Why Rishi Sunak called a July general election and what it means for Scotland and the SNP

The move to announce the general election for July surprised almost everyone in Westminster.

Rishi Sunak’s long-awaited general election announcement and pledge to lead the country through “uncertain” times came amid an improving economic situation, while Sir Keir Starmer said the vote represented a chance to “end the chaos”.

Both men gave statements with deeply contrasting backdrops. Rishi Sunak, as he announced a summer election to take place on July 4, spoke outside Downing Street in the pouring rain. If that wasn’t enough, the Prime Minister also had to contend with the New Labour anthem Things Can Only Get Better being played in booming fashion from beyond the gates to Downing Street.

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The Labour leader instead gave an address indoors while flanked by two Union Jack flags.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walks back into Number 10 after announcing the date for the UK General Election in Downing Street. Picture: Carl Court/Getty ImagesPrime Minister Rishi Sunak walks back into Number 10 after announcing the date for the UK General Election in Downing Street. Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walks back into Number 10 after announcing the date for the UK General Election in Downing Street. Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images

The speeches showed clear battle lines being drawn. The Prime Minister stressed the importance of “trust” and challenged Sir Keir on a lack of “conviction”, while his counterpart promised to unlock the “pride and potential” in Britain. The message was trust and sticking with the plan from the Tories, versus the ‘time for change’ slogan from Labour.

Mr Sunak’s move to declare an election date sparked panic among many Tory MPs, some of whom lodged letters of no confidence in protest. The Conservatives remain on course to lose the election, according to the polls, with Labour enjoying a double-digit lead.

Mr Sunak claimed the election would take place when the world was at its most dangerous since the end of the Cold War.

He said: “On July 5, either Keir Starmer or I will be prime minister. He has shown time and time again that he will take the easy way out and do anything to get power.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced a general election date.Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced a general election date.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced a general election date.

“I have to say, if he was happy to abandon all the promises he made to become Labour leader once he got the job, how can you know that he won’t do exactly the same thing if he were to become prime minister?

“If you don’t have the conviction to stick to anything you say, if you don’t have the courage to tell people what you want to do, and if you don’t have a plan, how can you possibly be trusted to lead our country, especially at this most uncertain of times?

“These uncertain times call for a clear plan and bold action to charter a course to a secure future. You must choose in this election, who has that plan, who is prepared to take a bold action necessary to secure a better future for our country and our children?

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“Now, I cannot and will not claim that we have got everything right. No government should. But I am proud of what we have achieved together, the bold actions we have taken and I’m confident about what we can do in the future”.

A summer election had been popular with aides in Downing Street, but distinctly unpopular with most Tory MPs. Something changed this week, however, not least with the improved inflation figures, with the Government finally meeting the 2 per cent target.

It followed the Prime Minister and his deputy Oliver Dowden spending Tuesday locked in meetings, with the topic unknown, just 24 hours after Conservative HQ held crunch talks to work out the fundraising situation for a potential snap election. Sources had insisted this was standard practice – something we now know not to be true.

Going now allows Mr Sunak to laud the inflation figures, the Rwanda Bill finally passing, and stress once again “the plan is working”. The Prime Minister has also stamped out the rebellion in his own party by committing to spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP.

Some Tory MPs see this as aggressive, bold and an example of the Prime Minister seizing the political initiative. One Number 10 aide even briefed the "tiniest path" to victory still exists.

However, there is also a thought among MPs this shows an acceptance things cannot get better, not least with the Treasury deciding there was no wiggle room to deliver the £10 billion in tax cuts wanted by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt this autumn. Official figures revealed borrowing for April overshot forecasts, hitting £20.5bn, suggesting there would have been limited scope for pre-election giveaways.

One MP told The Scotsman: “I can’t believe it. We had months to make our case and build a narrative. Instead, he’s given up.”

Making his address, Sir Keir told supporters in central London the general election represented a chance to change the country for the better.

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He said: “Tonight, the Prime Minister has finally announced the next general election, a moment the country needs and has been waiting for and where, by the force of our democracy, power returns to you. A chance to change for the better your future, your community, your country.

“It will feel like a long campaign, I am sure of that. But no matter what else is said and done, that opportunity for change is what this election is about. If they [the Tories] get another five years, they will feel entitled to carry on exactly as they are. Nothing will change.

“A vote for Labour is a vote for stability, economic and political, a politics that treads more lightly on all our lives. A vote to stop the chaos.”

Labour MPs were in a jubilant mood after the announcement, having long pushed for an election. One shadow cabinet member told The Scotsman they “couldn’t wait”, and were “desperate” to be out on the streets knocking on doors.

Another said it was “about time” and the party was now “focused on delivering what this country so desperately needs”.

However, north of the Border, the date could prove a headache for Scottish parents who had booked holidays. Edinburgh and Dundee school holidays start on June 28, and on June 26 in Glasgow. At a time when political parties will be desperate to win voters over, many Scottish families will be on the beach.

For the SNP, the election will see a host of MPs say farewell to Westminster, not least those who have already announced they are standing down. This includes former Westminster leader Ian Blackford, as well as MPs Angela Crawley, Peter Grant, Douglas Chapman, Stewart Hosie, Mhairi Black, John McNally, Phillipa Whitford and Patrick Grady.

The announcement has sparked excitement amongst the Scottish Tories, who while facing a battle for their own seats, still expect to make gains.

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Party figures have claimed an early election will increase the chance of an SNP rout, predict John Swinney's party will not gain any seats, and that going early prevents the newly-elected First Minister having any time to settle.

Polling expert Sir John Curtice said Mr Sunak was either “very brave” or “extremely foolhardy” in calling a July election.

And he told the BBC: "I think the SNP will not welcome this early election. At the moment, the SNP is running about five or six points behind Labour in the polls north of the Border.”



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