The Conservative dimension

As for other aspects of the Glasgow East result, the collapse of the Lib Dems in particular can be put down to the fact that the two main parties are broadly centre-left. So Lib Dem voters will have been especially more willing to lend their vote to one of the main parties. Conservatives will be more wary of voting for anyone else, so this is why the Conservatives were able to move up to third place in a constituency which is otherwise not fertile ground for them.

The election has also seen the constant trotting-out of that old line about how Scotland is a desert land for the Conservative Party. That really annoys me because it is simply the biggest myth since Santa Claus. A lot of people, even in Scotland, believe it. Whenever I hear a Lib Dem coming out with it I feel like giving them a slap, because if the Tories are unpopular in Scotland what on earth does that make the Lib Dems??

Okay, so the Conservatives have very few MPs and in 1997 they had none. But that is simply because First Past the Post is so hopelessly skewed against them. Of course, the Conservatives support the FPTP system, so they get no sympathy from me on that front. But it is a fact that, if you look at the numbers for the country as a whole, the Conservatives are the third largest party in Scotland not just once in a while but over and over again.

In 2007, the Conservatives got 16.6% of the constituency vote compared to the Lib Dems’ 16.2%. In the regional vote (i.e. the fairer part, where people are less likely to vote tactically and more likely to vote for the party that they actually support), the Conservatives had 13.9% compared to the Lib Dem’s 11.3%.

The numbers were even more stark in 2003, with the Conservatives getting 15.5% in the regional vote compared to the Lib Dems’ 11.8%. In 1999, back in the days when the Tories had no MPs they were still ahead of the Lib Dems.

In fact, in 1997, that infamous year where the Tories were wiped out, the Conservatives had 17.51% of the votes in Scotland. The Lib Dems had a mere 12.98%.

I don’t like to point all this out because the Lib Dems are the party that I am most sympathetic to. But it really annoys me whenever I hear anyone bang on and on about how unpopular the Conservatives are in Scotland because it simply is. not. true.

And it especially annoys me when I hear it from a Lib Dem. Not only are the Lib Dems less popular than the Conservatives in Scotland, but Lib Dems of all people really ought to be aware that they should look beyond just the numbers of MPs and look to the overall share of the vote because of the unfairness of the FPTP system.

As for worries that a Conservative Government in Westminster will sour relations between Westminster and Holyrood and therefore bring us one closer to the break-up of the union — I’m afraid I don’t buy that one either.

The SNP and the Conservatives do not actually hate each other as much as you might think. In fact, sometimes I think they are actually quite cosy. Often, the SNP will rely on the help of the Conservatives to get legislation through the Scottish Parliament (particularly for as as long as the Lib Dems appear to be content to be little more than an appendage of the Labour Party).

Of course, the SNP always complained about the Tories in the 1980s and 1990s. As did Labour. But, of course, that was twenty years ago now. Today it’s 2008, and a very different political landscape.

The idea that the Conservatives didn’t have a mandate to govern Scotland caught like wildfire. It is silly though. In any country in the world you find similar geographical differences. It’s just a fact of life. For some reason, though, although they were keen to point it out when the Tories were in government, the SNP play down such geographical differences that occur within Scotland. Just take a look at the map. The yellow is almost all in rural areas, with relatively little SNP representation in the central belt. Do the SNP complain about that as well? Hmm, funny that.

The fact is that the SNP only complained about the Tories because it was to their electoral advantage to do so. Last year they removed from their constitution the barrier to forming a coalition with the Conservatives. That tells you what you need to know. I have even seen it suggested that, if the SNP hit their target of getting 20-odd Westminster seats, the Conservatives could form a coalition with the SNP and Plaid Cymru in the event of a hung parliament.

The SNP’s real enemies today are Labour, as anyone who has endured any recent election in Scotland will tell you. Trust me — an SNP Government in Holyrood will get on much, much better with the Conservatives in Westminster than they currently get on with Labour.


  1. I agree with your conclusion that a Conservative government won’t result in the Scottish public being won over to the independence argument. Not in sufficient numbers, at any rate.

    But given that the SNP hopes to have a referendum within months of the likely date of the next general election, you can be sure that they’ll be pushing their “no mandate” argument for all it’s worth.

    It is a silly argument; I agree. But it’s easily communicable using simplistic nationalist rhetoric which is difficult to challenge without recourse to the kinds of constitutional arguments which make most people’s eyes glaze over. And therein, if the unionist parties don’t get their collective act together, lies the risk factor.

    On the plus side is David Cameron’s pledge not to “take Scotland for granted” and to address “one-by-one the deeper questions that are fuelling separatism”. I see those as genuine commitments, although time might not be on his side.

  2. Not sure if the graph is as fair a representation as you try to paint Duncan.

    Rural constituencies are much, much bigger so it only seems that SNP support is heavily skewed that way from this graph.

    Of course they do well the more North you go but the SNP won FPTP seats in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, not to mention Stirling itself.

    Further to this, the more accurate barometer of party affiliation, the list vote, regularly had the SNP in first place in city seats where they didn’t win the FPTP constituency. My own area of Edinburgh North and Leith for example.

    Infact, a lesser known fact is that the SNP won more of the list votes in Edinburgh & Lothians than Labour did.

    Just thought I’d point that out in case anyone else is similarly mislead….

  3. Jeff, I’m afraid I have to disagree with you. When talking about geographical differences, I don’t think the size of the constituency is really relevant. Looking solely at the location of SNP constituencies, it is clear that the further north you go, the more likely the SNP are to win.

    If anything, this is even more clear-cut in the list vote. In the map for the list vote, you can literally draw a line from the north of Fife past the Ochil Hills then west to just north of Glasgow beyond which literally no-one but the SNP ‘won’ (save for Orkney and Shetland). By my reckoning, that makes 18 constituencies in a large area where the SNP counts on much of its support.

    South of that line you enter Labour country. Yes, there are SNP seats here, but the point is that the central belt is still overwhelmingly Labour (or at least it was in May 2007 — maybe not so much now).

    Meanwhile, there are also at least two central belt seats — Falkirk West and Ochil — that the SNP won in the FPTP election but ‘lost’ in the list vote.

    No, it’s not clear-cut, but neither is the border between England and Scotland so clear-cut either. Tories win seats in Scotland and Labour also get plenty in England.

    I just think it is a bit disingenuous to say the least that the SNP do not at least recognise that regional differences exist within Scotland while they exaggerate the differences between Scotland and England. To have such regional pockets of support is a reality in almost every democracy, I would have thought.