The SNP has lost a lot of excellent MPs, and Westminster will be poorer without them. Amongst them, my local MP – Kirsten Oswald – was a wonderful, hard-working MP who actually lived in the constituency, and her replacement is a young Tory who is unlikely to make a difference. It’s sad.
However, I’m not really surprised that the SNP had a bad election. You cannot tell the voters the election isn’t really about independence and then be surprised if they either stay at home or vote for a UK-wide party. I think many people in the SNP had convinced themselves that people were voting for them mainly because they liked their policies, when in reality they did so because they wanted independence soon. The rapper Loki’s tweet about his vote perhaps sums this up well:
I was sure I was going to vote SNP right up until I got in the booth. Then I just thought, 'fuck it'. For me, today isn't about indy.
— Loki (@lokiscottishrap) June 8, 2017
Last weekend’s independence march in Glasgow showed the appetite for independence is still there, but the SNP seemed afraid of embracing it. As a result, left-wingers swung back to Labour, right-wingers went to the Tories, and many Remain voters opted for the Lib Dems. And of course, many people stayed at home (turnout in Scotland was down from 71.1% to 66.4%).
During the first independence referendum, we mobilised the young and the non-voters. Corbyn learnt from that, and to great success. However, it appears that the SNP is forgetting the lesson. Being a bland, centralised, slightly-left-of-centre party simply doesn’t inspire people. As Wee Ginger Dug put it:
The truth is that the SNP campaign was weak, lacking in focus, and didn’t resonate with the electorate. There was no vision being given, no dream, too often it seemed that they were simply going through the motions. “Stronger for Scotland” isn’t a vision, isn’t a story. People need a story, and all the SNP offered was a soundbite. It’s not enough. We need to paint a picture of a better country, we need to tell its story and sing its songs and make it live in the imagination.
The SNP probably also needs to realise that it simply cannot appeal to its old North-East stronghold at the same time as the Central Belt. Aberdeenshire seems to be full of former SNP voters who voted Leave, and appealing to them means that the party needs to shift right and against the EU; however, if they do that, other voters will disappear.
Personally I believe the SNP should continue being a left-wing, pro-EU party and simply realise that it won’t ever get many votes in the North East again. However, others might prefer it to return to its roots, but then most of the Central Belt is likely to return to Labour and other parties. As I wrote back in September, discussing the next independence referendum, rather than the SNP:
[T]he potential problem for [ScotRef] is that you can’t create a successful coalition of [Yes–Leave, Yes–Remain and No–Remain]: As soon as you start appealing to the [No–Remainers], the [Yes–Leavers] will walk out in disgust, and vice versa. It’s already very clear that the [Yes–Leavers] are deeply unhappy about [ScotRef] being run on the basis of continued EU membership. On the other hand, if we focus too much on keeping the [Yes–Leavers] on board, we’ll be unable to appeal to the [No–Remainers].
Apparently some SNP people are already suggesting that ScotRef should be delayed. I think that would be disastrous. If the SNP stops pursuing independence, even more people will swing back to Unionist parties, and the activists will feel utterly demoralised.
We need to return to the happy, hopeful days of 2014, when we were inspiring so many people who had never been interested in politics before, and having a plan for independence in Europe has to be part of that.