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Topline Analysis

Long gone are the days when Scotland’s electoral map was painted red. The story of this election will be Tory gains against the SNP’s yellow, splashing chunks of blue on to the map and providing a powerful visual symbol to weaken the claim that the SNP ‘speaks for Scotland’. The Lib Dems are also hoping to take a few seats in areas of former strength where there is a strong pro-union and pro-EU vote, with Labour hoping to hold on to its one seat in Scotland, Edinburgh South.

While Brexit and left-right politics will factor, Scotland operates in a separate political sphere from the rest of the UK, and Scottish independence is the overriding issue. Whatever the result it will set Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May on a legitimacy collision course – one voted in on a promise to hold a referendum on independence, one on the mantra that ‘now is not the time’.

Scotland in Numbers

In Depth

How did we get to this point in Scottish politics?
During the 2015 General Election campaign the SNP’s seemingly unstoppable momentum saw them sweep to victory in all but three of Scotland’s 59 seats.  It is hard to underestimate just how influential the 2014 referendum was in leading to this fundamental re-alignment in Scottish politics. No longer did Scots vote along left/right lines, they were voting along nationalist/unionist lines. Having secured 45 per cent of the vote during the referendum, just under half the country could only realistically vote for the SNP. In a First Past the Post election, in which the unionist vote split three ways, the SNP was able to take full advantage by consolidating the ‘Yes’ vote around a charismatic new First Minister and a popular anti-austerity message.

Since the SNP’s landslide in 2015, the ‘No’ vote in Scotland has hardened and increasingly coalesced around the Conservative and Unionist Party and its tough, charismatic, and fiercely unionist leader, Ruth Davidson. Whilst Labour, seeking to win back Yes voters, has prevaricated over its position on the Union, the Tories have been unapologetic in their defence of it. Increasingly unionism is more important to the ‘Conservative and Unionist Party’ than conservatism. As Ruth Davidson said in 2016 ‘not everyone who is placing their faith in the Conservatives is a Conservative’ which perfectly illustrates why, having built this wider coalition of No voters, the Tories pose a real threat to SNP hegemony on June 8th.

What will happen on 8th June?
The Scottish Tories leapfrogged Labour into second place at the 2016 Holyrood elections and the 2017 council elections, and will almost certainly secure the second largest share of the vote in June. The party has played down the prospect of winning one third of the votes in June, but it is not inconceivable. The Tories look poised to take a number of SNP seats – largely in rural areas which returned a large ‘No’ vote in 2014. If this scenario does play out, the jewel in the Tories’ crown would be Moray. The constituency, which returned one of the highest ‘Leave’ votes in the EU referendum and overwhelmingly rejected independence in 2014, is represented by the SNP’s Westminster Leader, Angus Robertson, an SNP veteran who has held the seat since 2001.

The Liberal Democrats also present a challenge in former strongholds such as East Dunbartonshire and could replicate success in the Holyrood elections in 2016 by winning North East Fife. Party insiders also hope to win Edinburgh West and Charles Kennedy’s old seat of Ross, Skye and Lochaber. If this scenario does play out the SNP could find itself on roughly 45 seats – down from 56.

Implications
The Conservatives taking up to 10 seats in Scotland will have significant implications for Scottish and UK politics. First, it would undermine the SNP’s argument that it ‘speaks for Scotland’ in Westminster. Not only would up to 20 per cent of seats in the Scotland be occupied by another party, that party would be the governing party in the UK. Scotland would be directly represented in Westminster by multiple MPs, and in a potentially new ‘beefed up’ Scotland Office, with more ministers and a higher profile.

Second, it would be seen as a rejection of the case for a second independence referendum. If the Nationalists commit to holding a referendum in their manifesto as expected, the loss of any SNP seats will enable the Conservatives to argue that Scottish voters are sending a message that they don’t want another referendum. The SNP will counter that it still represents the vast majority of Scottish seats and voters, possibly more as a proportion than the Prime Minister will have across the UK. However, polls suggest a slim majority of Scots do not support independence, and a larger majority do not want another referendum in the near future, which may give the Conservatives’ argument the edge.

June’s election could also represent the almost total collapse of the Labour vote in Scotland. Labour’s loss of Glasgow City Council in the local elections last week is significant as it was considered one of the party’s last strongholds in the country, having held the council since 1980. If Labour loses its one Scottish Westminster seat, the link between Labour and Scotland will be broken, perhaps irrevocably.

Seats in focus

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk 

Incumbent
Calum Kerr, SNP

2015 Majority
328

Scottish Referendum Result
67% No

EU Referendum Result
58% Remain

Challenger
John Lamont, Scottish Conservative

If the Conservatives hope to take any seats from the SNP then they must win Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk. With a mere 328 majority the seat is the SNP’s most vulnerable anywhere in Scotland. The incumbent, Calum Kerr, faces a strong challenge from the MSP for the area’s corresponding Holyrood seat, John Lamont (Holyrood and Westminster seats do not correspond exactly, but are broadly similar). So confident is Lamont of winning he has resigned his Scottish Parliament seat triggering a by-election on the same day as the General Election. Berwickshire is fertile Tory territory and, based on current polling, the question on the night won’t be if the Conservatives win, but by how much. At the 2016 Holyrood elections the Tory vote increased by fifteen points in the constituency – if this is replicated on 8th June the SNP could be in for a very long night across rural Scotland.

Edinburgh South

Incumbent
Ian Murray, Scottish Labour

2015 Majority
2,637

Scottish Referendum Result

61% No

EU Referendum Result
74% Remain

Edinburgh South is the only remaining Labour seat in Scotland, with Ian Murray re-elected while his Labour colleagues fell in 2015. Murray has worked hard locally and has a strong personal vote which may have saved him in the 2015 election. However, with a majority of just 2,637, the seat could be lost to the SNP, if pro-union voters in the relatively affluent Edinburgh seat turn to the Conservatives, splitting the unionist vote. If Labour lose the seat and gain no others it will be a new low for the party, with no seats at Westminster and no local councils in Scotland.

What to Watch For

If Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine, Moray and Stirling go blue on 8th June, the Conservatives may be in with a chance of getting up to 10 seats. A good night for the Lib Dems would be taking three or four current SNP seats. Winning Ross, Skye and Lochaber, the seat held by their well respected former leader, the late Charles Kennedy, for 10 years, would be a good morale boost for the party. If Labour fail to win Edinburgh South it looks unlikely to have any Scottish seats, a serious blow to the party. Conversely, if they hold on to Edinburgh South and manage to take East Lothian, that will be considered by many as the most successful a night as they could have hoped for.
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