Hope and opportunity for Labour in Scotland

John Ruddy takes a look at the 2015 and 2016 numbers and suggests there may be grounds for cautious optimism in June’s snap general election.


In the Holyrood elections last May Labour was squeezed tactically between the Yes/SNP camp and the Tories playing up as standard bearers for No voters. The Westminster election on June 8th could allow Labour to regain some votes that were lost in 2015 as we begin to rebuild.

The election in 2015 can already be seen as the high-water mark for the SNP. By galvanising the Yes vote that was so bitterly disappointed by the referendum result in 2014, they managed to get just under 50% of the vote, which the first past the post electoral system translated into 56 out of 59 seats. 12 months later, at the Holyrood elections, this had dropped to 46.5% on a lower turnout. It’s reasonable to assume that some of those Yes voters who voted for the first time in 2014, voted again in 2015 for the SNP – but have gradually been reverting back to their normal habit of not voting.

As anyone who has been out on the doorsteps and streets of Scotland over the last few months will tell you, opposition to the SNP has been getting more strident, and also less tribal. Voters opposed to the SNP have been saying “I’ve been a lifelong supporter of Labour/ Conservatives/ Liberals, but this time I’m voting for X to get rid of the SNP”. Voting is getting much more tactical, in a way that hasn’t been seen in Scotland since the 80s and 90s – when it was an anti-Tory vote.

While I don’t think we’ll see any party other than the SNP as the largest party come June 9th, I think there is every chance that they will win fewer votes, and potentially fewer seats, than in 2015. The Tories are riding higher in the polls in Scotland than they have done for many years, and in areas where they are already seen as the main challenger to the SNP they should do well. Despite what the SNP would have you believe, there were Scots who voted for Brexit, and so the likely pro-EU stance of the SNP will not attract everyone. I can see the Conservatives picking up seats – Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine, and Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk, are two of the most vulnerable. The 2016 results in these areas must make poor reading for SNP MPs.

The Lib Dems too have their opportunity. There is a market for an almost exclusively pro-EU party. Their best chance is surely Edinburgh West, where disgraced former SNP MP Michelle Thomson will not be standing, and where the Lib Dems won the equivalent Holyrood seat in 2016. Several of the Highland SNP MPs may also be vulnerable, especially after they failed to defend Highland & Islands Enterprise from the centralisation of the SNP government.

And what of Scottish Labour? Despite our current standing in the polls, there is also a good case for us to think we can increase our vote and possibly even make gains too. Defending Edinburgh South is obviously a priority, but here voters see in Ian Murray a doughty champion, not only of the UK but also of the EU, and we must hope they will continue to support him. There are also seats where if the increased Yes/SNP from 2015 vote fails to turnout this time, we can expect to see Labour to be much more competitive, and against the lacklustre performance of the incumbent SNP MPs over the last two years, could even make a surprise gain.

Here are the seats I think Labour should be targeting for June:

  • Edinburgh North and Leith
    Turnout here increased by over 10,000 in 2015, yet Dierdre Brock’s majority was only 5,597. Over 9,000 people voted Conservative in 2015, and could be squeezed to turf out an MP who hasn’t made any sort of splash thus far.
  • East Lothian
    Iain Gray held his seat last May here – again defying the odds as in 2011. Likewise, 2015 saw an increase in turnout of nearly 10,000, with an SNP majority of 6,803. Iain fought a campaign purely focused on the local issues and the failure of the SNP to address these. A similar campaign could win here again.
  • East Renfrewshire
    A seat complicated by tactical voting in the past, 2015 saw Tories voting SNP in this seat simply to unseat Jim Murphy. It’s unlikely they’ll be doing that this time. Again, Kirsten Oswald’s majority is less than the increase in turnout. A strong “Only Scottish Labour can beat the SNP here” message could win, despite Eastwood having been lost in 2016, albeit on different boundaries.

Now for a few longer shots:

  • Glasgow Central
    In 2015, the Labour vote only went down slightly in terms of actual votes, but due to a massively increased turnout the SNP stormed to victory. Alison Thewliss is one of the few decent MPs on the SNP benches, however, and will be difficult to dislodge.
  • Rutherglen and Hamilton West
    The increase in turnout is only marginally more than the SNP’s majority. However, Margaret Ferrier hasn’t managed to shine in a parliamentary party not known for its bright stars. With 5,000 Conservative and Lib Dem voters to squeeze as well, anything is possible.
  • Paisley and Renfrewshire South
    Another seat where the increase in turnout is only slightly more than the SNP majority. While Mhairi Black has won YouTube followers, locally she is known more for her lack of constituency work. An interview just a few weeks ago where she suggested she hates Westminster and didn’t know whether she would stand again won’t have helped either. Since only a small percentage of her online following live in the constituency, it’s likely that local factors will play a bigger part than how many fans she has on Twitter.

