The dangers of a scunnered electorate


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Alex Bruce, Director

There’s a great Scottish adjective that is a handy description of how Scots currently feel about the general state of British politics. They are, to use the vernacular, “scunnered” – that is, completely fed up.


Published this week, the results of the Hansard Society’s 15th annual Audit of Political Engagement, confirm this: Just 14% of Scots are broadly satisfied with the British political system compared to a UK-wide average of 29%.

Meanwhile, recent polling shows little evidence that the Scottish population’s dissatisfaction with British politics has translated into a new found enthusiasm for independence.

Furthermore, the Hansard Society’s audit found that a rise in enthusiasm for politics in Scotland immediately following the 2014 independence referendum has now completely dissipated.

From a post-referendum high of 72%, the percentage of Scots certain to vote has dropped to 59%, three points below the average for the UK as a whole.

On this basis, a fair assessment of the Scottish people’s general attitude to politics at Holyrood is that they certainly view it as “less bad” than Westminster – but that shouldn’t be mistaken for real enthusiasm or love.

It’s often easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the general population is consumed by the same obsession with this country’s constitutional future as our politicians or the media. In reality, the public is far more concerned about the issues that affect them day-to-day.

Similarly, the motivation for a large number of Scots who voted Remain in 2016 was arguably less an overwhelming passion for the European Union than, having faced the prospect of economic and constitutional turmoil had Scotland voted to become independent in 2014, a desire to avoid the prospect of similar upheaval if the UK were to leave the EU.

By focusing on constitutional matters, politicians at Holyrood and Westminster risk falling increasingly out of touch with their electorate. The UK and Scottish Governments are equally guilty of this, preoccupied in recent weeks by an ongoing spat over Westminster’s so-called post-Brexit ‘power grab’.

Nicola Sturgeon raised the temperature of this debate still further last weekend by accusing the Conservatives of being hell-bent on ‘demolishing’ devolution. Later in the week, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford threatened to see the UK Government in court, declaring any remaining prospect of a deal on the power grab issue dead in the water. The First Minister has also faced ongoing pressure from her own party to keep the constitution front and centre with a second candidate for deputy leader this week backing rapid progress towards Indyref2.

Faced with these ongoing machinations, a large swathe of the Scottish population may simply disengage further from politics if they perceive constitutional matters to be politicians’ only all-consuming priority.

For a Scottish Government that has been in power for more than a decade, a failure to maintain focus on those issues that really matter to a majority of Scots could leave the electorate more scunnered than ever. For the SNP, come election time, a scunnered electorate could be the biggest threat of all.

This article first appeared on PubAffairs: