Just days after independence minister Jamie Hepburn revealed the SNP plan to use the next general election as a ‘de facto’ referendum on leaving the UK was still on the table comes evidence that underlines the arrogant folly behind the suggestion that one party can ever decide what people are voting about.
An analysis by polling firm YouGov suggests the SNP would see their current 48 seats in the UK Parliament reduced to 27, while Labour would rise from just one to 24. The Conservatives, meanwhile, would lose two seats, ending up with four, the same as the Liberal Democrats.
All this is based on complex statistical techniques and may be wide of the mark, particularly as the election could be more than a year away and much may change in the intervening months. However, it does provide an indication of the current strength of feeling about the qualities of Scotland’s two governing parties.
The Conservatives and SNP – in office for 13 and 16 years respectively – have suffered considerable self-inflicted damage of late. While the negative effects of Brexit have become increasingly clear, Boris Johnson’s dishonesty and Liz Truss’s calamitous economic plans have damaged faith in the Tories. Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, followed by the arrest of her husband amid a police investigation into the party’s finances, and a series of bad decisions and botched policies have done the same to the nationalists.
Combined, these factors are making a compelling case in the minds of many SNP voters to switch to Labour. However, Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar’s celebrations should be muted at best. They need to do more to present positive reasons why people should vote for their party, rather than simply relying on antipathy towards their opponents.
Long periods in power have a tendency to breed arrogance and the Tories and the SNP have both been suffering because of it. Johnson thought he could behave how he liked, Truss supposed she could wave a magic tax-cutting wand without engaging with economic reality, and Sturgeon wanted to dictate the terms of an election. Voters have a habit of punishing such hubris.