political journey
During my first few years in Scotland, very little seemed to happen on the independence front. The SNP wasn’t getting close to power, and I started to think there would never be a majority in favour of independence in the Scottish Parliament (those were the days before Salmond returned to Holyrood), and so I gradually started thinking that perhaps a more realistic solution would be a reformed UK — a written constitution, proportional representation in Westminster, proper federalism, an elected House of Lords. I even joined the Liberal Democrats, thinking they had the determination to reform the broken union.
However, I rapidly grew disillusioned with the LibDems. I think it started when they refused even to sit down with the SNP in 2007 to explore whether a coalition could be formed. It started dawning on me that their commitment to federalism was just skin-deep, and that their real instincts were pro-Union and pro-Empire.
When the LibDems entered government with the Tories, I was initially hopeful that they would manage to get some meaningful reforms out of it. However, they repeatedly got outsmarted by the Conservatives. The introduction of tuition fees was of course a huge betrayal, but from a Scottish perspective it was even worse that they failed to introduce the AV system and to reform the House of Lords. Clearly the voting system referendum should have been about proportional representation (and not AV) if the Tories were going to be campaigning against it — AV should only have been accepted if the Tories committed themselves to campaigning in its favour.
More importantly, if the UK political system couldn’t even implement such a minor reform, what hope was there of ever enacting the far bolder reforms that I considered necessary?
These political events (on top of the Iraq war and the numerous other scandals that New Labour presided over) convinced me that the UK was a failed state that couldn’t be reformed. Many political parties seem quite idealistic when they’re far from power, but as soon as they get involved with the civil servants, they become part of the establishment machine and become carbon clones of the previous government.
In the meantime, the SNP had demonstrated that they could do things differently at Holyrood, and as a result they gained an absolute majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament, which then made an independence referendum an inevitability. I finally realised that I was a member of the wrong party, and I joined the SNP.
A different journey
At the same time I had been pursuing a career at a large publishing house in Bishopbriggs. Every other year, a redundancy round would move more of the best-paid jobs down to London, and I realised that you can only progress so far in your career in Scotland — at some point, you need to spend some years — or even the rest of your career — in London.
This might seem obvious to Scots, but to a Dane like me it was hugely shocking. Unless you want to be CEO of a multinational company, Danes expect they can have fulfilling and rewarding careers without leaving Denmark. If people do move abroad for work reasons, there’s not a single destination that dominates — Brussels, London, Berlin, New York, Oslo and Zürich are all equally likely.
I also fell in love with one of my colleagues, and one thing led to another. With five children in the house, I now see the educational aspect of devolution, too. Because they’re at Scottish schools, you can’t easily move to England for a couple of years, and you worry whether they can have a good career here. You also notice that the school holidays here aren’t in sync with the BBC’s school holiday programming and with the back-to-school products in supermarkets. The separate school system is making it hard to move to England and back, but you need to do that for your career. In this regard, the current system gives us the worst of both worlds.
Reforming the UK
If it was likely that the UK would be fundamentally reformed soon, my natural instinct would be to give it a chance. However, given that very few meaningful reforms have happened after more than a decade of Labour governments followed by a coalition government that includes the Liberal Democrats, I cannot see where the willingness to reform the UK will come from.
The main political parties in Westminster don’t seriously want to overhaul the system (because it’s working exceptionally well for the Westminster and City of London elites), and there’s not even a party that can carry the beacon of hope (in the way the LibDems did before 2010). The only untested party that has a chance of gaining power within the next decade is UKIP, and that will most certainly be a change for the worse!
If we have a choice between being part of a failed state or a new, potentially very successful one, the choice is easy.
Some people have suggested that the main diving line between people voting Yes and No is whether they feel Scottish or British. This national identity question is not what makes me a Yes. I don’t feel British in the slightest — I would probably describe myself as a Danish-Swabian-Scottish European, but I’m not against unions per se.
