John Curtice: Corbyn surge and tactical unionism key factors behind loss of SNP MPs

Brexit less of a factor in Scotland than England and Wales in historic election

THE UK’s leading polling expert, Professor John Curtice, has said that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s success and unionist tactical voting in Tory gains were twin factors behind the SNP’s loss of 21 MPs in the General Election.

Speaking to CommonSpace, the professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde said that the ‘Corbyn surge’ towards the end of the short seven week campaign, combined with the willingness of some Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrat voters to switch to the Tories, squeezed the SNP vote.

He also noted that the SNP had simply taken fewer pro-independence votes on 8 June than in the 2015 General Election, when the SNP won an unprecedented 56 seats.

He said: “Virtually all the opinion polls show that around 75 per cent of those who voted [Yes] in 2014 and stated a preference for the general election voted for the SNP.

“That’s down from an almost 90 per cent figure in 2015.”

Speaking about the impact of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who had a euphoric campaign charatersied by mass rallies, he said: “The late Labour surge was strong among younger voters and that seems to have shaved a bit off the SNP vote.”

“The late Labour surge was strong among younger voters and that seems to have shaved a bit off the SNP vote.” John Curtice

He went on to say the SNP had suffered at the hands of “the impact of the Corbyn surge…the SNP undoubtedly lost out as a result of some of that.”

Polls by Lord Ashcroft have found that roughly twice as many voters went from the SNP to Labour, at 12 per cent, as went from SNP to the Tories, at six per cent. Asked if this confirmed independence support as essentially leftwing Curtice said: “I’ve not looked at that aspect of the Aschroft poll, but it certainly makes sense. What else will be true is that, in so far as Labour was losing votes it was probably losing them to the Tories.”

Curtice also said it was perfectly clear that the Scottish Tories had benefited from some tactical voting by unionists.

“Nine of the 12 constituencies the Tories won, its perfectly clear that Labour and Lib Dem voters switched in favour of the Tories,” he said. “The differences between the unionist parties on Brexit doesn’t seem to act as an impediment to that movement.”

Curtice also said that Brexit had played less of a role in the election in Scotland than in other parts of the UK.

Read more -‘Don’t wobble’: Independence figures respond to the #GE2017 setback for SNP

He said: “The relationship between Brexit votes and how people voted in the Scottish elections is less strongly related to peoples voting choice than is their September 2014 vote. The other reason why Brexit is relatively un-important is that, in England in Wales, there’s a very strong relationship between how well the Tories did and the size of the Leave vote.

“Then Scotland stands out by a country mile because you’ve got a higher remain vote than anywhere else.

“Putting all that together, I’d suggest Brexit was relatively unimportant north of the border.”

In the aftermath of the SNP’s reduction of seats, which saw the party lose figures like deputy leader Angus Robertson and former party leader Alex Salmond, former MP for East Lothian George Kerevan criticised the party’s campaign and called for the SNP to move to the left.

Party leftist Tommy Sheppard has announced he will seek nomination for SNP Westminster group leader, a position formerly held by Robertson.

Picture courtesy the Liberal Democrats 

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Tue, 06/13/2017 - 12:09

Professor Curtice's findings seem to chime with my gut reactions.
It does reveal a new political landscape and it will be whoever proves themselves capable of adapting to the change in 'affairs of men', that will dominate Scottish politics. As Keynes said 'when the facts change Sir I change my mind, what do you do?'


Tue, 06/13/2017 - 14:52

Professor Curtice's findings do not chime with the published data.

*Labour 2015 = 707,147 votes; 2017 = 717,007.
*SNP 2015 = 1,454,436 votes; 2017 = 977,569 votes.
*Conservatives 2015 = 434,097 votes; 2017 = 757,949 votes.
*Turnout 2015 = 71.1% ; 2017 = 66.4%

In summary: Labour virtually unchanged (no "tactical voting"), Conservatives up a lot, SNP down a lot more, and a lot of people didn't bother.


Tue, 06/13/2017 - 17:01

@MauriceBishop: Virtually no change in the overall number of votes for a party certainly does not mean no change in who voted for that party.
The above research showed twice as many going from SNP to Labour as SNP to Tory. The inevitable conclusion is that an almost equal number did what until this election was almost unthinkable in Scottish terms - moved from Labour to Tory to keep the Labour vote virtually static.
How about these approximations for a scenario:
- almost 200K SNP 2015 votes were lost to apathy/disillusion (turnout dropped)
- 200k votes went from SNP to Labour (Corbyn effect, return to normal patterns, etc...)
- 100K votes went from SNP to Tory (SNP supporters who don't want independence, pro-Brexit SNP support)
- 200K votes went from Labour to Tory (where the Union is more an issue than conservatism)
The net effect is roughly what we saw. Add in the tactical shift of 40K LibDem votes in key constituencies and you end up with a result like Thursday.


