Helicopter view of the 2017 GE results: A Tale of Two Parties  

Analysis of the 2017 General Election by our Vice-chair Lesley Brennan.

Ninety-nine per cent of constituencies in England and Wales experienced higher turnouts. Orkney and Shetland was the only constituency in Scotland to see a rise in its turnout, which is unsurprising, as there was a significant number of SNP voters, who were dissatisfied with their Party’s performance and consequently didn’t vote. So, in 98% of Scottish constituencies voter turnout was lower than 2015; however, the 2015 general election was exceptional, including the higher than normal turnout figures.  

The Labour Party across GB increased its number of votes in 607 out of 632 (96%) constituencies; however, the Tories also increased their voters in 92% the constituencies. The losers were the smaller parties, including the SNP.   

Table 2 allows comparison of the voting shifts and illuminates that Labour did significantly better in the rest of GB than in Scotland.  To reiterate these increases in votes were not restricted to Labour strongholds with only 24 constituencies not seeing an increase in Labour voters, and 21 of these seats were in Scotland; however, two of these constituencies returned a new Scottish Labour MP:  

Rutherglen and Hamilton West, and, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. So, whilst Scottish Labour lost votes in comparison to 2015 in some areas, the SNP haemorrhaged votes across Scotland. In Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, the SNP had a 10,000 majority over Labour in 2015, but in 2017 lost 10,871 votes and Scottish Labour dropped 638, which allowed Labour to gain this seat. In Rutherglen and Hamilton West, whilst Scottish Labour lost 1,203 votes, the SNP eroded from their majority 11,443, and Scottish Labour won.  

Table 3 shows further analysis at constituency level, which illuminates the scale of the shifts. So, across GB, Labour generally increased its number of votes by 5,883 per constituency; however, in Scotland, it was only 550.   

Labour Votes and the missed opportunities

Scottish Labour’s framing of the election around the SNP and the constitution, avoided robustly challenging the Tories on their record in government at Westminster. Feedback from the doorstep was indicating people were fed up with the SNP; however, Labour’s disunity – especially with senior figures in Scottish Labour’s leadership team being openly hostile towards Jeremy Corbyn – turned people off. Moreover, the Scottish Tories managed to decouple themselves from David Cameron’s and Teresa May’s governments, and present themselves as being an effective opposition to the SNP. By not challenging effectively the Tories’ record in government since 2010 and focussing on the SNP, Scottish Labour’s strategists – still in the Better Together mind-set – tacitly oversaw the Scottish Tories increase their votes by approximately 5,500 in the average constituency (the Tories increased their votes across GB by 21%).  

The SNP suffered significant losses in terms of seats and majorities, with the average constituency seeing a collapse of approximately 8,500; however, the majority of this went to the Tories. Scottish Labour’s strategists need to shift away from chasing Tory voters and fully harness Jeremy Corbyn’s transformational programme of government to win votes from people, who are experiencing (and/or concerned about) hardships due to austerity and the unfair economy.  

The ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ effect saw the Labour vote increase by over one-third across GB (38%); however, in Scotland, where the Scottish Party led an anti-SNP campaign with the ‘send Nicola a message’ narrative that almost silenced Jeremy’s message of ‘for the many’, only saw a very small increase of 1% as Table 4 shows. Yet, this is better than many pollsters predicted at the start of the campaign. The more positive landing place is generally accepted due to Jeremy Corbyn’s national campaign.  

After 15 months of a hostile PLP and media, the turning point of the campaign was the leaked draft manifesto and Jeremy Corbyn talking directly to voters, Jeremy’s campaign cut through the Scottish Labour message.  This saw a surge of people opting to vote  Labour for a better future. Unfortunately, by the time the momentum gathered the majority of the postal votes were cast. Yet, this ‘Corbyn bounce’ in a last few weeks of the campaign coupled with the collapse of SNP majorities saw an additional six Scottish Labour MPs returned to Westminster and many new marginals. 

Moving forward

The priority must be keeping the momentum of Jeremy’s campaign going and planning ways to sustain this for the forthcoming 18 months; especially, given the SNP’s concern that after another snap general election they could be down to three MPs. Thus, Scottish Labour activists need to work together to engage communities and voters to deliver for the many and getting rid of this Tory government for the few.