The General Election in Scotland: a tale of two referendums

The General Election in Scotland: a tale of two referendums

For those frustrated at facing a Brexit Election, spare a thought for voters in Scotland, resigned to another election dominated by constitutional conundrums.

Since 2014, voting conventions have been abandoned and we’ve watched the transformation of Scotland’s electoral map. It’s given the rest of the UK a blueprint of how dramatically voting based on constitutional preference plays out.

Brexit and Indyref2 are at the forefront of voters’ minds. Two more referendums, soon, was the unsurprising call of the SNP manifesto. Their policies framed Scotland as more progressive than the rest of the UK. They urged Westminster to match Scottish climate change targets and health spending per capita. The First Minister’s polished performances and drive for independence can easily persuade you of her ‘king-making’ abilities in this election.

Yet the SNP might soon need to fight to retain its star-status. They needed the General Election to take place sooner rather than later. Andrew Neil’s interview gave a preview to the microscope they will be under on their record on health and education ahead of the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. Alex Salmond’s trial will also cast scrutiny on party leadership.

But Jeremy Corbyn has made his Scottish opposition’s job easier with mixed messages on when a second independence referendum could take place – to the horror of any Scottish Labour activist trying to spell out Labour’s position on the doorsteps.

Could Labour and the SNP work together? For the scenario to arise, Labour needs to be the largest party. Then mathematically it’s still unclear how the SNP would hold the balance of power. Simply put, Labour could make the SNP choose between siding with them or the ‘enemy’ (the Tories) when it comes to big ticket items, like voting for their Budget. Finally, Corbyn has ruled out a formal pact – which Ed Miliband failed to do as quickly.

From the constitution to domestic policy, Labour’s messages aren’t working in Scotland the way they once did. Just last week, Scottish Labour Leader Richard Leonard was said to be ‘ashen faced’ when he learnt about the national plan for an Oil Windfall Tax. It remains possible Labour could come fourth, something that didn’t even happen in the ‘night of the long sgian dubhs’ (the 2015 General Election).

It’s the Conservatives who show eagerness on looking to stand up for Scottish issues: promoting an Oil and Gas sector deal and reasserting commitments to the whisky industry.

Despite how Scotland feels about Boris Johnson, polling suggests the vote could hold up more than first thought. They are resolute on their Unionism. The Scottish manifesto was emblazoned with ‘No 2 Indy Ref 2’ on the front and turned to Brexit afterwards. It was unconventional for a UK leader to launch it, but perhaps the Prime Minister meant it when he described his -34 approval rating as a ‘base on which to build’.

What about the Lib Dems? The party is led by a Scot, but the ‘vote for us if you back Remain or the Union’ message struggles to play as well against the three other parties. They’re not often the first or second party in a seat. If tactical voting dominates, it’s hard to see how they can gain much ground.

Fundamentally, canvassers are finding less love for the main Scottish political actors than they used to. It seems many voters will once again base their choice on the position of borders instead.

Scotland is a reminder that it will be a very long time until any conversation on a constitution is settled, regardless of electoral outcomes.

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