Last week’s snap elections in the UK are a gamechanger. In my last post, I already discussed the election’s repercussions on Westminster politics and the Brexit negotiations in Brussels. However, I had to leave out one topic particularly dear to me – the meaning of this election on the prospect of Scottish independence. And one thing is clear: hopes for a second independence referendum, an indyref2, are now all but dead.
The SNP’s election defeat in Scotland
But what even happened in the elections last week? The UK-wide results should be by now clear to everyone. PM Theresa May lost her gamble to win an iron mandate for her vision of Brexit and ended up with a hung parliament and a strong Labour in opposition. The picture in Scotland is however very different. There, the Scottish National Party went into the snap elections with unprecedented strength. Since 2015, the party held an incredible 56 of the country’s 59 seats in Westminster. It was never going to be easy to repeat such a landslide victory. Last week’s election, however, proved to not only have the SNP lose seats but almost halved their numbers.
This time, “only” 35 of the 59 seats went to the SNP. The other parties on the other hand, the Conservatives in particular, managed to stage a spectacular return. The Tories gained thirteen seats up from only one, Labour won seven. This makes the Scottish political landscape more diverse than it has been for a long time. Also, for the first time in 30 years, the Conservatives are again a political force in Scotland.
How was this decimation possible?
The SNP’s stunning defeat can be traced down to a number of reasons. First of all, the Scottish Tories and to a lesser degree Labour managed to tap into the third of Scottish population that voted for Brexit last year. With its staunch pro-EU stance, the SNP has lost support in many Brexit-leaning areas. Even though not a single Scottish constituency ended up with a pro-Brexit majority in the referendum, this number of swing voters certainly helped the Tories to stage their unlikely return.
More importantly however, the SNP’s repeated calls for an indyref2 before 2019 seem to have frustrated many of their traditional voters. Many saw Nicola Sturgeon’s insistence on calling that referendum as an obsession. This made some who voted for the SNP for reasons other than independence in the past to change their minds. And they certainly got what they wanted. Indyref2 is now off the table and will be for years.
That’s it for indyref2 for the next years
One thing remains clear though: the outcome of the UK’s elections – also in Scotland – made a hard Brexit a lot more unlikely. The election did not only enable Labour and the Scottish Tories to push for a less radical approach to the negotiations. It also moved Nicola Sturgeon’s attention away from another referendum towards actively influencing the Brexit talks. The until now not too unlikely scenario of the United Kingdom crashing out the European Union with no trade deal and a following a break-up of the UK itself is therefore a lot less of a risk now.
Even though, for a variety of reasons I have long supported the idea of Scottish independence, this is not all bad news. Instead of focusing on indyref2, the Scottish First Minister will now need to get more actively involved in the Brexit discussion. Together with Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, she now has a chance to significantly influence these talks. In a hung parliament, Theresa May will find it much harder to oppose such calls. For the UK, the EU and remainers everywhere, this new balance of power in Scotland might therefore be good news. And who knows: maybe we will still get to see indyref2 once the Brexit dust has settled.