Lend me your votes! – parties call for tactical voting on Brexit and independence in general election 2019
With the jolly festive election campaign now in full swing, all the parties are happily getting a ‘great response on the doors’ as they turn up like early carol singers, finding everyone they talk to is totally behind them and their policies and will definitely be voting for them on 12 December.
Meanwhile, Willie Rennie, out on the campaign trail, was seen dancing down Glasgow’s Ashton Lane with a parrot and a broomstick, like some demented elf.
But while the voters may (allegedly) be clear in their support, the parties seem to be having more difficulty holding on to their own members and elected representatives, with the recent trend for party swapping and calling on people to support the opposition carrying on with great gusto.
One of the latest in this pre-Christmas party game was Louis Stedman-Bryce, who resigned from the Brexit Party last week over its selection of a candidate in Glenrothes, Victor Robert Farrell, who was linked to homophobic comments on Facebook – even though the party had already withdrawn its support for Farrell the day before.
Stedman-Bryce was also concerned about the party’s changing position on Brexit, having stood down as a general election candidate the week before in protest at party leader Nigel Farage’s announcement that the Brexit Party would not stand in constituencies currently held by Conservatives.
Prior to that, former Labour MP Tom Harris, who was a junior transport minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, called for voters to support the Conservatives against his own party. The ex-MP, who once stood for the party leadership in Scotland, said he was backing Boris Johnson “in order to protect the country I love” and suggested that Jeremy Corbyn could not be trusted with either national security or the union.
The SNP, on the other hand, got a boost, with former Labour MSP Anne McTaggart and former Liberal Democrat provost of Fife Frances Melville both announcing they were now backing the Scottish Nationalists.
There have been other early candidate losses too. Labour candidate for Gordon Kate Ramsden withdrew from the election over a blog post she had written criticising Israel and Labour’s Edinburgh South West candidate, Frances Hoole, was dropped by the party for posting a reference to her SNP opponent, Joanna Cherry, using the abusive term ‘terf’. The Tories also lost a candidate, with Ryan Houghton suspended as the party’s candidate for Aberdeen North over alleged anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and homophobic comments he had made seven years ago.
The first couple of weeks of general election campaigning have been as much about the parties persuading people who don’t support them to vote for them anyway as gaining real support, with parties calling for tactical voting around Brexit and independence.
The first to this was Scottish Conservative MSP Annie Wells, who, as a former Labour supporter herself, called for unionist Labour supporters to “lend” their vote to the Tories.
Clearly pitching to the right of the Labour party, she said: “Labour and Conservative supporters won’t agree on every issue, but most of us can agree that we want to stop Nicola Sturgeon from getting indyref2. It’s clearer every day that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour won’t stand up to the SNP. Corbyn is ready to give Nicola Sturgeon another referendum as the price for the keys to Number 10. So this isn’t about choosing whether you’re Labour or Conservative. I’m just asking you to lend your vote to the Scottish Conservatives so we can all tell her again, we said no in 2014 and we meant it.”
Labour described it as a “desperate appeal”.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford targeted Labour and Lib Dem voters from the other side, calling on them to “lend” their votes to the SNP as the only party that can defeat the Tories in Scotland, presenting an SNP win as the way to escape Brexit and deprive Boris Johnson of the majority he needs.
He said: “As recent election results and polls have shown, Labour and the Lib Dems are too weak to take the Tories on in Scotland. The SNP is by far the strongest Remain party, the only party that can beat the Tories, and the only party offering people in Scotland a choice over our future. My message to people across Scotland, who have previously voted Labour or Lib Dem, is lend your votes to the SNP at this crucial election – so we can defeat the Tories, ensure Scotland has a choice over our future, and remain at the heart of the EU.”
Three prominent SNP former Labour members, health secretary Jeane Freeman, Edinburgh East candidate Tommy Sheppard and recent convert Anne McTaggart, also wrote an open letter calling on Labour supporters to “lend their vote to the SNP at this election” in order to “take the Tories head on and boot Boris Johnson out of government”.
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems claimed that “only the Lib Dems can take seats from the SNP” – rather improbable given that they only came second in one seat in 2017 and, despite recent gains, they are not considered the main challengers in any other SNP-held seats.
There has been some genuine campaigning too, though. Ahead of manifesto launches there were some early policy promises, including Labour announcing it will offer universal free broadband and promising £100bn of extra funding for Scotland, the SNP promising to bring forward an NHS protection bill, the Conservatives focusing on delivering Brexit, but with promises of increased public spending announced at the last spending review, and the Lib Dems promising an extra £100bn to tackle climate change.
Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn made early visits to Scotland, but without an obvious positive effect on support. Corbyn, who is keen to talk about policies other than the constitution, ended up having to talk repeatedly about the constitution after he managed, within the space of 24 hours, to change party policy from no independence referendum in the early days of a Labour government, to no independence referendum in the first two years of a Labour government, then not in the first term of a Labour government, then back to not in the early years again, virtually guaranteeing he would be asked about it ad nauseam.
Even the Conservatives, who normally have a watertight clear line on independence, introduced some doubt about their policy. While Johnson continued to maintain that he would “never” give permission for a second independence referendum as long as he was prime minister, Scottish secretary Alister Jack surprisingly went off message, saying that a Section 30 order was a “matter for 2021” and that an outright majority for the SNP at the Scottish Parliament election would be considered a mandate for an independence referendum as it had in 2011.
But some of the most heated campaigning so far has not been in the election itself, but over who gets to take part in the TV election debates, with a head-to-head between the leaders of the Conservatives and Labour arguably no longer reflecting the current make-up of Westminster or the significance of other parties, particularly if there is another hung parliament.
Court cases relating to politics have become more common in recent months, so it should perhaps be no surprise that the general election saw the Lib Dems and the SNP taking ITV to court over its decision to exclude them from last Tuesday’s election debate. Although they lost the case, missing out on that particular debate will probably not have much of an impact, with the general feeling being that it was not really a gamechanger for either campaign.
The most significant discussion in the aftermath was not the debate itself, but criticism of the Conservatives, who changed the party’s Twitter handle during the debate to ‘factcheckUK’, something that has been widely condemned as misleading, including by Twitter itself.
But perhaps the most shocking thing is that this sordid attempt at fake news, which follows previous dishonesty by the party in releasing a doctored video of Labour’s Keir Starmer, will probably not harm their support in the long-run. In the debate, Johnson said “truth matters” and the audience laughed. It is now more or less a given.
And with constitutional issues so entrenched, it is questionable what will genuinely shift voters in this unusual election. The launch of manifestos and further debates involving more parties would normally lead to more detailed discussion of policy, but with the election in Scotland swinging on the dual axes of Brexit and independence, it may be less about parties gathering genuine support than people ‘lending their vote’ to one that reflects their constitutional position that could give the Tories or Labour their early Christmas present of the keys to Number 10.