The informal observer, wanting on the 2021 Scottish election outcomes, could possibly be forgiven for considering “nothing to see right here”. The events’ vote shares barely modified and, consequently, neither did their seat shares. The elation of a achieve within the constituency races, such because the SNP’s victory over the Conservatives in Ayr, is swiftly adopted by the realisation that this most likely means the lack of a seat through the regional checklist – the a part of the electoral system designed to maintain the general end result proportional.
But the truth that so little has modified because the final Holyrood election in May 2016 is, in itself, noteworthy as a result of the interim has hardly been uneventful. First there was the EU referendum, its shock end result and seemingly limitless fall-out – together with discuss of a Westminster energy seize on the obligations coming back from Brussels. Then there was a world pandemic. More not too long ago, the governing SNP has been rocked by what may euphemistically be known as the “complete Alex Salmond enterprise”.
There have been definitely indicators of a Brexit impact beneath the floor. On the regional checklist, the nationwide figures recommend a swing of round one share level from SNP to the Conservatives – though it ought to, nonetheless, be famous that not many votes really journey straight between the 2 events. However, that swing was nearer to 4 factors within the North East, the Scottish area most sympathetic to Brexit and wherein the Conservatives made positive factors in latest UK normal elections. By distinction, in additional Europhile Lothian, there was a swing of practically two factors within the different path. An identical sample might be seen on the stage of particular person constituencies. The Conservatives are the Brexit social gathering in Scotland, a standing that each wins and loses them votes.
Even these regional variations are comparatively small, although. Where there have been large swings within the vote, such because the 12-point shift from Labour to the Conservatives in Dumfriesshire or the 11-point swing from the Tories to Liberal Democrat chief Willie Rennie in Fife North East, they weren’t about Brexit however about independence.
A recurring sample within the outcomes was that of anti-independence tactical voting, with many supporters of the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems prepared to unite behind whichever of these events was greatest positioned to defeat the SNP. This prevented the SNP from selecting up key goal seats like Dumbarton and Aberdeenshire West that will have in any other case have been inside attain – and have been at all times its greatest guess for profitable a majority of seats regardless of falling wanting 50% of the vote.
The subsequent referendum debate
The actual driver of this election, then, as of each Scottish election because the 2014 referendum, was the constitutional query. According to Scottish Election Study constituency vote intentions information, totally 92% of voters have been choosing a celebration that shared their view on independence.
The energy of this alignment is extraordinary – it far outstrips, for instance, the hyperlink between Brexit views and voting within the 2019 normal election – and it leaves little or no room for points just like the pandemic, schooling, the Salmond affair and so forth. This is to not say that such issues are ignored by the general public. It’s simply that, when voters are requested about these points, their opinions typically develop into squarely in step with their constitutional preferences. In that Scottish Election Study survey, 89% of independence supporters thought that the SNP would do an excellent job of governing Scotland if elected. Just 13% of pro-union voters stated the identical.
Boiled down, then, the 2021 election confirms that the Scottish citizens is split just about straight down the center on independence. Would it have made a lot distinction had the SNP received yet another seat and gained its majority? Not within the Scottish parliament, the place a pro-independence majority was all however assured anyway. And not in accordance with the voters, greater than 60% of whom don’t imagine this election has any bearing on whether or not there’s a mandate for a referendum anyway. Many suppose there may be already a mandate, regardless of the end result, and lots of others on the unionist facet imagine that no lead to any path could possibly be thought-about a mandate for a referendum.
While the independence polls proceed to shiver round 50:50, the political arguments will retain a considerably hypothetical flavour – arguments concerning the mandate to carry a referendum that neither facet might be eager to threat having.
Rob Johns is a part of a crew whose universities obtain funding from the Economic & Social Research Council.