If somebody suggested creating a single country out Denmark, Norway and Sweden, I would look carefully at the proposal. If the new Scandinavian Union could achieve things that the existing countries couldn’t do themselves, and if all three countries were going to get a fair share of political power, I might be in favour. If, on the other hand, the Union simply meant putting Stockholm in charge of Denmark and Norway too, making Swedish the official language in all three countries, and the main benefit of the Union was to give the Swedish generals a bigger army to wage wars with, I would most definitely be against it.
The same applies to the UK. I haven’t found any area where we’re better together inside the UK. Externally, the UK might be stronger than its constituent parts when the country tries to punch above its weight in the UN and on the world stage generally, but unfortunately the result is not anything that furthers peace, democracy and the rule of law elsewhere on the planet, and what’s the point then?
Scotland can lead the way
It’s also very clear that Scotland and the majority of the rUK have very different visions for the future. An independent Scotland would want to retain and improve the welfare state (the Common Weal), whereas the rUK (led by London) is on its way to becoming a terribly unequal global city state. I believe Scotland could even inspire the other Nordic countries, where a certain degree of welfare state apathy has set in, but where Scotland’s experiences with living under Thatcher and Cameron will galvanise the resolve to do better.
What I want
I want to live in a rich, egalitarian country. Where my children can have a decent career without moving away. Where a welfare state provides healthcare and education for everybody. Where people get a hand when they’re down instead of being kicked further down. Where important rights are guaranteed by a constitution. Where immigrants are welcomed because most families consist of immigrants and emigrants. Where people are focusing on building the best small country in the world, not feeling disempowered and disenfranchised. Where nobility has been abolished, and ideally where the monarchy has been voted out too. A country that is growing at a normal speed, rather than seeing all other countries overtake it. A country that is a happy EU member state, not suffering from the Little Englander syndrome. A politically normal country, where people discuss the economy and foreign policy, not independence all the time.
The choice is simple. It has to be Yes.
(I haven’t mentioned the currency of Scotland, the transition costs or anything like this, because those aren’t reasons to vote Yes or No to independence — they’re purely practical problems to be resolved.)
I think Alex Salmond does a very good job as First Minister, but I fully respect that he’s not everybody’s favourite politician. However, apparently this dislike is making many people vote No:
In the Survation poll of 1003 Scots, 36 per cent said the thought of Salmond running an independent Scotland is pushing them towards a No vote in September’s referendum.
Only 12 per cent of voters say Salmond has made them more likely to vote Yes, while 46 per cent say their view of him won’t change the way they vote and six per cent are unsure how it will impact on their decision.
This is barking mad! It would be like being against the Act of Union in 1707 solely because of a personal dislike of the Earl of Seafield (one of Scotland’s most prominent politicians at the time).
Also, Alex Salmond is 59 years old, so he’s unlikely to continue to dominate Scottish politics for many years. In twenty years’ time, when he’s been a pensioner for a good number of years, how will it feel to have voted note just because of a personal antipathy?
However, even if getting rid of Salmond seems like the most important goal in politics (which is absurd given the very real problems this country is facing), voting Yes is the best way to achieve this.
After a Yes vote, the Scottish political landscape will change dramatically, and one of the main victims of this process is likely to be the SNP.
The SNP is a very broad church, and the glue that holds the party together is the quest for independence. Once that has been achieved, it will need to redefine itself in different terms, for instance as Scotland’s Social-Democratic Party, and while that might keep a majority of the party’s current supporters happy, many activists and voters will be lost to other parties. Even if Salmond wanted to, it’s by no means obvious he’d survive this change as leader.
On the other hand, if it’s a No vote in September, I expect activists will flock to the SNP in even greater numbers. The two-year referendum campaign has convinced so many people that independence is the right way forward for Scotland, and a No vote will just be seen as a temporary hiccough (unless No wins by a landslide, and that’s clearly not going to happen). It might even force Salmond to remain as leader for longer than he had anticipated, because his experience will be invaluable in the struggle to prevent Westminster from running roughshod over Scotland in the aftermath of a No vote.
The conclusion is clear. If you hate Salmond and the SNP, and you just wish Scotland had a “normal” political landscape rather than one defined primarily by the independence question, you should vote Yes to independence.