The 2017 General Election produced some truly remarkable results throughout the UK. But where does it leave Scotland’s main political parties?
Scottish National Party
It goes without saying that it was a bad night for the SNP, with the party losing 21 of the 56 MPs secured at the last General Election, and majorities were slashed amidst a Scottish Tory surge and a slight Labour recovery. It is also worth remembering that the SNP were only around 600 votes away from not winning a majority of Scotland’s 59 seats.
With Angus Robertson’s defeat in Moray, the much diminished group of 35 SNP MPs will now have to elect a new Westminster leader. Given the number of high profile loses, including Alex Salmond and John Nicolson, the new leader might not be of the same calibre as the predecessor in the role. Among those touted, Stephen Gethins and Pete Wishart are now defending ultra-slender majorities. More realistic contenders include Ian Blackford from the right of the party, Tommy Sheppard from the left (a popular figure amongst the grassroots who finished second in last year’s Depute Leader contest), as well as Joanna Cherry QC. The winner will be announced on Wednesday evening.
Nonetheless, despite the heavy losses, the SNP remain the third largest party at Westminster and will continue to be an influential player, particularly due to the new parliamentary arithmetic. Indeed, Alex Neil and Chris Stephens have called for closer cooperation between the SNP and Labour at Westminster to secure the defeat of the UK Government during tight votes in the Commons when the Government faces rebellions from its own ranks.
While there has been no real leadership speculation following the result, former Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary Kenny MacAskill called for Peter Murrell, the husband of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s long serving chief executive, to be replaced within the next 12 months.
In an election where all three main UK party leaders could be described to varying degrees as losers, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson was the undisputed winner of the General Election, and the party’s improved Scottish performance was partially responsible for ensuring that Prime Minister Theresa May clings to power. Just.
The Scottish Conservatives have firmly cemented their position as the second party of Scottish politics by securing their best UK General Election result since 1983 and also claimed the scalps of top SNP figures including Alex Salmond, Angus Robertson, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh and Mike Weir. Their continued success at the polls is as a result of their strategy in positioning themselves as the party that could stop a second independence referendum, as well as the engaging personality of Davidson.
The 13 strong group of Scottish Conservative MPs will be a powerful bloc at Westminster, with Davidson now holding unprecedented influence over her UK party leader, and has already demanded assurances over issues like gay rights/equalities as part of the Tories’ deal with the DUP. However, Davidson has dismissed suggestions in the press that the Scottish Conservatives would seek to become more autonomous from their UK counterparts.
Scottish Labour benefited from a late bounce in the polls in Scotland and unexpectedly gained a number of seats when the party had devoted a substantial proportion of its resources into retaining its sole MP in Scotland, Ian Murray, in Edinburgh South.
Despite the increased number of Westminster seats, it was not entirely good news for Scottish Labour Leader Kezia Dugdale – a critic of Jeremy Corbyn prior to the election – as the result strengthens the hand of the left of the party in Scotland. Her colleague at Holyrood, Neil Findlay, has alleged that the party could have won additional seats had there been a more enthusiastic embrace of Jeremy Corbyn’s radical approach by the Scottish Labour leadership. Scottish Deputy Leader Alex Rowley claimed that Corbyn was responsible for winning over left wing voters on both sides of the Scottish independence divide.
Scottish Liberal Democrats
While only securing 6.8% of the vote in Scotland, Willie Rennie can be pleased with the moderately successful targeted campaign in which the Scottish Lib Dems managed to win three seats from the SNP (Edinburgh West, East Dunbartonshire, and Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross), while Alistair Carmichael was comfortably re-elected in Orkney and Shetland.
With a disappointing result across the UK for the Lib Dems, Jo Swinson – a former UK Government Minister who managed to regain East Dunbartonshire from the SNP – has been discussed as a future leadership contender to succeed Tim Farron.