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Could Scotland decide the outcome of the election?

Could Scotland decide the outcome of the election?


The start of the legislative elections has been given. This 2019 parliamentary term is over and we will have a new government in Westminster in six weeks.

There have been many important policy inflection points during this Parliament. Partygate of course. The departure of Boris Johnson, Liz Truss' brief period as Prime Minister. Nicola Sturgeon's resignation in March 2023 is arguably as important as all this.

Since his surprise departure from Scottish politics, it is worth dwelling on the extent of the SNP's fall.

In the 2019 general election they won 45% of the vote and 48 of Scotland's 59 seats. At the height of the pandemic, more than seven in ten Scots were satisfied with the job Nicola Sturgeon was doing as First Minister. Even in the month she resigned, following a mix of personal scandals and political crises, she still enjoyed a net positive approval rating among the Scottish public. His party averaged 41% in the Scottish Westminster polls in the first quarter of 2023, a slight drop compared to 2019.

Since then, things have gotten worse for the SNP. An Ipsos poll in March showed that Scots held a net negative opinion of the SNP and think they have done a poor job in government on issues such as improving the NHS or living standards. Meanwhile, independence, the most important issue for Scots in April 2021 (just before the last Holyrood elections), now ranks fifth on a list of priorities for the Scottish public behind the NHS, the cost of living, the economy and education. Humza Yousaf is gone and the SNP's average rating in Westminster polls this year stands at 33 per cent. It is increasingly common to see Labor in the lead, especially since the departure of Humza Yousaf as leader of the SNP.

Perhaps most important of all, seven in ten Scots now say Scotland needs a new leadership team. The palpable feeling in Britain that it is time for change in the general election appears to be felt in Scotland too. This cannot be underestimated and it does not bode well for the SNP.

Scottish politics matters. Not only because it obviously matters to the Scottish public who governs them or who represents them at Westminster, but because it also matters to the future of the United Kingdom. The issue of independence has not gone away, although it is currently not as important to Scottish voters. In Scotland, a majority of people under 50 consistently tell pollsters that they favor independence. It would be foolish for Westminster to be complacent about the future of the union.

In the immediate term, Scotland will also play a crucial role in the outcome of the next general election. Earlier in this Parliament, election analysts often pointed out that Labor needed a strong double-digit lead nationally to win a majority of one at Westminster. But significant changes in Scotland are changing this calculation significantly. The type of swing we are seeing between the SNP and Labor in opinion polls today suggests that Labor gaining 30 seats or more in Scotland, while the SNP losing a similar amount or more, is a plausible outcome . These estimates may be on the high end of estimates at this point, but they are nonetheless plausible. This would mean Labor could afford to do significantly worse in the rest of the UK to win a majority in July.

Of course, things can always change. A small change in vote share in Scotland can dramatically change the number of seats a party wins. A slight improvement in the SNP's position could see the party gain dozens of seats and make Labour's path to a majority at Westminster more difficult.

What is clear however is that Scotland will be a key battleground in these elections. It will be interesting to see how much time Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer spend in Scotland during the campaign. Although it won't be easy for Keir Starmer to meet the challenge of winning over pro-independence SNP voters in some areas and pro-union Conservative voters in others, the potential political dividend is clear.




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