Tue, 06/13/2017 - 18:49

@Mcameron, You are right insofar that there could have been a massive movement from SNP to Labour and also Labour to Tory, but Occam's Razor suggests otherwise. That such a large movement from SNP to Labour should so mirror a movement from Labour to Tory to mean that Labour's overall vote is virtually unchanged, is a hell of a coincidence.

You'll note that the numbers quoted in the article above were percentages and without a lot of context provided.

You should also bear in mind where the the 2015 SNP vote came from. A lot of it came from the Tories and Lib Dems (as well as from disenchanted Labour voters) who happily and tactically voted SNP, with Indyref out of the way, to slash the Labour vote. As Eric Joyce said, they've probably just gone 'hame' this time, making the SNP vote more reflective of the actual support for the party.

You seem to want to believe that the SNP vote is all left wing, and therefore most of what it shed went Labour and what's left of the Labour vote is essentially Blairite and prepared to vote Tory. Even if you are right, what you are forgetting is that a lot of the 2015 SNP vote came from Tory and Lib Dem voters in order for it to jump by almost a million votes. Yes, a lot more people voted in 2015 than in 2010, but it is reasonable to assume that they didn't all have the same political persuasion beforehand.

I'm not saying that there was no Scottish Labour move to The Tories, particular amongst strong Unionist Labour supporters, and perhaps there was some movement from SNP to Labour too, but for these movements to be both significant and to happen to cancel each other out, seems to be a bit of a stretch.

It seems far more likely that these numbers who may have moved from SNP to Labour and Labour to Tory, are probably going to be much lower than you suggest, and that the picture at a constituency level is probably quite convoluted,too,

I think SNP supporters need to accept that there were a lot of centre and centre-right voters, who don't necessarily have strong party ties, who previously voted SNP for tactical reasons, and whilst SNP support is indicative of Indy support, the Indy movement has far more broader appeal than that.

It was predicted that voters would align behind the SNP and the Tories, and now the Tory vote has gone 'hame', it is putting the SNP vote at a level below overall support of Indy. That seems about right to me.

Jim Cassidy's picture

Jim Cassidy

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 02:54

Clearly the UKIP vote this time went to the Tories, but that still doesn’t account for the huge Tory rise. Realistically those votes didn’t come from the SNP in huge numbers. There is the possibility that some 2015 SNP voters went to Labour at the same time that the hard-line British Nationalists shipped out to the Tories, but that still leaves thousands of SNP voters who failed to come back and endorse them on Thursday. Did they think that becauseof those huge majorities the job was done and that these were now safe seats or have they been turned away altogether?


Sun, 06/18/2017 - 18:32

Jim, further to my earlier comment, where I looked at the results at a national level, I have now looked at the results by constituency, and whilst there are a few exceptions, the results are the same across Scotland: SNP voters went Tory far more than they went Labour.

The overall story is not simple, but that should be the headline. Yes, there was some tactical voting from Labour to Tory, and certainly there was from Lib Dem to Tory, and what UKIP vote there was (not much) seems to have went Tory or stayed home.

Yes, the vote was down too, from 2015, and that may explain some of the voting reduction for the SNP, but again, all this pales against the numbers that went SNP to Tory.

To put that in context, you need to go back to the elections of 2005/2010. It is all the more clear now that the 2015 SNP vote was artificially high with tactical voters, probably looking to take advantage of the SNP surge to unseat Scottish Labour MPs.

The SNP vote went up by one million in 2015, and went down half a million in 2017. After 2015, this is of course a disappointment for the SNP and many independence supporters, however, this really paints a more realistic picture of SNP that was clouded by the 2015 election.

Don't forget that that Indy support is across party lines, even if much of it has aligned behind the SNP. The SNP isn't Indy and vice-versa.

So for those that think anything has changed, they are right only insofar as it is clearer that nothing has really changed since before the general election, in terms of Scottish independence. Independence still has a majority in the Scottish Parliament and the matter of a formal request to hold another referendum on Independence remains outstanding.

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