Written by Luna Webster
This year’s general election is predicted to be, well, unpredictable. Multiple spanners have been thrown into the Westminster works in the form of child abuse scandals, tax controversy, Nigel Farage and of course the growth of several parties that have previously been considered by most as outsiders. Of course, one of the parties that appear to be becoming a force to be reckoned with is the SNP.
The day after the result of the Scottish independence referendum, the SNP’s membership trebled, causing it to become the third biggest party in the UK, just behind Labour and the Conservatives. For a party with only six members of parliament at Westminster this soaring popularity shows a definite change of political mood within Scotland. But Scotland voted no – so why is the nation giving support to the party built on the ideology of independence?
It’s a strange turn around. Although only four areas voted for independence in September, new polls by Ipsis Mori are suggesting the Scottish Nationals could win all but four Scottish seats come May. How have attitudes changed so quickly? I sat down with Stephen Gethins, MP candidate for the SNP in North East Fife and former party advisor, to ask how the party for independence can gain support from those who strongly oppose it. “People who voted yes really wanted to see more powers and the only party pushing for more powers is the SNP. There are lot of people who voted no who voted no on the basis of getting more powers and feel really let down by the Smith Commission.”
This is all understandable, but it’s practically unheard of for a party that’s had multiple terms in government to see its support actively rise as general election time approaches. What is the SNP doing that other parties aren’t? Mr Gethins thought it was all a matter of trust. “The SNP have had seven, nearly eight years in government. Liberal Democrats have had five years. Now why is it that the SNP is popular after seven years in government and the Liberal Democrats are unpopular after five years in government? I’ll tell you why I think it is. When you’re in government, whether the people agree with you or disagree with you, the SNP kept its promises. It made promises on the Tay Bridge tolls, first thing it did, the day after the SNP came in, the Tay Bridge tolls went. Tuition fees went. Ambitious climate change legislation was introduced and the SNP had an independence referendum and whether you agreed with that or not, that was the SNP’s policy and that’s what they did.”
It’s looking like despite its desires to untie Scotland’s links with the UK parliament, the SNP is set to send a fair few MPs down to Westminster in May. Despite the promising poll rate of 40% and over it’s important to consider first time voters. Polls aren’t entirely representative because they require participants to have previously voted to be questioned – but let’s think about young people’s relationship with the SNP. The SNP is responsible for Scottish youth not having to pay tuition fees and additionally gave 16 and 17 year olds their first taste of democracy in action when they were allowed to vote in the referendum. If you add to this the fact that Lord Ashcroft’s poll showed 51% of 16-24 year olds voted yes, you’ve got a very strong likelihood of an even bigger SNP popularity increase on general election day.
But if the SNP does win 55 seats in May as one poll predicted, where will it go from there? Is a coalition on the tables? It has said that it would only team up with Labour if major changes were made to Trident but that circumstance seems a little too farfetched, even if this is the general election where anything could happen. So ruling that option out, where will it go? To the Tories?
Ok – that scenario is probably a little too out there. When I spoke to Conservative candidate Huw Bell he reassured me that an SNP/Tory coalition was out of the question. “There’d be no way I’d have a British government with the SNP. It’s unthinkable.” That’s that then.
Perhaps the SNP doesn’t even need to go into government to have a real influence within Westminster – Stephen Gethins certainly didn’t see that as a priority. For him and his party, the main concern seems to be putting out a strong campaign in order to send people to London who will genuinely represent the needs of Scotland. “The referendum changed things and I think that people want to see a group of MPs who argue Scotland’s corner and want to get more powers back so ironically, I want to be elected to an institution which I want to see stripped of powers.”