Well that was a bit of a surprise, which caught nearly everyone out. Unlike 2015 this time we do have a hung parliament, just. A well deserved mess for May and the Tories. No more strong and stable, just a shaky deal which relies on the DUP for any kind of majority.
The results in Scotland were also unexpected, at least in degree. Everyone expected the SNP to lose seats and the Tories to win some. But the extent of the changes caught most people out. What factors lie behind the voting in Scotland? Here are a few initial thoughts.
- The Corbyn bounce was real and Labour secured one of their best ever results, particularly in terms of their share of the popular vote in England. This was around 40%. The party did not do so well in Scotland, with hardly any increase in their vote. However the party did win six seats. Almost certainly as a result of Corbyn’s appeal to younger and radical voters. Many of whom support Scottish independence, but like the idea of a Corbyn government at Westminster.
- Though Brexit did not feature prominently in the debates during the campaign, it was undoubtedly a significant factor for many voters. Especially in those parts of the country where the leave vote was relatively strong – in the north east for example. As the only party to campaign on a hard Brexit platform, the Tories were the best placed to sweep up those leave voters for whom Brexit was the key issue.
- In Scotland independence and a second indyref was one of the dominant issues in the campaign. While opposition to indyref2 took most of the headlines, the real factor was opposition to independence itself. In practice this amounted to opposition to the SNP. All three Unionist parties co-operated on this. There was clearly an informal Unionist pact among Labour, the LibDems and the Tories. They vied among each other as to who was best placed to defeat the SNP. And quite effective it was too. Which makes the SNP success in holding on to 35 seats even more amazing.
- Though this was a UK election, most of the debates and campaigning in Scotland was about devolved issues. Education and the NHS came up in programmes again and again. Did this also happen in Wales? Which is a bit strange as the outcome of a UK election has no practical bearing on what happens in the Scottish Parliament. The relentless focus on devolved issues was of course a deliberate tactic of the three Unionist parties. It clearly put the SNP, as the government in Scotland, on the defensive. This meant that the abysmal failures of the Tory government at Westminster – on the economy, defence, no Brexit plan etc – got pretty much a free pass. As with the independence issue we had the three Unionist parties all trying to make the election about the SNP and not about the Tory government at Westminster. In this of course they were ably assisted by the media, including the BBC.
- An intriguing question is why did the LibDems and Labour agree to this informal pact with the Tories. I could understand this if it was a Holyrood election, after all the SNP is the government and deserve rigorous scrutiny. But this was not a Scottish election, but a UK one. I can also see why the Tories would want to focus on the SNP as they would have had a harder time if they had had to spend more time defending the record of the Tory government in London. But what was in it for the LibDems and Labour?
- As regards the LibDems it may be that they realised that the Tories were going to win big in England and therefore they would have no influence at Westminster. So why not just attack the SNP and try and win back a few seats from them. If the Tories were going to be returned with an increased majority anyway, what difference would it make if the Tories also made gains in Scotland.
- In the case of Labour this may also have been what motivated them to indulge in an informal anti SNP pact. However if true it may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for Labour in Scotland. If, as seems likely, they did not believe in a Corbyn victory, that does not augur well for the future relations between Scottish Labour and the UK party. What is potentially worse may be the dawning realisation that if the SNP had held on to even six more seats then the prospect of a Labour minority government would be a reality. If only Labour in Scotland had relentlessly exposed their real enemy, the Tories, and campaigned with a stop the Tories message!
- Returning to the UK results, it is worth remembering that these elections are conducted with the First Past the Post system (FPTP). This system is notoriously undemocratic and rarely, if ever, accurately reflects the votes cast. It was no different this time around, with both winners and losers. The winners were the Tories, DUP and SNP. The Tories benefitted the most with fully 6.4% more seats than their share of the vote, which was only 42.4%. Yet they ended up with 48.4% of the seats. The SNP and DUP benefitted to a much lesser extent. The losers from FPTP were the LibDems, Greens and UKIP. The LibDems suffered the most, their 7.4% of the vote returning only 1.8% of the seats. Interesting to note that for both Labour and Plaid Cymru their share of seats matches almost exactly their share of the vote. FPTP can work in strange ways.