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.
Much as I’m dreading five more years with the Tories, at least it makes it less likely the SNP will go native in Westminster, the way Scottish Labour did nearly a century ago. As Craig Murray puts it: “Exercising power within the United Kingdom state can be heady and addictive.”
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.