Keith Geddes, Policy Director at Pagoda Porter Novelli looks at how the campaign will play out north of the border...
While the dominant issue in England will be Brexit, the election in Scotland will be fought around the constitutional question of whether or not there should be a second independence referendum and the future relationship between Scotland and the European Union. Current SNP policy is for an independent Scotland to join European Union but with 400,000 SNP voters, and 36% of SNP members backing Brexit, there are signs that the First Minister will move towards a position of joining EFTA as a “transitional measure” before signing up to EU membership.
It has also been suggested that the SNP are examining the possibility of separating independence from the European question. A further White Paper on independence would cover currency, pensions and the economy but the question of EU membership would be left to a vote in the Scottish Parliament post-independence.
The SNP continue to dominate Scottish politics. At the 2015 Westminster general election they secured a remarkable 49.7% share of the vote and won 56 out of the 59 Scottish seats, leaving the Conservative, Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrats with just one seat each.
However recent opinion polls indicate that the 2015 general election may have been a high water mark for the SNP. Polls published on 26/4 not only suggest that the SNP vote will decline by 6 or 7% but that the Scottish Conservatives are continuing their revival. The Sunday Times’ Panelbase survey of 1,029 voters in Scotland, the first poll since the election was announced, points to a surge in support that would take the Conservatives to 33%, up 18 points from 2015. The SNP polled 44%, down from the party’s 46.5% share of the vote at the 2016 Holyrood election where they lost their overall parliamentary majority.
And more worryingly for the SNP a poll for the Daily Mail by Kantar Scottish Opinion Monitor (published 28/4) found;
- Only 26% of Scots support the First Minister’s call for a second independence referendum to be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019;
- 46% believed that there should not be a further independence vote at all; and
- Support for independence appeared to be weakening with 60% backing staying in the UK with 40% supporting separation.
A further poll by BMG for the Herald also found growing opposition to an early referendum poll. Excluding don’t knows, opposition to a poll before 2021 was ahead by 54%-46%. The next Holyrood election is due to be held in 2021 and it is expected that the SNP, even with Green Party support, will have insufficient MSP’s to call a referendum.
The table below highlights 14 Scottish seats that could conceivably change hands on June 8th. Undoubtedly the SNP will retain the vast majority of seats - 38 out of Scotland’s 59 seats won by the SNP in 2015 were won with more than 50% of the vote, and there are fewer than a dozen seats where the party failed to win 45% of the vote. With the Unionist vote split three ways, without significant tactical voting, the SNP will benefit from the division in the unionist vote.
However the outcome of the election in Scotland will not only be judged by seat distribution but will be measured by how the share of the vote will be divided between the SNP and the combined unionist total. Should the SNP’s share fall to close to 40% or lower, the prospect of a second independence referendum may recede for many years to come.