By Bob Fotheringham
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2912

Why was the general election in Scotland a disaster for the SNP?

Independence still remains popular even if the SNP isn't
Issue 2912
Long line of 35 people in front of a crane

Labour has many more MPs, but that won’t mean change

The general election result in Scotland was a disaster for the Scottish National Party (SNP). Its seat count was reduced from 37 to just nine. Labour took 37 sears, the Lib Dens six and the Tories five.

This is a far cry from the heady days of 2015. Then,  in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum, the SNP swept all before them taking 56 seats in Scotland. Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats only managed to pick up one seat each.

So why has this happened in Scotland?

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that despite their success in picking up seats, Labour is still not particularly popular. Its share of the vote was around 36 percent, only slightly bigger than the 34 percent it received nationally.

Support for independence in Scotland remains just shy of 50 percent. Many thousands of independence supporters voted Labour. They did so to get rid of the Tories.

An important feature of the voting in Scotland was that the central belt, which contains most working class constituencies, almost universally returned Labour MPs. The SNP hung on only narrowly in Dundee which is a working-class constituency with a long history of support for the SNP.

The ongoing crisis in the SNP and its failure in government have led to a withering of its support. The party which is formally committed to making Scotland an independent country has no idea how to achieve this end.

The current leader of the SNP, John Swinney, is a cautious business-friendly politician. Meanwhile, there are ongoing issues in Scotland with poverty, drug deaths and underfunding of the NHS. The SNP has been far from radical in challenging and confronting the outgoing Tory government.

Worryingly, the Reform Party is starting to pick up support in Scotland. It won a 7 percent share of the vote. One poll suggests it might return nine MSPs at the Scottish Elections in 2026. While the debate in Scotland around immigration and refugees has been generally far less toxic than in England, this shows that Scotland is not immune from the racism of right wing and mainstream politicians.

Like many across Britain, most people in Scotland will be happy to see the back of the Tories. However, like the rest of Britain, the real fight for change will take place on the streets and in the workplaces. This will mean confronting both the SNP government in Scotland and the Labour government around support for the Palestinians, tackling climate change, supporting immigrants and refugees and supporting those workers fighting back.

Independence remains popular in Scotland. For the moment, however, with the decline of the street movement, it is difficult to see how this can move forward in any effective way.  As disappointment with a Labour government in Westminster sets in, as it certainly will, there is potential for the independence movement to reignite.

If it is to succeed, then a major lesson for the movement is not to put your trust in the ultra-cautious and timid SNP. 

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