‘Stunning’ SNP gains could prompt further constitutional review

8 May 15

Pressure is mounting on David Cameron to convene a full-blown constitutional convention after an unparalleled near clean sweep by the Scottish National Party of Westminster seats north of the border.

As Cameron’s Conservatives achieved an unexpected overall majority across the UK, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP seized all but three of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are left with just one seat each in Scotland.

The SNP campaign deliberately eschewed the quest for independence in favour of offering a vehicle for opposing the Cameron coalition’s fiscal austerity programme and Scottish voters’ response could scarcely have been less ambiguous.

Sturgeon insisted throughout the campaign that she did not regard an SNP victory as mandate for another independence referendum, and reaffirmed that position today. Yet commentators on both sides of the border are interpreting the result as a potentially mortal blow to the union.

At the very least, it is likely to mean that the legislative programme of additional fiscal devolution flowing from the Smith Commission report – a programme that both the SNP and Labour said had watered down a report already widely criticised in Scotland as inadequate – will be reviewed.

With the SNP demanding full fiscal responsibility – complete Holyrood control of the financial and political powers to run its own economic and social policy – and the LibDems arguing that only UK-wide federalism can now accommodate the divergent polities within the union, the idea of a constitutional convention that might also look at issues like Lords reform is gathering pace.

In his victory speech early this morning, Cameron spoke of the need for the Conservatives to reclaim their ‘One Nation’ heritage, which is being taken by some to signal a recognition that constitutional affairs are back on the UK government’s agenda.

For the SNP, ending the night with exactly 50 more seats than it won in 2010, the scale of victory was heightened by the many big beasts who fell to its candidates, sometimes by stunning margins. Labour, which has dominated Scottish politics for half a century, has been shattered.

The biggest scalp of the night was probably Douglas Alexander, shadow foreign secretary and Labour’s UK campaign director, who lost by a hefty 5,684 votes in Paisley to a 20-year-old Glasgow University student Mhairi Black. She will be the youngest MP at Westminster since 1667.

Labour’s Scottish leadership, already in tatters after two Holyrood defeats at the hands of the SNP, is left decimated. Scottish Leader Jim Murphy, shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran and former interim Scottish leader Anas Sarwar all fell to the SNP tide.

The former constituencies of both ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown – previously the safest seat in Scotland – and ex-Chancellor Alastair Darling fell to the SNP, which across Scotland won 50% of votes to Labour’s 24%. In Glasgow East, the swing was a UK record of more than 39%.

Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury in the coalition, was one of 10 LibDem casualties, as were former party leader Charles Kennedy, former Scottish secretary Michael Moore and former consumer minister Jo Swinson. Only former Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael clung on in Orkney & Shetland.

In Gordon, the former SNP Leader Alex Salmond easily swept aside a drive by the unionist parties to encourage tactical voting for the LibDems, and took the seat that had been held by deputy LibDem leader Sir Malcolm Bruce. Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell’s North East Fife seat also fell to the SNP with a majority of more than 4,300.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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