Six months until the Scottish elections: What’s the state of play?

With the US Presidential election all over except for the lawsuits, the hot-takes and the tantrums, let’s look ahead to Scotland’s big election in six months time. What can we expect from Holyrood 2021?  A new poll gives us a sense of the emerging political contours. Almost half of Scots (49 per cent) believe that […]

With the US Presidential election all over except for the lawsuits, the hot-takes and the tantrums, let’s look ahead to Scotland’s big election in six months time. What can we expect from Holyrood 2021? 

A new poll gives us a sense of the emerging political contours. Almost half of Scots (49 per cent) believe that if a majority of pro-independence MSPs are returned this would constitute a mandate for indyref. With don’t knows excluded, 54 per cent agree while 30 per cent disagree. These figures correspond closely to voting intentions. The latest poll puts the SNP on 54 per cent in the constituency vote, and the SNP and Greens combined on 53 per cent in the regional list vote. Support for independence is at 54 per cent.

So the right to indyref, independence and voting SNP and Green are all aligned as fairly narrow majorities. What’s going on in the unionist bloc? Douglas Ross’ leadership of the Scottish Tories has failed to produce any improvement so far on Jackson Carlaw, with the Tories oscillating around 20 per cent in both the constituency vote and list vote. Labour are fluctuating between 13-18 per cent in the constituency vote, and 14-19 per cent in the list vote. The extent of their ambitions for this election is to try to beat the Tories into second place. The Lib Dems are stuck on about 7 per cent in the list vote, in fifth place (behind the Greens, at around 10 per cent).

The overall picture one gets of a remarkable stability in the overall dynamics of Scottish politics. Despite everything that has happened since the 2016 elections, this election is going to be fought on similar issues and probably with similar electoral outcomes, with the SNP and Greens doing a little better, and the unionist parties doing a little worse, reflecting the shift from independence being a minority to majority pursuit. 

One could call this stability, but another way of looking at is stasis. Scottish politics is in a kind of deadlock, caught between an SNP hegemony that never seems to go anywhere and a Tory government at Westminster which will not permit it to go anywhere. In a way, stasis suits both Bute House and Number 10; they can continue to sabre-rattle about the constitutional threat the other poses which helps them both hold onto power at Holyrood and Westminster. Meanwhile, nothing substantial changes and the weaknesses in their respective domestic agendas are largely overlooked. 

The party which suffers most from this dynamic is Labour, which is least comfortable on the terrain of constitutional politics. As long as Scotland is talking about independence and the union, it’s difficult to see how Keir Starmer can win back the Scottish seats he desperately needs in 2024. There are yet more reports today of disgruntlement on the Scottish Labour left about Leonard’s positioning on indyref. 

One hopes indyref is not going to be the only talking point in the run-up to the election. There are serious debates to be had about key devolved issues: the social care crisis, education after the SQA debacle, housing inequality and rising poverty, and that’s just three. Inevitably, though, much of this debate is framed through a constitutional prism. There is every reason to believe that will continue until the current deadlock on the independence question is broken, one way or another. 

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