So, it wouldn’t be beyond imagination to see the SNP lose seats to all three parties, making a significant dent in their total. They remain likely to retain the bulk of Scottish seats, but while in normal circumstances that would be seen as a massive victory for the SNP, by comparison to 2015 it could only be a disaster, especially if the First Minister uses the election as a mandate for a second referendum, as she has already indicated she will.

Who knows what might happen in the next eight weeks. If politics in Scotland and elsewhere over the last few years has taught us anything, it is that we must expect the unexpected. I’m sure that the election in June will continue in that tradition.

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42 thoughts on “Hope and opportunity for Labour in Scotland

  1. I think love or hate them; the SNP MPs couldn’t be described as lacklustre. Everyone in the commons knows they are there.

    People may not like the message but lacklustre isn’t the adjective I’d use in a campaign. They’re pretty vocal.

  2. 2015 wasn’t the high water mark for the SNP they still have 3 more seats to win. And all 3 are the seats most at risk in Scotland.

  3. The only way the SNP will end up with fewer voters is if fewer voters turn up to vote overall. They wont lose voters to the other parties. The traffic is still only 1 way.

  4. John, your perception of the softening of the SNP vote is mirrored here in North Ayrshire, magnified by the Sturgeon factor. (This is where they hail from). It will be very interesting to see the relative turnouts in the local and Westminster elections and how those votes fall.

  5. The thing that John Ruddy forgets/ is unaware of/prefers not to think about (delete the first two because the correct answer is ‘prefers not to think about’) is that this is a UK GE and down south the Labour head office is falling apart.
    Let me assure John Ruddy there are no grounds for optimism. The opposite is the case. Labour is looking at the biggest defeat in its history. Why would anyone in Scotland vote for a party that is about to be washed away?

  6. Just so you understand Kippers in England and Wales are going to switch to the Tories in order to get their hard Brexit so if Labour tactically vote with the Tories in Scotland then May will get her 100 plus majority nae bother and that will be the end of the Scottish Parliament and Devolution.

    Is that a price worth paying to avoid another Indyref?

    1. For unionist voters that would be a price worth paying. I saw the comment, and it is spot on:

      ‘I’m a proud Scot but… I am a Britnat and I will destroy Scotland and my fellow Scots, in order to remain a Britnat.’

  7. Just so you understand the Tories are putting the Indyref issue at the heart of their campaign in order to steal No voters from Labour not Yes voters from the SNP.

  8. “As anyone who has been out on the doorsteps and streets of Scotland over the last few months will tell you, opposition to the SNP has been getting more strident, and also less tribal. Voters opposed to the SNP have been saying “I’ve been a lifelong supporter of Labour/ Conservatives/ Liberals, but this time I’m voting for X to get rid of the SNP”. Voting is getting much more tactical, in a way that hasn’t been seen in Scotland since the 80s and 90s – when it was an anti-Tory vote.”

    Spot on Mark.

      1. Mike,

        The Tories will win the election with ease, regardless of what happens in Scotland.

        Therefore the “tactic is” – tactical voting.

        I predict that the SNP will lose around 20 seats next month.

        So, the headline is…………

        I would vote for a Tory, a Liberal or even a dancing dog, if they were best placed to boot the SNP OUT.

        1. The only thing about you that surprises me is why you keep pretending you’re a Labour supporter?

          Why don’t you just openly admit yer only allegiance is to right wing fascism sectarianism homophobia and racism?

    1. Andy it works both ways there are many Scottish Labour, Green, and Lib Dems who are tactically switching to vote SNP so we shall just have to wait and see who comes out on top it just shows you that this election in Scotland is being fought on Independence versus the Union unlike the rest of the UK.

      1. Ted

        The SNP have got a big hardcore support, however, it has to be said; they’re starting to shed the frothy support that they’ve enjoyed since 2014.

        Also, it’s best not to underestimate the utter and growing contempt that half the population of Scotland, hold the SNP in.

        You are right though, “this election in Scotland is being fought on Independence versus the Union”.

