When I reviewed the state of play in Scotland just three months ago, I stated: “There is only one party likely to make gains here at the general election, and that is Labour.”
Humble pie aside, such a statement shows just how unpredictable and fluid politics has now become in Scotland. I don’t remember this summer reading anywhere the suggestion that the SNP would prosper rather than wither in the aftermath of a No vote in the independence referendum. I certainly don’t recall seeing any talk of the party winning dozens of seats from Labour. It has been only in recent weeks, thanks in part to a handful of opinion polls, that such an outcome has found a voice and has become one of the many narratives that are shaping the election campaign.
Quite clearly, my previous analysis of the Scottish electoral map is next to useless. But I don’t yet feel confident to replace it entirely with a new analysis, never mind a comprehensive forecast. In my latest prediction of the election result I tentatively handed the SNP five gains from Labour. This is greatly below what both the polls have suggested and others have speculated. Yet I still feel it’s slightly premature to push the pendulum so far in the opposite direction and start assuming the SNP are set to grab almost every seat they contest.
For one thing, very few of Labour’s seats in Scotland are marginal. The SNP is not the main challenger in any of them. There are also some mighty majorities across the nation:
Even if the polls continue to point to Labour doing badly, I think the party needs to reflect on its changing fortunes in Scotland with a little more calm. It should be pragmatic, not pessimistic. It needs to remind itself that if it loses seats in Scotland, it will not be losing them to the Conservatives. Nor will it be losing them to a party that is pro-Conservative. The SNP’s new leader Nicola Sturgeon has been blunt in saying she would not do any kind of deal to put the Tories in power (though I don’t imagine the Tories are all surprised).
In short, regardless of what happens in Scotland at the election, the size of the anti-Tory “bloc” won’t change. The MPs may belong to different parties, but their dislike for the Conservatives will be constant and universal. A pragmatist would view some kind of Labour-SNP administration at the helm of the next parliament as not merely expedient but far more reflective of the whole of the UK than a government comprising solely of, say, Tory and Lib Dem MPs from England and Wales.
I also wonder whether a coalition with the SNP is one Labour would relish rather more than one with the Tory-fraternising Liberal Democrats.