Since the SNP’s rise to power in 2007, the party has had to conduct a difficult balancing act, meeting the needs of left-wing supporters and members primarily based in Scotland’s big cities, and more small-c conservatives in countryside. Supporters and members have been united by their strong desire for independence, and it paid off most impressively in 2015 when the party won half of Scotland’s votes, but is the alliance coming to an end?
Since 2015, the party has struggled – at least in relative terms – winning “only” 35 seats in this June’s snap election.
In 2016, the Scottish Conservatives leapfrogged Labour to become the country’s second largest party. At the time, the shift looked likely to lay the foundations for a Sturgeon versus Davidson 2021 battle, but Labour’s unprecedented return from the dead in June has altered the country’s political dynamics.
Corbyn breathed new life into Scottish Labour, something that will only be boosted if left-wing Richard Leonard succeeds Kezia Dugdale as the party’s new leader north of the border, an outcome that is feeling like the most realistic option at the moment.
The SNP’s latest two batches of policy announcements look like a plea to left-of-centre voters tempted by Scottish Labour that the SNP are the best hope for the country’s left. At the SNP conference, Sturgeon announced the creation of a state-controlled energy firm to compete in the energy market. And back in September, the BBC reported that the party announced a range of new bills that were generally seen as a leftward shift.
The SNP are certainly becoming more radical and bold, and so will Scottish Labour if (probably when) Richard Leonard becomes leader. And then there’s the Scottish Greens, who have long been a left-wing force in Scottish politics, as well as - to a lesser extent – the Liberal Democrats, who are now a clear centre-left force. However, there is no denying that their radicalism is a different flavour to that of the reds, yellows and greens.
Scotland’s left is now a competitive market-place, giving centre-left voters diverse, colourful menu at the ballot box. The risk for the SNP is that while the shift to the left could help stop them losing support to Labour, centrist SNP voters could become disaffected with the party. Those most strongly committed to independence are likely to stick with the SNP, but for those who value their ideology above their drive for separation it could be time to jump ship.
The question is: where will they go? Could a centrist/centre-right pro-independence party emerge? What could that mean for Scotland's politics?
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