In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

The Warrant


The votes are in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections. (Edited: Wikimedia Commons)

In the 2015 General Election, the Scottish National Party (SNP) dominated the parliamentary elections: winning 56 out of 59 seats, and 50% of the popular vote. The Labour Party, which had been the largest parliamentary party in Scotland since 1955, was reduced to a single MP [1].


The SNP achieved 50% of the summed constituency votes. (Source: BBC)

“Traditional Labour values”

The fate of Scotland became a battlefield in the Labour leadership contest. As the Financial Times wrote [2]:

Mr Corbyn’s backers say his appeal to traditional Labour values, including strong backing for the unions and a leading role for the state in the economy, can rebuild support for the party after its crushing defeat by the Scottish National party.

Diane Abbott MP (Labour, Hackney) claimed that Mr Corbyn was “well-placed” to restore the party’s successes north of Hadrian’s Wall [3]:

We lost in Scotland to a party that was anti-austerity, in favour of universal benefits and in favour of scrapping Trident. We are ignoring the 40 seats we lost in Scotland… Jeremy is well-placed to get back some of those voters.

Indeed, on the campaign trail for his eventual leadership, Mr Corbyn spoke of his “moral opposition to nuclear weapons” [4], “a fairer, kinder Britain”, and how winning back Scotland was the top priority for his leadership [5].

The underlying hypothesis

The underlying hypothesis is that Scottish Labour lost primarily due to being insufficiently left-wing, rather than because it was against Scottish secession in the 2014 independence referendum.

By considering segmentation by Scottish referendum voting intention, the parties became much better sorted by their views in that referendum [6]. In plain terms, a greater percentage of Scottish voters who supported ‘Yes’ in the referendum also supported the SNP, after the referendum had taken place.

Craig McAngus, a research fellow at the University of Stirling, wrote on the LSE Blogs that [7]:

Indeed the more left-wing you are, the more likely you are to be unhappy with the constitutional status quo, and presumably still committed to Scottish independence. Many voters who may well be receptive to Corbyn if they lived in other parts of the UK would therefore be likely to place a lot of blame on Labour for its role in securing a No vote. They are unlikely to be quickly or easily be tempted to vote for the party for the foreseeable future.


SNP voters’ political bias 2015 by how they voted in the Independence Referendum. (Source: British Election Study/LSE Blogs)

Whilst it is for analysts to pore over surveys to consider why people voted the way they did, what matters for electoral success are the actual votes. There were a variety of elections on Thursday 5th May 2016, including elections for the Scottish Parliament.

The test

It was the first test for Scottish Labour, under the leadership of Kezia Dugdale MSP, after Jeremy Corbyn’s ascension in September 2015.

The results were rather startling: the SNP remained dominant, but lost their overall majority in the additional member parliamentary system [8]. There was a 9.2% drop in Labour’s share of the Holyrood constituency vote, with Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives now just 0.6% beneath Ms Dugdale’s Labour share.


The SNP also crept up by 1.1%. (Source: BBC)

In the constituency elections, the SNP won 59 of the 73 seats, with the Conservatives winning seven, the Liberal Democrats obtaining four, and Labour picking up three. Labour previously had 15 constituency seats in the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Parliament also has a regional vote, and the d’Hondt method of proportional representation, where each party starts with its constituency seats, for 56 additional members [9]. In the regional vote, the SNP were still first: on 41.7%, which was a noticeable decline from 44.0% in the 2011 elections. The Conservatives had grown their regional vote share from 12.3% to 22.9%. In contrast, Labour fell from 26.3% to 19.1% in the 2016 elections.


This is the state of Holyrood after the elections. (Source: BBC)

Consequently, Labour are now the third party in Scottish politics, with 24 seats to the Conservative’s 31 in the whole Parliament. The SNP had slipped slightly below the number of seats needed for a majority, with 63 out of 129 seats, but are likely to pursue a minority administration.

A false assumption

Claiming that Mr Corbyn’s Labour leadership would be the spark for the party’s glorious revival in Scotland was totally, and completely, erroneous. It was built on the false assumption that “nationalism had nothing to do with what has happened in Scotland”, as Mhairi Black MP (SNP, Paisley and Renfrewshire South) stated in her maiden speech [10].

A political proposition has clashed with reality. What will fall first: the incorrect idea or the connection to reality?


[1] BBC, 2015. Election 2015 Results – Scotland. Available from: [Accessed: 6th May 2016]

[2] Dickie, M., 2015. Jeremy Corbyn creates dilemma for Scottish Labour. Financial Times. Available from: [Accessed: 6th May 2016]

[3] Turbett, L., 2015. Would Jeremy Corbyn Win Back Scotland for Labour? Vice. Available from: [Accessed: 6th May 2016]

[4] BBC, 2015. UK Labour leader election hopeful Jeremy Corbyn holds on Scottish campaign tour. Available from: [Accessed: 6th May 2016]

[5] Ashmore, J., 2015. Jeremy Corbyn puts Scottish recovery top of his priorities for Labour leadership. Holyrood. Available from: [Accessed: 6th May 2016]

[6] Masters, A., 2015. What happened in Scotland? In Defence of Liberty. Available from: [Accessed: 6th May 2016]

[7] McAngus, C., 2015. Could a Corbyn leadership revive Scottish Labour? LSE. Available from: [Accessed: 6th May 2016]

[8] BBC, 2016. Elections 2016 Results – Scotland. Available from: [Accessed: 6th May 2016]

[9] Kerr, A., 2016. How does the voting system for the Scottish Parliament work? STV News. Available from: [Accessed: 6th May 2016]

[10] Parliament, 2016. House of Commons Hansard Debates for 14 July 2015 (0002). Available from: [Accessed: 6th May 2016]



This entry was posted on May 9, 2016 by in National Politics and tagged , , , , , .
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