Whilst most readers will be unable to vote for them (bar any rogue students studying at Scottish universities who have stumbled upon this article), it would be unfair to cover the 2017 General Election without including analysis of the ever-growing Scottish National Party and their recently released 2017 manifesto.
Who are the Scottish National Party?
The Scottish National Party – or SNP for short – is currently the party with the largest political presence in Scotland. Formed in 1934, the party had little success in general elections until 2015, when an impressive campaign headed by current party leader Nicola Sturgeon led to the SNP winning an absolute majority of seats in Scotland for the first time ever (54 of 59, up 50 from 2010). The SNP has been previously described as a social-democratic party, and has made a name for itself in recent years as a dominant nationalist party that supports Scottish independence from the UK – a stance that was brought into the limelight repeatedly by Alex Salmond during his time as the leader of the SNP, and one which eventually prompted the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
So, what is in their manifesto?
Surprisingly, no policy takes centre-stage in the SNP’s 2017 manifesto. The large focus placed on Brexit and a second independence referendum by Sturgeon in recent public announcements has not been mirrored in the official publication released on Tuesday 30th May. The document does, however, address several key issues that have been at the centre of debate in both Scotland and England. Sturgeon and her party outline a plan aimed at reducing and potentially ending austerity before 2022 by releasing north of £115bn for public spending over the next five-year period. This ‘for the people’ mentality is echoed by several other policies, such as a focus on reducing inequality and poverty, voting against zero-hour contracts, increasing jobs and the Minimum Wage, voting to scrap the two-child cap on tax credits, and voting against the controversial tax credits Rape Clause. Not only this, but the SNP would vote to roll back the Conservatives’ decision to privatise the NHS. The manifesto also makes it clear that the Scottish parliament should be at the table when Brexit negotiations between Westminster and the EU take place. This is a reasonable request, seeing as Scotland is still currently part of the UK – for now, at least. The final main policy in the manifesto places an emphasis on Scottish parliament’s growing desire to gain greater autonomy from the UK and shift the focus of power towards Holyrood and away from the Houses of Parliament. There is nothing unexpected in the manifesto, at least not at first glance. If anything, it is slightly predictable, though this is not a bad thing. Nicola Sturgeon has brought most of these policies into the limelight throughout the campaigning process in recent weeks, and the range of policies makes the SNP look far less independence-focused than it was prior to the 2015 General Election.
How are they expected to do in the general election?
An opinion poll run by The Times and YouGov in late April suggests the SNP holds a 13-point lead over second-placed Conservatives, though poll. Since Theresa May announced in early April that she intended to hold a general election in June, the Scottish Conservatives have reduced their deficit by several points at the expense of the SNP and Scottish Labour. However, the SNP has been shown to consistently lead the polls by a fair margin. This, of course, could be completely irrelevant come election day; opinion polls tend to predict the likely outcome, but are not always accurate, and usually only involve a small sample size. Short(ish) answer – no one knows for sure, but if they carry on doing what they are doing then they are likely to keep the majority of their seats.
Should anyone from outside of Scotland care about the SNP?
Yes, absolutely. Whilst most of us will have no impact whatsoever on who votes for which party in Scotland on the 8th June, it is important to bear in mind that the ministers elected in Scotland can still attend the House of Commons and influence the decisions made in parliament. And Scottish MPs have made themselves heard in the House of Commons on several occasions – 22-year-old Mhairi Black’s maiden speech being a strong example. You may not be able to vote for SNP, but it is important to know what they stand for, and the impact that a continued SNP majority in Scottish constituencies could have on Westminster. In fact, it is worth keeping an eye on Scottish politics in general in the run-up to the general election. Politicians from the major parties in England also compete for seats in Scottish constituencies, and a loss of seats by the SNP could lead to Scottish Labour or Scottish Conservatives gaining power within Scotland. Recent polls suggest that there may be a Conservative resurgence in Scotland, which is a stark contrast compared to the previously Labour-heavy Scottish parliament of five or ten years ago.