General election 2019: SNP cheers and Labour sorrow as Scotland takes a different path

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It may have been another SNP landslide in Scotland, but the mood of the 2019 general election was very different to 2015, writes Chris McCall

When the SNP last achieved a clean sweep of seats in Glasgow four years ago, there was a genuine air of jubilation among activists gathered at the count. But the mood in the early hours of Friday, December 13 was palpably different to that of the 2015 election.

The SNP significanlty increased their share of the popular vote (Getty Images)

The SNP significanlty increased their share of the popular vote (Getty Images)

There was some cheering and a moderate degree of whooping - usually whenever the giant TV screen at one end of the SEC showed the Nationalists making gains across the country. The roar when Amy Callaghan took East Dunbartonshire from Jo Swinson wasn’t quite Hampden-esque, but it was loud enough.

A short broadcast news clip of Nicola Sturgeon waving her arms in celebration at the Callaghan victory quickly went viral, yet even that felt like the First Minister was trying to accentuate the positives on a night of relentless negativity for anyone who voted Remain in 2016.

It was a similar story at the counts in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. SNP advances and utter despair for Labour. Anyone wearing a red rosette on Friday morning had a face longer than Leith Walk.

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While SNP staffers congratulated each other on a job well done, it wasn’t much of a works Christmas night out. There was no moderately priced champagne or novelty jumpers on display. The scale of the Conservative victory in England and Wales put paid to that.

Power of the majority

Deep down, they grasped that an emboldened Boris Johnson might be less than chuffed at the scale of Nationalist gains. But when you’ve got a majority of more than 50 seats, you hold an awful lot of power. Concessions? Who needs them.

Yet there is no denying this was another historic result. It wasn’t so long ago that SNP candidates finished as perennial runners-up in city constituencies, be it in Edinburgh or Glasgow. Some party veterans carrying clipboards could tell you about local campaigns in the distant past that were effectively ran from the boot of a car.

Over the past 12 years the SNP has developed into a relentless election winning machine. It has more active members, and therefore more people to go out and chap doors and deliver leaflets, than any other UK party bar Labour.

Anyone who sees the Natiionalist machine in action for the first time is likely to be struck by how young many of its campaigners are. This is a professional set-up, but one that benefits from genuine enthusiasm among the ranks. Anyone wearing a yellow rosette is doing so because they passionately believe in the pro-independence dream, regardless of the economic case.

Contrast that to the depths of misery Labour finds itself in. This was a night of utter devastation for the party. Its supporters lined the edges of the SEC like an infantry regiment just relieved from the trenches. Some sprawled on the ground in disbelief, the act of standing seemingly too much for them. Others clung to each other, united in grief.

Politics is a tough old game and many Labour veterans will still remember other terrible election nights, like 1979 or 1992. They recovered before and can again. Yet 2019 seemed somehow worse.

During a UK campaign squarely about Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn campaigned on policy. He spoke about nationalised broadband, perhaps because such a radical plan seemed easier to explain than his position on leaving the European Union.

In Scotland, Labour could never answer in 10 words or less what it’s position on IndyRef2 was. One day last month it seemed the party’s position changed by the hour.

When it came to a simple, straightforward campaign message, the Conservatives triumphed. Get Brexit done. Three simple words. Yet the voters in Aberdeen - the city, not the shire - didn’t seem to be listening.

The Tories in Scotland look like becoming a chiefly rural concern. In suburban seats like East Renfrewshire, or Stirling, they were swept aside by the SNP.

Urban Scottish voters are among the most anti-Brexit in the UK. The Conservatives hoped that their firm promise to reject IndyRef2 would counter that. It didn’t..

The party’s overall vote share fell by only a couple of points. But that counted for little on an evening when the Nationalist vote was motivated and consequently turned out in droves.

For all that, it is still Boris Johnson that remains in power at Downing Street. There will be no pacts between the SNP and Labour. Sturgeon will not be dining with Corbyn over the weekend.

The question of whether the UK will leave the EU has finally been settled - and not the way Nicola Sturgeon wanted. Scotland may have voted Remain in 2016 - as Nationalists never tired of reminding us during the election campaign - but that matters little when the days of minority government in the Commons are over.