Where Next for the SNP?

The SNP machine has been quick to point out that the party has just won its (and any party’s) highest ever share of constituency votes.   The translation of constituency votes into seats highlights the disproportionality of that element of the system: 46.5% delivered 81% of seats.  This compares with the result from last year’s Scottish results in the UK general election when the SNP won 95% of seats with 50% of the vote.  But this was not a first-past-the-post election.  The SNP advanced in the constituencies but fell back on the lists.
 
One way of looking at this is that the SNP lost its overall majority by the slimmest of margins in a couple of constituencies.  Just 109 votes in Dumbarton and 610 in Edinburgh Central separated the SNP from winning an overall majority.
 
 Alternatively, the SNP’s lost its overall majority because of its relatively poor performance on the list.   There are two elements to that relatively.  In 2011, there was little seepage between the party’s substantial share of the constituency vote and it share of the list vote resulting in it adding sixteen list seats to its 53 constituencies and giving it an overall majority.  Five years on, the SNP was unable to contain the seepage from constituency to list votes and was down on the last election.  The party suffered from those who claimed that a list SNP vote was a wasted vote.  The SNP fought hard against the perception that this election was already won but it suffered from ‘friendly fire’ from its Yes 45.
 
The SNP’s ‘Both Votes SNP’ in 2011 worked well but was less successful in this election.  The other relatively refers to the fall in SNP list vote since 2011, contrasting with its increase in its constituency vote.
 
But the really interesting questions relate to who was voting for which party.  Throughout the night, commentators were perplexed by the pattern – or rather apparent lack of pattern – to the vote.  The SNP was gaining ground in some places, falling back elsewhere.  While much of this might be explained in terms of the vagaries of FPTP operating within a multi-party system, the probability is that when we look under the surface we will find patterns that are only barely discernible at the moment.
 
In our book, Rob Johns and I explain the differences between the two ‘45s ie the 45% who voted SNP in constituencies in 2011 and the 45% Yes vote at the referendum.  There was clearly a significant overlap but they were different in more ways than just that the latter 45% was a larger body of voters drawn from a larger voting public.  The SNP’s support in recent Holyrood elections has been built on a broader coalition of people who see it as competent, including many who opposed independence, and coming from across the socio-economic spectrum.  The YES vote was a larger but, in important ways, a narrower coalition of support.  It was more socio-economically coherent.  The SNP at last year’s UK general election built on that YES 45 and substantially ate into Labour’s former support.
 
It was never clear in this election whether the SNP would manage to appeal to both 45s or in what combination.  It faced the prospect of losing support amongst its competence 45 if it stressed independence and might lose support from amongst the independence 45 if it focused on governing competence.  This was not a problem last year, as nobody expected the SNP to govern the UK but expected it would be able to extract more for Scotland in the event of a coalition which never happened.
 
In retrospect, it might have been wiser to have unambiguously ruled out a second independence referendum during this Parliament and spiked Ruth Davidson’s guns on that score and focused more on competence.  No matter its opponents efforts to portray the SNP as having failed across a range of policy areas, the electorate’s view remained that the governing party was better, and often far better, than any of the others on the alternative.  But more importantly, voters do not judge parties like an accountant’s balance sheet but more impressionistically.
 
 The SNP strategy was to try and have its electoral cake and eat it this year and it nearly pulled it off.  It faced the dilemma – and one that it will have to face into the future – of building support for its radical constitutional and the need to appear safe and competent.  This will be a central dilemma over the next Parliament and beyond.
 
James Mitchell directs the Academy of Government at the University of Edinburgh. @ProfJMitchell
 
The Academy of Government has organised an event explaining the results using data from the Scottish Election Study. Further details are available by following this link
 
 
 
 

Comments policy

All comments posted on the site via Disqus are automatically published. Additionally comments are sent to moderators for checking and removal if necessary. We encourage open debate and real time commenting on the website. The Centre on Constitutional Change cannot be held responsible for any content posted by users. Any complaints about comments on the site should be sent to info@centreonconstitutionalchange.ac.uk

James Mitchell's picture
post by James Mitchell
University of Edinburgh
6th May 2016
Filed under:

Latest blogs

  • 16th October 2018

    Bavaria’s long-dominant party, the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), has reached its worst election result in 60 years. As well as causing a headache for Angela Merkel, argues Patrick Utz, this political earthquake reveals Bavaria’s predicament between regionalism and populism,.

  • 15th October 2018

    As the buildup to the EU Council meeting reaches fever pitch, Richard Parry explains that deals at dawn may work in Brussels but they don't always play to the home crowd.

  • 13th October 2018

    Theresa May’s efforts to keep her DUP allies onside may, suggests Prof Nicola McEwen, end up easing Nicola Sturgeon’s path to independence following any subsequent referendum on the subject.

  • 12th October 2018

    The Commission on Justice in Wales, chaired by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, will further clarify the legal and political identity of Wales within the UK constitution. Doing so, explains Prof Dan Wincott, will also bring clarity to the enduring significance of other territorial legal jurisdictions.

  • 11th October 2018

    The Brexit and Environment network has spent the last year researching the implications of Brexit for environmental policy, with a particular focus on the devolved nations, which are all too often overlooked in these debates. They have developed three reports that detail their findings from meetings with stakeholders in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and they bring together insights from these in an overarching UK report. In this blog post, they summarise their key findings and recommendations.

Read More Posts