2018 promises to be yet another rollercoaster year ahead

As 2018 gets into full swing, much like 2017 Scottish politics is likely to be shaped primarily by two big issues: the terms of Brexit and its consequences for IndyRef2.

Managing   Director,     Alex Orr

One advantage for us, the voters, is that there will be a year of relative peace on the doorstep, as for the first time since 2013 the year ‘may’ (emphasis on ‘may’) pass without a referendum or national election being staged.

On the key issue of whether Ms Sturgeon will decide to press ahead with IndyRef2, given the electoral bloody nose the party received at the snap general election in 2017, the First Minister will undoubtedly keep the powder dry on her intentions until later in the year, when the nature of the Brexit transition deal becomes clearer. On this more later.

One other big political set-piece is due to take place in the opening months of 2018 is the publication of the SNP’s Growth Commission report into the finances of an independent Scotland. Designed to lay the groundwork for another vote, it will make a series of crucial recommendations about the currency the country might use and how it might grow its economy.

After a decade in power attention will focus on how the minority SNP administration is using its devolved powers, with a specific focus on health, education, and income tax changes. Outlined in the Draft Scottish Budget last month this highlighted modest tax rises for higher earners and cuts for low income Scots.

However, while SNP difficulties seem certain, it is unclear which party, if any, will be the beneficiary.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson may have enjoyed electoral success, through making the pro-Union cause her own, but none of her achievements have been on domestic policy.

She should be able to use income tax rises to her advantage, but peak Tory may have been reached and Davidson’s party looks close to the upper limit of support amongst voters.

This time last year, the Scottish Labour Party seemed near to extinction, but in the snap general election it increased its MP presence and on paper its leader, Richard Leonard, has the most to gain from a year that could see Sturgeon and Davidson fight out a bloody score draw.

While IndyRef 2 seems a blur on the horizon, the implications of Brexit will keep the constitution in the foreground of political debate at Holyrood.

A stand-off looms between the Scottish and UK Governments on the transfer of powers after Brexit. During the year it is likely that the Scottish Government and the UK will finally do a deal on the EU Withdrawal Bill, which will repatriate thousands of EU laws back to Britain. The big question of 2018, of course, is whether Ms Sturgeon will decide to press ahead with IndyRef2 – and whether the UK will give its permission for another vote.

If it does happen, it is likely to be during the two-year Brexit transition period which begins in March 2019. The SNP’s mandate for another vote lasts until the next Scottish election in 2021.

Whatever happens, 2018 is likely to prove yet another rollercoaster year politically north of the border.

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Another day, another election as Scots voters set to head to the polls for the seventh time in three years

Orbit Communications - Alex Orr 01
Alex Orr, Managing Director

Now that the dust has begun to settle after the Prime Minister’s surprise call of a snap election for 8th June, weary Scots are set to trudge to the polling booth for the seventh time in three years.

Prior to this is the small matter of the local elections on 4th May, a test of the Tory strategy to use these elections to send a message to Nicola Sturgeon of “no to a second referendum”. Indeed, as I write this, the Scottish Conservatives are to put opposition to a second independence referendum at the heart of their local government election campaign.

This is a message that will continue into the General Election. While in the rest of the UK Brexit will be very much to the fore, in Scotland, which voted to remain in the EU, it will be the independence issue that will continue to dominate. Indeed, Prime Minister May has again reaffirmed this view, writing in The Scotsman that a vote for the Scottish Conservatives would send a “clear message” of opposition to the SNP’s “divisive” plans for the second independence vote.

For the SNP, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has highlighted that the General Election will serve to “reinforce” its mandate for a vote on independence. She will also try and frame the election as being between a right-wing Tory party, which wants a hard Brexit, and her message of “elect us to stand up for Scotland”.

If the SNP do as well as predicted, they will claim yet another ‘cast-iron’ mandate to hold another independence referendum. This is why Nicola Sturgeon says that the Prime Minister has made a miscalculation.

Opposition parties will urge Scots to use the election to say no to a further plebiscite.

The challenge facing the SNP is that they did so well in the 2015 election, with 56 out of 59 MPs and falling just shy of half the vote (49.97%), that any fall will be seen by the unionist parties as a victory, a call for no independence referendum.

In the 2015 election Labour trailed in second on 24% (losing 40 of their 41 MPs) while the Conservatives secured 14% and the Liberal Democrats 8%.

With three parties chasing the “unionist vote” and consequently splitting that vote, the SNP clearly have a huge advantage.

Current opinion polls provide little consolation to these parties. The most recent poll (Panelbase/Sunday Times March 2017) had the SNP on 47% (-3% from General Election 2015), the Conservatives, 28% (+13%), Labour continuing its decline on 14% (-10 %) with the Liberal Democrats barely visible on 4% (-4%).

On this basis the Scottish Conservatives, with only one MP in Scotland, are likely to do well, leapfrogging Labour to second place, as they did in the Holyrood elections. They will be targeting constituency seats won at that election, so expect West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk and Dumfries and Galloway to be in the Tory firing line.

Labour will be content to try and hold onto their sole MP, Ian Murray in Edinburgh South, and try and stem the continuing rot. There may also be a sly Labour eye cast to East Lothian, held at Holyrood by former Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray MSP.

The Liberal Democrats could see an increase in their vote and will target seats they took in the Holyrood elections, such as Edinburgh West, where former SNP MP, Michelle Thomson, now stands as an independent, and North East Fife, held by Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie MSP.

Theresa May has rolled the dice, pitching the General Election in Scotland as a de facto vote on Scottish independence. Expect both the SNP and the Tories to claim that they have rolled double sixes on 9th June.