Scottish politics completely detached from UK politics?

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Still too early to judge the likely result of the general election but there are many things we can gather about the state of politics in the UK without speaking to the actual result. In this post, we'll take a look at Scotland and where it stands amidst the broader UK political spectrum, more specifically how Scottish politics has become completely detached from wider UK politics.*

When the Scottish Parliament was created (or recreated if you prefer) the idea was to consolidate and protect Labour dominance in Scotland and head off the rising challenge from the SNP.

For the first three elections to the Scottish Parliament (1999, 2003, 2007) this seemed to be working although the Labour share of constituency votes drifted downwards from 38.8% to 32.2%. Then in 2011 there was a political earthquake. The SNP scored a crushing victory and actually gained an overall majority, something the system was designed to make impossible. Labour, which had seemed unchallenged, was suddenly cast out into the wilderness. At the time I remember trying to explain to people in England what an enormous political event this was and what a massive rupture with the past but nobody seemed to care or realise (that kind of attitude explains why it happened of course). In 2016 the SNP did fall short of a majority - by a couple of seats. Labour meanwhile went down even further and fell to third place.

The 2011 shock was then followed by another earthquake in the 2015 UK general election. Labour went from 41 Scottish seats to 1, the Lib Dems went from 11 seats to 1 while the SNP got 50% of the vote and won 56 seats (out of 59). The Conservatives held on to the one seat they had. There was some recovery for the three unionist parties in 2017 with Labour getting 7 seats, the Conservatives 13 (their best result for a long time) and the LDs getting 4. The very strong signs though are that this time while the LD should gain one seat, Labour will be reduced to one and the Conservatives will do very well to hold more than two and may be wiped out entirely. Currently Labour is polling single figures for voting intentions for this election.

What does all this mean? Firstly, this is the main reason why it is very hard for either main party to get a majority. The Conservatives can do it but they have to do very well in England and Wales to allow for only winning one or two seats in Scotland, so it raises the hurdle. For Labour it makes getting a Westminster majority pretty much impossible. Even if they become the largest party at Westminster it means they will have to make an accommodation with the SNP and the price Nicola Sturgeon will demand will be a second independence referendum.

What about that? Scottish politics is now detached from politics in England and Wales. At present the division there is unionist versus nationalist and it doesn't align with the divisions emerging in England and Wales. On the economic division the Scottish public is much more left wing than the English or even the Welsh, even the Conservative voters there are clearly to the left of their English counterparts economically.

The problem for the SNP is that separating from a union that has lasted over 300 years is a drastic step. Right now the polls indicate that there is a small majority for it but it's close and this is in response to a hypothetical question. I think it is much more likely to happen if Brexit does not. If a hung Parliament votes for a second referendum and that in turn brings a vote to remain in the EU then I would bet on Scottish independence.

That's because in that eventuality, an independent Scotland and England & Wales would both still be in the EU and there would be no hard border between England and Scotland. However, if we leave the EU on the current terms then, as the Irish case has shown, there would have to be a hard border and that is seriously scary. If a Corbyn minority government were to arrive at something like a Norway+ deal (which is what they are talking about) and that then won in a referendum, then I think Scotland becoming independent becomes a racing certainty because there is a big remain majority there and that scenario would also not have a hard border (because England and Wales would still be in the customs union and single market).

I would bet on Scotland becoming independent in the next ten years. (I also think there's a good chance of a United Ireland in that time). What this election does seem set to do, is confirm the death of Scottish Labour as an effective political force, push the Conservatives north of the border back to where they were before Ruth Davidson revived them (i.e. a zombie party with a residual vote) and leave Nicola Sturgeon monarch of all she surveys, for a good while anyway.


*I realise that my take on the likely effect of Brexit on Scottish independence is counter intuitive for many and runs against the dominant narrative down here. Let me explain why I take this view. Imagine Scottish public opinion as divided on two axes. The first is Nationalism versus Unionism (the main division in Scottish politics now). The other is Leave versus Remain with Remain having a clear majority. This produces four kinds of voters:

A. Nationalist and Remain.
B. Nationalist and Leave
C. Unionist and Remain.
D. Unionist and Leave.

Scottish Lib Dems and most Scottish Labour and Tories are in C. Most SNP supporters are in A. There are some SNP supporters in B and a significant minority of Tories in D.

Historically, back in the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of SNP people were in B and even those who were pro EEC (as it was then) would be forced in taking independence over EU membership. Alex Salmond however hit on the idea of tying Scottish independence to EU membership. This made Scottish nationalism seem much less threatening to the status quo and was a major reason why it saw a sharp increase in support. Essentially Scottish nationalism was redefined so that membership of the EU became one of its essential features (the same happened with Irish nationalism and Republicanism so that Sinn Fein went from being anti-EU to very pro).

That means that if they have to choose between EU membership and Scottish independence, it would be very difficult for them if we leave without a deal or on the current terms because a hard border with England would be disastrous for the Scottish economy. If it's a Norway deal they get to have the best of both worlds.

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I think SNP will do very well in this election. They are up quite substantially in the polls and labour are barely in double digits in terms of support.

I like how you broke down voters into 4 categories. I am surprised A) Nationalist and Remain is such a popular view. I find it quite contradictory. A Nationalist should want independence from the EU and not want to stay in.