The referendum has changed politics for ever in Scotland and nowhere is this more pronounced than in the voting intentions for the Westminster general election. In 2010 we saw the almost boring repetition of Scottish Westminster results where no seats changed hands at all. We, therefore, have the same Scottish Westminster representation as 2005 – a political age ago. In 2005, Jack McConnell was still First Minister and Labour was in power at Westminster. Whilst Scottish politics has been totally transformed, Scotland’s membership of the House of Commons is frozen in time, a situation that is unlikely to go unaltered in May.
The referendum changed everything, by forcing Scottish politics into two camps and pitching the two opposing forces of Scottish politics directly against each other. It cast aside all the other niceties of Scottish politics and forced the parties of independence squarely against those opposed. The SNP and the much smaller Greens and SSP were then pitched against Labour, Conservative and Liberals at the expense of all other political considerations and resultant presentational problems. When the referendum was concluded, there was the almost naïve belief that these camps would simply be wound up and normal service would resume. This has proven to be an almost fatal miscalculation for the former No parties.
The idea that people who voted Yes would just all of a sudden decide that ‘that was that’ and start voting for a unionist party that stood against everything they wanted to achieve was, at best, fanciful. So, we have a huge upturn in SNP membership and big SNP leads in opinion polls, as Yes voters continue to be loyal to their referendum position with polls showing SNP support close to the 45% Yes secured in the referendum.
But how does the ‘referendum legacy’ leave the unionist parties? Well, all over the place and with a series of issues, would be the charitable assessment! Their first difficulty is that the No vote fragments into its three component parts, as each claim their share of the 55%. There is also the difficulty of the ‘soft Noes’, who feel aggrieved with the post referendum settlement- hence the hard work to make Smith seem like a substantial piece of work that honours the referendum promises made.
Trying to get Scotland back to ‘business as usual’ for a UK election is going to take some effort. With the referendum fallout all around them, Scotland feels like a place with unfinished business. Where the Yes vote seems to know where it wants to go at the general election, what about a tactical No vote? Already there are online campaigns mounted to try and secure a ‘No Alliance’ vote with a real effort being made to tactically defeat Alex Salmond in Gordon. Any talk of a No tactical vote presents the most obvious dangers for Labour. The prospect of Labour telling their voters to vote Tory to keep the SNP out only compounds their initial difficulty of being seen to work with the Tories during the referendum in the first place. It is also almost absurd- that Labour wants to replace the Tories as the Government in the UK.
The post-referendum Scottish political environment is, therefore, a place that presents huge challenges for the former No parties. Their best hope is that somehow, in the course of the next few months, the Scottish people put the referendum behind them and turn to the UK parties to forge a better Scotland. I sense that that’s just not going to happen any time soon.