Scottish election 2021: SNP success dependent on voter turnout as support slips

It is not an exaggeration to say the result of the Holyrood elections next week is ultimately dependent on the actions of just a few thousand voters across Scotland.

Such is the nature of the Additional Member System (AMS) employed in Scotland to ensure a more proportionate system of representation that one seat lost here or gained there could have major implications for the all important regional list vote.

For the SNP their outlook for the next five years is fully dependent on the party’s ability to mobilise voters who – despite Nicola Sturgeon’s soaring popularity in 2016 – failed to turn out in the numbers required to deliver an overwhelming blow to the pro-unionist parties.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will be attempting to ensure all of the SNP's voters turnout to ensure a positive result.

Repetition of this sequence of events is looking likely in 2021, but given the AMS system’s quirks, a majority for the SNP is always dependent on the voting patterns of the unionist parties rather than simply the party’s own support.

Fundamentally, it is a handful of seats which will determine the chances of an SNP majority.

Labour-held Edinburgh Southern, Dumbarton and East Lothian, alongside the Scottish Conservative’s Edinburgh Central, Eastwood and Ayr seats, will be key targets for maximising turnout should the SNP believe they are within reach.

Maximising pro-independence and pro-SNP turnout in these constituencies will be central to the party’s hopes, but jitters around independence may see a repeat of 2016.

Should pro-unionist voters mobilise to block the nationalists in these key battlegrounds, it is game over for a majority.

A highly unlikely wipe-out in South Scotland constituencies for the SNP or significant losses in the Highland and Islands would present the only hope of a majority via the regional list should these seats fail to change hands.

Given the continued drop in support for Scottish independence, it could be that messaging from the SNP about indyref2 and from pro-union parties is presenting the election as a proxy referendum mid-pandemic.

While that may be preferable for negotiations with Boris Johnson post-election, it is likely only to hurt the SNP at the ballot box among those jittery about independence.

The most pro-independence and SNP voters are younger and more urban, exactly the type of voters least likely to turn out on polling day.

Mobilising these voters across Scotland is what will determine the SNP’s overall success.

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