Snap Election 2017: The Devolved Administrations
After the UK Parliament agreed to hold an early general election, and with the Conservatives projected to increase their majority in England, PLMR Scotland takes a look at how the election will play out within the devolved administrations.
While in England the election will be all about Brexit, in Scotland it will be centred on independence.
In the 2015 general election, the SNP won 56 out of Scotland’s 59 seats, leaving the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats with just one MP each.
Labour, once the most popular party in Scotland, will do well to hold onto their single MP. The party has suffered further decline since 2015 and Jeremy Corbyn’s perceived apathy towards Scottish affairs has done very little to regain support.
The Conservatives, on the other hand, have enjoyed a relative resurgence, overtaking Labour as the second largest party in the Scottish Parliament and positioning themselves as the credible opposition to the SNP.
Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has already sought to position her party as the primary opponents to a second independence referendum, telling people in Scotland that a vote for the Conservatives is a vote against independence.
With the country so divided over independence, this is a clever tactic. Ruth Davidson has managed to de-toxify the Tory brand in Scotland and is clearly hoping that pro-union voters put aside what is left of Scotland’s historical distrust of the Tories in favour of the union.
The fact that the SNP is unlikely to replicate the soaring success of the last general election plays into Ms. Davidson’s narrative. Any loss of seats by the SNP to the Conservatives will be framed as a sign that Scotland has no appetite for ‘indyref 2’.
However, it is important to note that although the SNP are unlikely to retain all 56 seats, they are likely to remain the most popular party in Scotland. All of the analysis points to the SNP winning a majority of seats, with polls giving them 47% of the vote. If this occurs, and the Conservatives win a majority in England, it will be very difficult for Ms. Davidson and Ms. May to deny the SNP claims that Scotland is diverging from England – thus adding weight to the calls for independence.
Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the party, has already called the general election a “huge political miscalculation” and has said that the election is a chance to re-inforce the SNP mandate and “give Scotland a choice on their future”.
It is no coincidence that these words echo Ms. Sturgeon’s previous statements on the need for another independence referendum. Both the she and Ruth Davidson are clearly using the upcoming general election as a proxy-vote on independence.
Northern Ireland is already in political turmoil. Power sharing has collapsed, negotiations between the two largest parties have failed, and the country now faces a third election in the space of a year.
All of the main parties insist that they are ready to campaign. However, after a Westminster election in 2015, Assembly elections and an EU referendum in 2016, and another Assembly election in March of this year, there are questions about how the parties will be able to finance their campaigns, and whether voters have the appetite to turnout for yet another vote.
Sinn Fein, who receive generous support from the United States, may be in the best financial position to fight an election, and will be feeling confident after their significant advances during the last Assembly vote. Sinn Fein are likely to view the upcoming election as an opportunity to cement Northern Ireland’s opposition to Brexit. At the same time, any gains made by the party will be spun as a sign that Northern Ireland is ready to reject unionism and that a border poll should be called for a united Ireland.
SDLP, the second largest nationalist party, will be running on a very similar platform, meaning that any gains by them could also add credence to demands for a border poll.
This is no doubt the reason why the two main unionist parties, the DUP and the UUP, have already begun to talk about forming an electoral pact, designed to maximise unionist representation within the House of Commons. Both parties will run on the explicit platform of keeping Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.
What this boils down to is an election likely to be treated as a mini-border poll – pitting nationalists against unionists with the potential of leaving the country further divided.
Adding to the confusion, is the fact that the 2017/2018 budget was not passed before the power-sharing agreement at Stormont failed.
With no budget, civil servants have been relying on emergency financial powers to deliver vital services since the beginning of April. This is not sustainable for the long-term. With Sinn Fein and the DUP in a stalemate, it is extremely unlikely that either party will agree to nominate a First Minister, meaning that a Northern Irish Executive is unlikely to form before the UK Parliament dissolves in May.
If the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, cannot negotiate a deal between the two parties, then the House of Commons will need to step in to pass the budget. If this is to happen, Mr Brokenshire will need to work very quickly indeed to write the legislation and bring it before the UK Parliament before it dissolves and campaigning begins.
Wales, like England, voted in favour of ‘leave’ during last year’s EU referendum. Unlike in England, Labour has triumphed in every general election in Wales since 1922. This poses an interesting question: What will sway the Welsh voters more, a party which is seen as ‘pro-Brexit’, or a loyalty to Labour?
In the 2015 general election, Labour won 25 seats while the Conservatives secured 11 – a result which set a Tory record as their best general election result in Wales for 30 years.
Much of the analysis after the 2015 election predicted a Conservative uprising in Wales. Political pundits promoted the possibility that the Welsh were beginning to tire of Labour, who they viewed as having failed them on the NHS at home, and couldn’t be trusted with the economy nationally.
The first test of this theory was last year’s Welsh Assembly elections, where the Conservatives were expected to emulate their general election performance and pick up seats from Labour. The reality was that the Conservatives actually lost three seats instead of gaining them, and Labour returned a 29 AMs, enabling them to form a government with the Lib Dems. The ingrained support for Labour in Wales ultimately proved too strong to sway voters to the Conservatives.
But that was then, and this is a post–Brexit environment. Wales voted in favour of leaving the EU, with 52.5% backing Brexit. The Conservatives will be hoping that they can attract votes from Labour by capitalising on this fact and portraying a vote for Labour as a vote against stability during the Brexit negotiations, and possibly, a vote against leaving the EU altogether.
At the same time, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats will be hoping to resonate with the 47.5% of Welsh citizens who voted remain. Expect both parties to focus on their pro-EU credentials and to brand Jeremy Corbyn as an ineffective leader, and Theresa May as a divisive leader who treated the Welsh with “hostility and contempt” by failing to agree the terms of Brexit with the Welsh Assembly.
The latest polls show Labour losing some of their majority, and the Conservatives picking up some seats. However, with the Brexit results almost 50/50, the election results will ultimately come down to which political party can seize the narrative, galvanise their core support and inspire confidence.