Brian Monteith: SNP leaders' jackets are on a shoogly peg

The dust is at last setting after what was a most memorable general election '“ but for all the wrong reasons. It was hardly the most edifying affair for those not involved in it.

Thursday, 15th June 2017, 2:12 pm
Updated Friday, 16th June 2017, 11:18 am
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon with husband and election campaign manager Peter Murrell on polling day. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

In Scotland the campaign was an unmitigated disaster for the SNP. Sure it came out as the largest party with the highest vote share and number of MPs but in an election when the defining issue was not Brexit but the spectre of a second independence referendum the division of votes was between the nationalists (the SNP and Greens) and the unionists (Tory, Labour and Lib Dems). Measured that way the nationalist parties fell from 51.3 per cent to only 36.9 per cent while the unionists rose to 63.1 per cent.

More strikingly, every one of Scotland’s 59 constituencies – including those seats that elected an SNP MP – enjoyed a unionist majority.

Put that together with the personal defeats of Alex Salmond, Angus Robertson and Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh amongst the 21 SNP MPs that lost and you have a huge rejection of the strategy, tactics and messages of the SNP campaign run by Peter Murrell.

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Jeremy Corbyn's policies were not properly challenged by the Tories. Picture: Ben Stevens/PA Wire

That’s three consecutive elections where the SNP support has actually resulted in losses – how much longer can the party boss stay in charge? If he or his wife, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, is not for accepting the defeat can the party change its approach to find a more fruitful outcome?

The SNP leadership is looking very vulnerable precisely because it consists of such a small clique of self-supporting, self-serving figures. Those that dream of independence surely must recognise it is difficult to see how the SNP can avoid further setbacks so long as that group remains in charge.

The SNP has to get back to the day job and run the Scottish government well, instead of crashing around from one political disaster to another because it has focused on an independence referendum that is now not going to happen for a generation – if at all. If it does not do that then the losses will continue.

Also in Scotland we have had much talk of tactical voting being the cause of the SNP’s troubles. I am not going to deny it happened, of course it did, but the evidence suggests it was in the end of only minor importance. The real reason the SNP lost 21 seats was the fall in SNP voters – by 476,867 from only two years ago in 2015. That’s nothing for Sturgeon and Murrell to be proud of.

Jeremy Corbyn's policies were not properly challenged by the Tories. Picture: Ben Stevens/PA Wire

Rather than Labour voters holding their noses and voting Tory the reality is that the Labour vote increased – even in seats where the Tories won (such as Moray and Gordon) – while Tory votes often increased even where Labour won (such as Edinburgh South and Midlothian). It was SNP losses that did it.

Corbyn’s party got an easy ride

While Labour’s manifesto was a recipe for another financial crisis – according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies – it was well crafted by being built around the theme of “For the Many, not the Few”. With the Tories abandoning any philosophical defence of individual freedom, capitalism and the prosperity that comes from free markets in an open society Labour had it all their own way. Most notable was the proposal to abolish tuition fees – which apparently convinced many young people to back Jeremy Corbyn’s party.

How ironic that it was Labour that brought tuition fees in after winning in 1997 and was now proposing to end them 20 years later. Of course Corbyn’s policy is a huge transfer of wealth from the many (ordinary taxpayers) to the few (mainly the children of the middle classes) but the Tories let Labour get away with making slogans that simply didn’t make sense. Voting for free stuff always trumps the hard challenges of real life – but especially if nobody explains why a policy will make outcomes worse.

In Scotland – where we already have free tuition fees – we have a poorer record for getting working class kids to university. The answer is to improve bursaries for those that need financial support rather than spray the money around to everyone, deserving or not.

Singing the blues again

The Conservative manifesto was a disaster. It was full of policy ideas that frankly were not Conservative (energy price cap), were ill-thought through (replacing free school meals with free school breakfasts) and attacked its own supporters (aspirational workers and pensioners).

Fortunately it did not matter too much in Scotland where the issues were mostly different or it did not apply. Still, it created the media mood music often putting local Tories on the back foot. How many more seats would Ruth Davidson have won if the Tories down south had run even a competent campaign? Surely Edinburgh South West and Perth could have turned blue too?

Don’t play politics with a tragedy

The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower is truly shocking. Politicians should be careful and avoid laying the blame before the death toll is even known and the facts made available.

In that respect Jeremy Corbyn let himself down by immediately blaming Tory cuts to local authorities. The tower had recently had over £11 million spent on cladding, hardly a lack of investment, and with some 200 fire brigade personal and over forty tenders there – it’s difficult to see what they could have done differently. Instead, concern is growing that the environmental cladding put around so many towers across the UK was a major factor in the fire spreading. The fire officer’s report should be considered before politicians jump the gun.