        1. Except it increased all through 2015 2016 as well.

          The battle lines will be fought between the SNP and Tories because the Tories have wrapped themselves up as the saviours of the union.
          That’s Labour and Lib Dem votes they’re after not SNP votes.

          But you’ve already stated you don’t give a shit how many Tories win in Scotland because you are a Tory. And extreme fascist version of a Tory yourself.

          1. Mike,

            Talking of fascists…..

            In the Second World War – when Hitler’s Nazis were threatening to invade our beloved United Kingdom.

            Labour, Conservatives and Liberals stood together, shoulder to shoulder, in unity to form a National Government to defend our great nation against the SNP’s sister party – The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party).

            Your party; the SNP, were praying that Great Britain would fall to Hitler’s Germany.

            The SNP were itching to deal with the Nazis and to run Scotland as a puppet dictatorship on their behalf.


  9. Once the council election is done and dusted, I hope to see comrades on campaign trail in Edinburgh South, but maybe also East Lothian & Edinburgh North and Leith. I can’t wait TBH.


    1. Dr if Scottish Labour have the biggest council election loses in its History and you lose contol of key councils then I am sorry to say you might not see many if not any comrades in Edinburgh South what a sad day for Scottish Labour.

  10. John reality check the polls indicate that election is mainly between the SNP for Independence and the Tories for the Union and so I expect tactical voting to come into play, any die hard Scottish Labour Party supporters are more than likely to vote for SNP rather than the Tories and I expect that this is nearing the final end for the Scottish Labour Party who are caught in the middle and have chosen to side with the Tories for the Union and Austerity what a shame.

  11. In North Ayrshire I am phone polling for Labour in the Local Elections . That’s the election the SNP don’t talk about. I tell you this whatever happens. I am shocked at the amount of abuse being aimed at Nicola by name. Local people are telling me that they are sick of Indy talk Brexit and the SNP wanting another ref . They feel that Nicola isn’t listening.. They are not paying attention to local issues. The USA trip is seen as an all expenses trip we are paying for. right or wrong this is how the people in my ward see it . Most are not politically minded they are telling me what they think . Its why I love talking to them. The SNP are getting the same feedback here. I know because they have told me. Then the PM announces a General Election another vote the public don’t want and the SNP abstain. I don’t know how the voting will go , I do know the public want the FM to do the job she was elected to do .Get on and govern Scotland. To do that she will need to spend time here

    1. Didn’t the British Labour party whip its MP’s to vote to permit a GE?
      So why criticise the SNP for abstaining?

        1. So SNP MPs should have voted with the British Conservative and Labour parties, for a snap election?

          Why did the British Labour party vote for a snap election?

          British Labour could have forced the Conservative Party to vote no confidence in itself?
          Why didn’t they?

          Genuinely curious.

          1. Or they could have voted against an election. How could Labour have forced a no confidence vote? Which fantasy world are you currently inhabiting?

        2. Labour could also have abstained or even opposed and then tabled a motion of no confidence in the government or forced them to repeal the FTPA. The election still happens, but not on the Tories’ terms.

          Massive opportunity to change the narrative missed there.

          1. Agreed, except that Labour wanted to test their arguments in an election

        3. Jim, you really are as dumb as a stump.
          If Labour had opposed breaking the Fixed Term Act, then the Tories would have been forced to introduce a vote of no confidence in themselves to induce an election.
          How big a boost to moral would that have been?
          We will never know, because Labour is the midwife to every dastardly trick the Tories get up to—–but you lack the nous to understand this.

          1. I’m still puzzled as to why Labour supported the vote to allow a GE.
            A huge open Tory goal missed surely?

        4. If they’d voted against it you’d be claiming that they were fears of a G.E. as well.

  12. The SNP are always complaining about Labour abstentions. Then when we get a chance of a General Election The SNP abstain. This Parliament had 2 years to run. At least Corbyn said enough . The NATS who keep telling us they want them out did not vote. If you don’t vote don’t complain. Our FM took the chance of another away day in London this time. Was that to make sure the troops did as they were told

    1. Did you complain when Milord McConnell was off to the U.S. in his natty wee pinstriped kilt?

    1. Yes, it does sometimes take a while. Feel free to take your commenting business elsewhere if you are unsatisfied with the service.

    2. Duncan seems to be the only moderator.

      There doesn’t seem to be a moderation policy anywhere, though. No terms and conditions attached to comment areas. No warning that comments all need to be approved before they will display.

      So essentially everything here is arbitrated by him, according to a set of guidelines he doesn’t provide the public with.

      That seems fair.

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