The local elections affirmed the Conservatives’ new found position as Scotland’s second party—and they will likely claim some SNP scalps on 8th Juneby John Curtice / May 6, 2017 / Leave a comment
While the rest of the country looked to the local elections to see what portents they held for Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, commentators north of the border had their eyes on a different question—what might they mean for Nicola Sturgeon and the prospect for a second independence referendum?
On 8th June, the SNP will be defending a quite remarkable performance by the party two years ago. It won 50 per cent of the vote and 56 out of the country’s 59 seats. Repeating that feat would seem near impossible.
The local elections have underlined that fact. True, with 431 seats, the SNP won more or less the same number of seats as it did five years ago, when local elections were last held north of the border.
However, its performance in 2012 represented something of a disappointment. The party won just 32 per cent of the vote, and was only narrowly ahead of Labour. This compared poorly with its success in winning an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament the previous year, let alone its subsequent achievement in 2015.
So, to have repeated that performance is in practice a bit of a setback for the SNP. An early tally of the Scotland-wide vote suggests the party won just 33 per cent, up just one point on 2012.
True, that figure cannot be compared directly with its vote in 2015. Around one in eight voters in Scotland vote for Independent candidates, which means that no party is likely to emulate in the local ballot boxes what it would be likely to win in a general election.
But it does suggest that recent polls putting support for the SNP in the 8th June ballot at around 42 per cent—significantly lower than in 2015—could ring true.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives have been on something of a roll north of the border. They pipped Labour to the post in the race for second place in last year’s Scottish Parliament election, while some recent polls have suggested that the gap between the Tories and Labour has widened since then. Led by the combative Ruth Davidson, Scots Tories have been confident and robust in their defence of the Union, and have used the issue to try and persuade Labour voters to switch to them.