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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
05 July 2024
The SNP should have seen this defeat coming

John Swinney | Alamy

The SNP should have seen this defeat coming

This is the first general election I’ve voted in that the result didn't feel like a foregone conclusion. I’m speaking in a Scottish context of course.  

The first two in 2017 and 2019 felt fairly inevitable that the SNP would win a majority of seats. And, of course, that happened to varying degrees. 

The constitutional argument dominated conversations I had in the lead up to 2017 and 2019. And I think that was the case for a lot of people, regardless of what side of the debate you fall on. That conversation simply didn’t happen in 2024. 

It has become very clear to me now that the conversation was only able to dominate in the way it did because there was a strong Scottish Government with a decent record promoting it. 

Ultimately, it has not been the case in the last few years, and the SNP’s failure to preside successfully over devolved matters has resulted in such a poor return of seats for the SNP.  

I agree that up until the results of the general election it had a mandate for another referendum, but that is not the case now. And regardless of what the SNP will say in the coming weeks and months about the case for independence, they have exhausted their options to secure a referendum any time soon.  

No ruling party at Westminster is going to grant one and seemingly all legal avenues have been explored unsuccessfully.  

The electorate knows independence is further away than at any point in the last decade. And if the SNP didn’t know that before the morning of 5 July, they do now. 

Whatever your views on independence, it simply has not been on the tip of anyone’s tongue. Not even the SNP’s. Despite it being on line one of page one of their manifesto, they simply did not campaign hard enough on that issue.  

Nicola Sturgeon said as much this morning on ITV – independence “wasn’t really put front and centre”.   

Frankly, I’m not sure what the SNP’s message was during its campaign. And they need to get a handle on the message quickly – 2026 isn’t far away. And by the way, don’t rule out Reform seats at Holyrood in 2026. 

John Swinney and Kate Forbes have less than two years to win back voters or face becoming the opposition. 

They need to get a handle on issues like poverty and drug deaths and understand what people’s priorities are. Affordable housing. Tangibly improving the NHS, and finally getting a grip on an education system that threatens to fail a generation. This is the only way to persuade the electorate back towards the SNP.  

Yesterday people voted for change. And now they’ve got a change in government time will tell whether people get the change they want. 

If they don’t get it right, they won’t get another chance to govern after the next election.  

The electorate voted for Tony Blair in 1997 because they wanted change, and his policies offered that. In 2024, people voted for Starmer to get rid of the Tories and the SNP. And make no mistake about it, this Labour majority is within 10 seats of the 1997 majority, but it’s far more fragile.    

If this government is seen to have failed by the time we return to the polls the far-right could pose a real challenge. 

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Read the most recent article written by Ruaraidh Gilmour - 1,800 affordable homes stalled due to Scottish Government funding cuts, says trade body.

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