The Tory resurgence in Scotland has come at the expense of Labour, not the SNP (see the second graphic here). Labour’s reduction to minor party is cataclysmic for it and the Tories new role as leaders of the unionist movement in Scotland will help the SNP towards winning the next independence referendum.
The SNP performance was as impressive as in 2011 (up marginally in the constituencies, down marginally in the lists). The Greens, who ‘game’ the lists, did better than last time. The number of MSPs on the independence side is therefore pretty much unchanged.
On the unionist side, though, while the numbers are broadly the same, the Tories’ success means make-up is likely to have a radically different effect. The Tories did literally as well as they could have by hoovering up Labour/Tory swingers – this helped along by Labour’s move left to higher income taxes for everyone, ambivalence about the union and by Ruth Davidson’s sterling personality.
But now that the Tories are the official opposition and Labour/Tory swingers have already bitten the bullet, what about working-stock, materially middle-class Scots with a powerful social and emotional aversion to the Tories, yet who today remain anti-SNP and anti-independence? These folk are the key to the next referendum result.
For years to come, the stuff of Scottish national political dialogue will now be a Tory opposition attacking a centrist SNP government. During that time, the UK prime minister will change, but only Tories will have a say. Then, the bookies are 90% sure, the 2020 UK election will return yet another UK Tory government and prime minister. During all of this, Labour seems likely to stay well to the left; a minor party of limited influence and not even the official opposition. Losers not winners.
Come 2021, those working-stock, middle-class Labour remainers will have to reconcile themselves to either accepting what will seem like semi-permanent Tory rule in the UK alongside a semi-permanent devolved SNP administration, or to take some kind of control over their destiny by making a choice, even if through gritted teeth. If Labour remains on the high-taxing, employer-bashing left, then the old bonds will be aspirational working-stock folk will be loosened and for many that choice will be to support ‘centrist’ independence and hope that a new kind of Labour – one which isn’t locked in the past – comes out of the other end of independence.