Billy Connolly once said there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. Much as I adore Billy Connolly, I have to say he was wrong on that one. Even layered up to the max, December does not provide the optimal weather for electioneering. All the campaign photos of groups of canvassers cheerily smiling didn’t tell the full story – those smiles were frozen in place.
So I’d like to start with a big shout out to all the campaigners from every party who braved the winter weather to do democracy. We all deserve a very large hot toddy and a long, hot bath.
As it turned out, the election wasn’t just good for purveyors of thermal clothing, it was very good for the SNP. And, in my view, very bad for England.
Going into the Count on Thursday I felt strangely nervous. I wasn’t sure why. Our canvassing had found a rock solid SNP vote. Our Get Out The Vote operation indicated that our supporters were motivated to turn out. The feedback from people outside polling stations was good. It all seemed fine and we were quietly confident. But still I had a niggling feeling that I didn’t quite have a full grasp of what was going on.
Then the exit poll dropped and it was a double whammy of shock and awe. Shock at the scale of the Conservative victory down south, awe at the scale of the predicted SNP victory. As the ballot boxes arrived and the verification count started, our sampling soon confirmed that the SNP.was on course for a very good night.
Comparisons have been drawn with the scale of the SNP victory in 2015. But this was different. In 2015 the result came straight off the back of the indyref. Even at the time it felt a bit unreal. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then and the political backdrop has evolved and changed. The vote on Thursday was, I think, a lot more considered than in 2015. This wasn’t about people continuing to play out the dynamic of 2014. It was a calculated response to the threat of a Boris Johnson victory and an endorsement of Scotland’s right to choose her own path.
As to the result down south, I have no explanation. Yes, Jeremy Corbyn was a terrible leader and entirely unconvincing in the role of future Prime Minister. Yes, Labour MPs have spent much of the past 3 years fighting like ferrets in a sack and giving the impression that their internal shenanigans mattered more to them than the future of the country. Yes, Labour failed to call out racism and bigotry in their ranks in the way that they should have.
But there is no criticism of Labour that cannot also be levelled at the Conservatives – and then some. And disliking Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t really explain why people voted for Boris Johnson instead. I can only assume that the appeal to get Brexit done resonated not only with those who want to see Brexit done, however badly, but with those who simply want politicians to stop talking about it and focus on issues like the NHS instead. In that sense the Conservative campaign was quite clever, albeit profoundly dishonest.
It’s obviously extremely depressing and my heart goes out to all those who tried to stop it happening and failed. There are those who believe this is the result the SNP wanted all along. That is too cynical a reading of the situation. It is not in Scotland’s interests, even as an independent country, to see our closest neighbour and ally become a political basket case.
Of course there is a huge assumption on my part that the outcome of the choices English voters have made will be terrible and they would have every right to call me out on that. Whatever I think of it, it is undeniably the case that Boris Johnson’s Conservatives now have a clear mandate to implement the manifesto they put to the electorate. They won the election.
In Scotland, the SNP won the election – with a bigger share of the vote than the Conservatives achieved at UK level – and therefore the SNP also has a mandate to implement the manifesto we put to the electorate. That manifesto very clearly reiterated – and sought support for – holding a second referendum on independence next year. It didn’t, in itself, create a mandate for doing so – that mandate already existed. But the result put the right of Scottish voters to decide their own future beyond genuine doubt.
That has already been recognised by some in the Labour ranks, even as others continue to spout tired old lines about once in a generation. Even before the outcome of this election, polling indicated that up to a third of Labour voters support independence. That figure will inevitably be higher now.
The biggest barrier preventing many Labour politicians and activists from supporting a second independence referendum is us – the SNP. They do not want to give us what we want. But they need to look beyond that and consider what is best for Scotland now. They are not, after all, being asked to support independence itself but simply giving Scots a choice about the future.
And what of the Conservatives? Well, it’s difficult to fight an entire campaign asking voters to stop Nicola Sturgeon and not end up looking like chumps when voters do the opposite. Goodness knows why the Tories chose to frame their campaign in this way when polling clearly indicated the SNP was likely to win the election, albeit not on the scale which became apparent in the early hours of Friday morning.
Perhaps they were simply focussed on trying to get the core unionist vote out and on holding the seats they had taken in 2017. But they have made a rod for their own backs. They asked Scots to vote to stop a second indyref and they got telt. Again. There is nowhere for them to go now except for sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “la la la la la, not listening.”
(I have said nothing of the Lib Dems here, it doesn’t feel right to intrude into private grief. We can only hope that they have learned the lesson of what happens when you are seen as being all too willing to act as handmaidens for the Tories.)
So what happens now? Well, the Scottish Government will proceed with their plans to hold a second referendum on independence including requesting a Section 30 order from the UK Government. I don’t expect it will go like clockwork. But be in no doubt, a second referendum is coming. So don’t put your canvassing shoes away too quickly. We can all stand down over Christmas and the New Year but then it’s back out on the doorsteps. Don’t forget your thermals!