Despite the fact that many Scots are still opposed to independence, a recent poll by The Daily Record found that the Scottish National Party (SNP) is likely to pick-up 56% of the popular vote at next year’s Holyrood election - a lead of 36% over the Labour Party. At this year’s general election, the SNP won 56 out of 59 of Scottish constituencies. In recent years many have joked that ‘there are more pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs’. Those who recited this pun probably never thought that they would be able to say the same about the number of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs in Scotland. Normally a stronghold for the Labour in particular, there is no immediate hope of the party returning to a position of dominance in Scottish politics. Thus, the question remains: how did this happen?
Undoubtedly, many Scots are fed up with the mainstream Westminster parties. Since 1997, the Conservative Party has struggled to gain more than one MP north of the border. Moreover, following the advent of New Labour, progressives in Westminster have slowly lost their grip on Scotland. The SNP has capitalised on Labour’s shift to the centre ground and won successive Scottish parliamentary elections since 2007. The popularity of the Liberal Democrats has sunk since Nick Clegg’s decision to form a coalition with the Tories in 2010. Many of those constituencies held by well-known Scottish Liberal Democrats, like Danny Alexander and Charles Kennedy, fell to the SNP charge.
If anything, the general election has proved to the mainstream parties that there is no such thing as a safe seat in Scotland anymore. However, if Jeremy Corbyn wins the Labour leadership election, as so many commentators predict he will, regaining votes in Scotland will be highly important to his electoral arithmetic. Despite this, the enthusiasm of Scottish voters towards the SNP does not appear to be waning.
This is dangerous political territory for Scottish politics. Many Scots are voting with their hearts, supporting the SNP due to the party's anti-establishment attraction, rather than on the basis of policies. Indeed, The Daily Telegraph has reported that the number of teachers in Scotland has fallen by 4,000 since 2007. The party has also been accused of failing to reduce Accident and Emergency waiting times and cleanliness in hospitals since 2007. And yet, despite these significant failings, the SNP is still expected to win 56% of the Scottish vote, if not more. Instead of assessing the SNP’s failures in government, many Scots are using Sturgeon’s party as a protest vote against the 'Westminster bubble'. This has left the Scottish government unaccountable for its incompetence.
The answer to this crisis is for a credible alternative to emerge. With Labour in meltdown, the Scottish Conservatives have an opportunity to emerge as the authentic voice of unionism in Scotland. Ruth Davidson’s party can also provide the Scottish people with an alternative to the utopian anti-austerity agenda of the SNP. If a new opposition to the SNP does not emerge, who knows how much more dangerous Scottish politics will become after 2016.