Sunday, 17 May 2015

Some thoughts after the election aftermath: the SNP

The SNP had a great election, but the result was not quite what they would have wanted. They are now a large minority party, whilst they would have been hoping to gain more power in Westminster by supporting (whether by coalition or confidence and supply) the Labour party.

The next big test facing the SNP is the 2016 Scottish elections, where they would be hoping to maintain the impetus gained in this general election. For various reasons, not least the electoral system in Scotland, this will prove more difficult than it did at this general election. After this there will be the 2017 EU referendum, and then the 2020 general election where they will be defending many seats that Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives will be coveting.

There may also be an issue with the quality of their new MPs. Many would never have expected to be elected when they were selected to stand in what were safe seats for other parties, and many are very politically inexperienced. The SNP will have to carefully manage their new MPs to ensure that they do not do anything too naive.

They will also need to be careful not to be too strident in their opposition to the government. Support for independence has not particularly shifted since the independence referendum, which means that a proportion of the SNP's support comes from people who are against independence. This may seem odd, but given Scottish Labour's longstanding contempt for the Scottish electorate - as best seen by the Falkirk shenanigans of a couple of years ago - I can understand why even a unionist might vote for them. They will need to maintain this broad support if they want to keep many of their Scottish seats, some of which have small majorities. On the other hand, the Conservatives suffered a prolonged decline in Scotland over the decades and are left with one MP; they have not managed to recover. It is perfectly plausible that Scottish Labour will not recover either.

Even the SNP voters who are in favour of independence may not have that aim as their foremost objective: for many the NHS, education, jobs or wages may be the most important factor. If the SNP threaten those, people vaguely in favour of independence might swap their vote. No party should ever forget the bread-and-butter issues.

One thing I do not see as an issue is Salmond versus Sturgeon. Salmond stood down as party leader after he failed to win the independence referendum; since then Sturgeon has taken the party to a new level. Salmond won a seat in Westminster at this election, and some foresee problems between the two of them. I do not; both are brilliant political operators who have different approaches: Salmond will be in Westminster issues whilst Sturgeon leads the party in Scotland. It may be an unbeatable combination.

But the SNP's main aim is independence. They can choose to oppose the government and exploit the fractures in the union in the hope that more of the Scottish population will become pro-independence, or work with the government to move to a halfway house within the union: for instance Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA), with English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) in return. There are hazards for them in either option.

The SNP are on a high. Whether they remain there depends on how they use their power over the next couple of years.

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