For all those living on the dark side of the moon or in the deep and mysterious world of the dark internet, today, the British Minister, Theresa May, announced a snap General Election. For the cynical, the PM’s u-turn has been greeted as a shameless opportunistic leap to paint the entire map of Britain Tory blue, dissolve the NHS, and take benefits away from the disabled with the view of burning them as alternatives to fossil fuels. These predictions are only half true. The point remains that the PM must be in possession of some privileged information that gives her confidence to make this decision. She is seeking a landslide, but how can she do it and how will Scotland and the never-ending constitutional question influence the election?
As much as the SNP would like to frame England and “the English” as a country of immense unthinking troglodytes, many variations exist. Recently, I read, the English and Their History by Robert Tombs, and it laid bare the amazing complexity of England, Britain’s largest country is a rich mosaic of competing regions. The English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution gave rise to the Whig and Tory party, the birth of the two-party system, and an adversarial politics fought with a fierce sectarian loyalty. The same historical influence can be seen when we talk about the north south divide, nothing has changed since the 19th century. The Chartist Movement, radical reformers and passionately anti-Tory, where located in around the major cities of the north, Manchester, Leeds, London, and the Midlands. Should you look at a map you would be astounded to discover the similarity between Chartism and present day Labour voting patterns.
The same applies to religion. Non-conformism was prevalent in the North and was characterized as anti-establishment, prone to militancy, with a paranoid and wildly cynical view of Tory motives, and views politics as a moral struggle. Sound familiar? The Tory heartlands were predominantly Anglican and have rarely changed over time. There is also the South West, in the 19th century Cornwall was an impenetrable enclave that the cosmopolitan elites thought of as remote as the Scottish Highlands. These divisions are long-standing and have given us great sporting rivalries and cherished local peculiarities. The difficulty for Theresa May is that these local ties are strong and she will find it near impossible to shift the great Labour heartlands into Conservative enthusiasts.
To make significant gains the Tories must hold onto what they while making in-roads in Scotland, the North, London, or Wales. As I said above, the north will hold, Sunderland and Teesside are not going to vote Tory, ever. London, the liberal heart of the nation, is brimming with Brexit fury and could leak votes to the Liberal Democrats.
What appears to be happening is the Tory heartlands are more Tory and there is a greater Tory vote on traditional Labour areas, which is distorting the figures, but is not not enough to win oust Labour MPs. This creates problems in the first past the post system, support in a predominantly Tory heartland going from 60% to 70% makes no difference to their chances of winning a landslide. It could be 100% but it wouldn’t mean the Tories would get more seats. Given some areas of England are impenetrable, where will Theresa May pick up seats?
Wrapped in the ideological pitch battle of separation, Scotland could be profitable hunting ground for the Conservatives. The Scottish Elections in 2016 saw a significant shift to Conservative voting. Across the board, there was a 10% swing to Ruth Davidson’s party. What is more revealing, are the regional differences within Scotland. As with England, the SNP portray Scotland as a homogeneous entity, thinking the same way and voting the same way, but there are regional differences. Perthshire, Angus, Caithness, Ayrshire, the Borders, South Midlothian, Aberdeenshire, and South Midlothian and Tweed-dale saw impressive increases in Conservative voting, a swing of around 15%. Once voters have consciously brought themselves to the point of voting for the Conservatives in a Scottish Election, they will vote for Theresa May in the General Election. Riding on the wave of Scottish Unionism, the possibility exists that the Conservatives could pick up 5 seats in Scotland.
- Aberdeenshire West. The Scottish Conservatives won this seat with a 17% swing. A constituency clearly unhappy with the constitutional question, this could fall into Conservative hands.
- Dumfries & Galloway. The SNP have a majority of 6,000. However, they voted for the Conservatives in the Scottish Election and will be on the Tory radar.
- Ettrick, Berwickshire, and Roxburgh. The SNP majority of less than 300 will disappear. A Conservative win. They voted overwhelmingly Conservative in the 2015 Scottish Election.
- Perthshire North. The SNP have a significant majority, but there is a chance of Tory victory. Even though this seat was held by SNP heavyweight John Swinney, he lost 12.5% of the vote.
- Moray. The seat of Deputy Leader and full-time blow hard, Angus Robertson. WIth any luck this incredible annoyance will be consigned to the dustbin of history. He has a good chance of keeping his seat, given his publicity. At the Scottish Election, the SNP vote fell by 11% and the Conservative vote rose by 18%. Should voting patterns replicate themselves the Conservatives will win Moray.
There are a few caveats to these projections. The SNP have the advantage of relying on Labour’s gerrymandering tactics from Tony Blair’s day, so the boundaries naturally favour the SNP. However, there is room for at least 4 or maybe 5 seats to be won in Scotland. If May can pick these up along with 7 or 8 in England and then a few in Wales, she has an increased majority, but she should be wary. The Liberal Democrats could win back voters in the South West, this is predominantly a liberal democrat area, and could easily switch back in June. However, Scotland and Wales combined could reap ten seats. Either way, how Scotland votes will be crucial in this election. Should a Scotland deliver 5 or 6 Conservative MP’s, the question of separation and Brexit becomes increasingly complex and more difficult to resolve.