Sunday, 10 August 2014

Labour set to lose heavily to SNP after 'no' vote without strong devolution package

Labour's chances of being the largest party in the House of Commons at the General Election in 2015 are significantly blighted by the likelihood that they will lose several seats to the SNP - whatever the referendum result. Hitherto many Scottish voters who have voted for the SNP for the Scottish Parliament have taken the view that since Labour are likely to form a Government in London then they are more likely to be an effective champion their interest than the SNP. However, things are likely to change on May 7th  2010  when the voting takes place.

In the case of a 'Yes' vote in the referendum on independence the SNP will claim to be the most effective party in campaigning for a better deal for Scotland in the negotiations about terms for Scottish independence. In the case of a 'No' vote the SNP will claim they are going to be more effective in arguing for more powers for the Scottish Government and Parliament in the new devolution settlement that will be decided after the 2015 General election.

In the past many voters who would otherwise vote SNP for Holyrood elections have had a perceived common policy agenda with Labour and Liberal Democrats, in opposition to the Conservatives. Hence the need to vote SNP at Westminster elections to avoid Tory rule did not seem so convincing. But at the 2015 General Election a particularly salient issue for many Scottish voters will be more powers for Scottish Government - a specifically Scottish issue - and that is something upon which that the SNP will claim to focus more of their energy compared to the conventional UK- wide parties.

When it comes to reporting opinion polls most attention has been on the referendum, with the 'No' vote now heading for a win of 55-60 per cent for 'No' to 40-45 per cent for 'Yes'. But anything over 40 per cent will be loudly claimed by the SNP as a brilliant success, and without a major effort by Labour (and the others) to beef up their specific commitments for further devolution the SNP is likely to capture several more seats off both Labour and also a couple from the Liberal Democrats. The recent polls on party support within Scotland at the next General Election make pretty stark reading for the UK-wide parties. The SNP has a clear lead and has, according to the polls, literally doubled their support since the 2010 election. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are the biggest losers to the SNP. See :

A couple of dozen Labour (and even four or five) of sitting Liberal Democrat MPs are so well entrenched it is difficult to see the SNP displacing them but it is, giving the recent opinion poll figures, very plausible that the SNP will increase their MPs by a dozen, even taking into account the boost sitting MPs receive at General Elections to withstand swings in opinion. If Labour loses ten seats overall, and only returns 31 as opposed to the 41 seats it won in 2010 then this could well make the difference between there being a Labour as opposed to Tory led Government. The prize in the 2015 General Election is not so much who will win an overall majority, which will be difficult for either Labour or Conservatives to achieve, but who will have the most seats and who therefore is almost certain to form the next Government.

If one assumes that during the election campaign the Conservatives increase their vote moderately (thoughout the UK) then one could bet on the Conservatives coming slightly ahead of Labour in votes, but maybe just a few seats behind labour in seats. That is the way the system works since fewer people vote in Labour held areas (eg Merseyside) compared to Tory held areas (eg Surrey). So if Labour loses a few seats in Scotland ......... Currently in Scotland Labour holds 41 seats, Liberal Democrats 11, SNP 6 and Conservatives 1.

Of course the SNP will claim that in a tight, hung, Parliament it will be in a good position to bargain with other parties, and in the meantime there will be pressure on the other parties to come up with strong proposals for more devolution....and this had better be more than just saying the Scots can have power to increase taxes on themselves!

By focusing mostly on taxation powers the UK-wide parties are missing out on large areas of regulation and policy discretion. Take energy for example. It is very practical for the Scottish Government to be able to regulate to control nearly half of their electricity bills, including supply costs, network distribution, environmental and low carbon surcharges. But are they talking about this? No. Not a murmur. Sure, Labour are proposing an energy price freeze across the UK, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the SNP countered by saying that Scotland should be given its own Energy Regulator. And the Scottish Greens of course.

More on this issue to come....

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