The SNP is having problems finding a coalition partner and may go for a minority administration. The sticking point is a referendum on independence. However, rather than run scared of such a referendum could it be the best option to stop the march of the SNP? The media hype around the SNP advances underestimates the under-lying strength of the Unionist parties. Also the nominal ‘defeat’ in the 1979 Scottish referendum contributed to electoral reversal and internal disputes for the SNP in the 1980’s.Some relevant electoral data:
1. In 2003, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives gained 66.5% of the vote. In 2007 they recieved 65%. They have a majority of the second votes too.
2. The SNP has had similar levels of support twice before – 30.4% in the 1974 General Election and 32.4% in the 1994 European election.
3. The SNP had a net gain of 20 seats. The Lab/LD/Cons had a net loss of
5 6 seats. In net terms it was the small parties who were the real losers in the Scottish election, two of whom the SSP and Greens, are pro-indepence parties.
4. In physical vote terms the SNP polled higher in 1999 when they gained 672,757 slightly higher than 664,227 (although the problems with spolied ballots drove this second number down.)
In electoral terms what has broadly happened in the past three elections was a good Labour performance in 1999. In 2003, disillusionment led to a loss of support for Labour but the SNP did not capitalise on this instead the smaller parties were the beneficiaries. In 2007, a revitalised SNP succeeded in attracting the disillusioned under their banner.
Part of the disillusionment with Labour is a lack of leadership and delivery by devolution in Scotland since the death of Donald Dewar. With the exception of Dewar none of the Scottish political heavyweights were willing to sacrifice a Westminster career for Holyrood. Now that John Reid is standing down from the Cabinet, could he be persuaded to head to Holyrood to lead Scottish Labour’s fight back against Salmond and the SNP?
The impact of a referendum defeat on pro-republicans in Australia is probably worth noting.