The SNP are still a force to be reckoned with

Reports of the demise of the SNP are most definitely premature. An opinion poll by YouGov published this week shows that the SNP still enjoys a commanding lead over Labour in voting intentions for the next Westminster General Election. The poll showed that the Tories are losing support to Labour with Conservative vote share plummeting to 17%, the SNP is on 40%, down 5%, with Labour on 28%.

Meanwhile a poll by Survation out this week shows that support for independence seems to be impervious to the vicissitudes of the party (mis)fortunes of the SNP.

There’s no denying that support for the SNP has slipped back, but it has not catastrophically collapsed in the way that Conservative support imploded during Liz Truss’s disastrous and thankfully brief period of time in Number Ten. All these polls have been carried out against the backdrop of an incessant media barrage of negativity about the SNP and the huge publicity given to the police investigation into the party’s finances, so it is only to be expected that the polling figures for the party are going to take a hit. However the outlook is not entirely dismal for the leading pro-independence party. There are also encouraging signs that things are moving in the right direction for the SNP, with a surge in party membership in recent weeks as people have joined the party with some reporting that they have done so out of disgust with the disproportionate attention and criticism given to the issue of SNP finances whereas Conservative party scandals involving vastly larger sums of public money have passed almost without remark.

As the media focus moves on from the SNP’s finances despite the best efforts of the party’s many enemies and the anti-independence media to keep stirring the pot, the SNP has a chance to regain the support that it has lost.

There will most likely not not be a UK General Election until the end of next year by which time the current travails of the SNP will be a distant memory to most voters. It’s famously said that a week is a long time in politics, a year and a half is an aeon. There is no room for complacency, but that is plenty of time for the SNP to frame an attractive pitch to Scottish voters.

As things currently stand in the state of play of the polls, Labour is not on course to win an absolute majority in Westminster at the next General Election although it does look set to become the largest party. Most observers believe that the recent local elections in England show that Labour will fall short of a majority in the next Westminster Parliament. This is particularly likely given that the polls tend to tighten in the lead up to an election and the Tories will undoubtedly have a few dirty tricks up their sleeve which they will deploy in an effort to stave off or minimise defeat.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has categorically ruled out any deal with the SNP if Labour ends up as the largest party but falls short of a majority following the next Westminster elections. A precondition for the SNP propping up a minority Labour government would be for Starmer to agree to another independence referendum. The SNP have also signalled that they would expect Labour to end its opposition to the UK rejoining the European Single Market and to agree to the restoration of freedom of movement.

However Starmer’s electoral strategy, for all that he pays lip service to a Labour recovery in Scotland, rests upon pandering to pro-Brexit English nationalism in the leave voting seats in the north and Midlands of England which Labour lost to the Conservatives in 2019. Starmer will be keen not to allow the Tories to repeat their effective campaign of 2015 which portrayed then Labour leader Ed Miliband as being in the pocket of Alex Salmond, playing into the widespread English stereotype that the English are victims of anti-English racist Scottish nationalists. Neither will he want to allow the Tories the opportunity to claim that Brexit is threatened by the Scots. So it is scarcely surprising that Starmer is keen to quash any suggestions that he’d be open to doing a deal with the SNP.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has predicted that Starmer would change his mind once the General Election is over and the predictable Tory attack lines are rendered politically toothless. He pointed out that Starmer has a long track record of changing his mind, telling BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme: ” This is the same Keir Starmer who quite openly dropped his opposition to Brexit, he dropped his opposition to nationalisation, he dropped his opposition to scrapping tuition fees, and he dropped his opposition at the weekend to repealing anti-protest legislation.”

More pertinently, Starmer is unlikely to maintain his opposition to any deal with the SNP if that was all that stood between him and the keys to Number Ten and he no longer needed to worry about Tory claims about Labour being in the pocket of the SNP having an impact upon the number of Labour MPs at Westminster.

The reality for Starmer is that the SNP will still most likely remain the third largest party at Westminster. The Lib Dems may currently be buoyant about their prospects but realistically they will have to more than treble the number of MPs they have if they are to be confident about overtaking the SNP as the third largest party in the Commons. That’s a very big hurdle to overcome. If Labour is returned as the largest party but falls short of a majority it’s going to be very difficult for them to form a government while ignoring the SNP. Starmer will do a deal with any party which holds the balance of power, and that party is most likely to be the SNP.

In the meantime the SNP can maximise its support in Scotland by stressing its opposition to Brexit, contrasting this with Labour’s attachment to the extremist Brexit of the Conservatives and highlighting that it would force a minority Labour government to restore freedom of movement and to rejoin the single market.  That will allow the party to pick up votes from remain voters who are not necessarily sold on the idea of Scottish independence. It must also stress that it is the only party which has an unequivocal commitment to Scotland’s right to determine its own future as opposed to a Labour party which is as eager to ignore Scottish democracy as the Conservatives are, while it highlights that Scotland can only introduce effective measures to tackle the cost of living crisis if Holyrood has the full range of powers of an independent nation. It must also stress that should the SNP go backwards in the General Election and lose a significant number of seats, Labour will backtrack on its already weak proposals for extra powers for the Scottish Parliament and its uninspiring plans for reform of the House of Lords. Only the fear of Scottish independence makes the Westminster parties pay heed to Scotland, and the only metric by which they measure that is the electoral strength of the SNP.


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