Well, that was some result, wasn’t it? 48 seats and 45% share of the vote. 2017 now seems like another era. The SNP are closer to where we were in the landslide of 2015 than where we were in 2017 and everything has changed once again.
What was behind this shift and what does it tell us about where we are going? I had a front row seat in this political spectacle having successfully defended what was the most Tory/SNP marginal in the whole of the country. We went into this election a mere 21 votes ahead of the Tories and came out of the experience with a majority of 7,550 securing 51% of the vote.
There are the obvious things. Brexit and the character of the Prime Minister himself were key. These played out miserably for the Tories and it is little wonder they rarely mentioned either of them. What they did want to talk about, in fact the only thing they talked about, was the constitution. They made this election about ‘stopping’ another indyref and every piece of literature from every candidate majored on this. They honestly believed that all they had to do was to rerun the same campaign from 2017 and they would secure the same result. They could not have been more wrong.
Their big mistake was to believe that Scotland 2019 was exactly the same as Scotland 2017. It was a huge mistake that cost them more than half their MPs and has left them in a situation which will be all but impossible to recover from.
Firstly, let’s deal with 2017 because a lot of nonsense has been talked about that election and what was and wasn’t done by the SNP. The conventional wisdom is that independence wasn’t put to the electorate hard enough, that somehow we were running away from our core message. This view starts and ends with the belief that the Scottish public were just sitting in eager anticipation waiting to be sold an enthusiastic indy message by SNP candidates. It then follows that because this wasn’t forthcoming large sections of our support simply stayed at home instead. Where it is an appealing and convenient view it is total bunkum.
What actually happened is that the First Minister had just announced that we would be seeking a further independence referendum – the starting gun to securing our place in Europe as an independent country. It was the first step in a process of taking the case to the Scottish people and interlinking the Scottish response to Brexit with our national ambitions. It was a case that was going to take a while to properly marshal and would require a detailed case to be put. Then Theresa May called her election and took everybody by surprise. We were completely blindsided and unprepared with the result being we couldn’t even give a referendum away.
Exactly at that point we were dealing with an electorate experiencing a deep rooted constitutional fatigue following a bruising Brexit experience and who just wanted all talk of referendums to go away. The Tories immediately seized on this mood and ran an efficient and devastating campaign of opposing that referendum.
And it was hard election. Particularly for candidates in seats like mine where there was a historic Conservative organisation which had a core support to build upon. Even amongst our own support stopping any more constitutional upheaval had a resonance. The amount of times I was told ‘I voted for you in the last election, I even voted Yes to independence, but this time I am voting Conservative to stop another independence referendum’. It really was the worst of times.
Fast forward two years and things couldn’t be more different. Scotland has looked over the Brexit cliff edge and it does not like what it sees. It now recognises that independence is a necessary life boat to spare us from this impending UK disaster. It is collectively concluding that Scotland could be better and be so much different to Brexit Britain. Yes, we lost some support from SNP supporters who favoured Brexit, but we have gained so much more. Remain voters impressed with our commitment to retain our place in the EU and even soft Tory voters were prepared to offer us their support. I was seeing quite remarkable things in my canvass in areas that I had previously written off as Tory no-go areas.
Our job then is to hold on to that burgeoning support. It is fragile and is yet to be fully convinced. It wants to believe and we have to accommodate it. Talk of illegal referendums, UDIs, dissolving unions and trying to game or trick our way to independence will send all these aspiring recruits running back into the arms of the union case. The Tories are hoping beyond hope that we now blow it through impatience and alienate this new support that is coming our way. Instead it should now be all about gentle persuasion, about convincing and understanding. There is a real sense that we are in the end game of Scotland’s participation in their union. It really now is only ours to lose. We now have the opportunity not just to win it but to win it well and put it beyond all reasonable doubt and question.
This is now our task and we have got to show that we are up for it. I can’t wait.