Tommy Sheppard: SNP must respond to wake up call of Corbyn effect after #GE17

SNP MP says 2015 success in conservative areas "probably won't ever happen again"

by Neil Dallimore and David Jamieson

LEADING SNP MP Tommy Sheppard has said the SNP's loss of voters to Jeremy Corbyn's Labour message is a "wake up call" for the party.

The MP for Edinburgh East, who withdrew from a bid to lead the SNP's reduced Westminster parliamentary group on Tuesday (13 June), called on the party to recognise the need for leftwing politics to keep the SNP relevant in an era of sharp political polarisation.

The SNP lost 21 seats on 8 June, down from 56 seats of 59 in the 2015 General Election, to 35 - still more than all other parties combined.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Sheppard also argued that the SNP's historic success in the 2015 General Election was unlikely to be repeated again, and that some parts of Scotland are conservative and beyond the reach of a leftwing party like the SNP or Labour.

"We lost seats and we need to take that seriously, I think it’s a wake-up call, particularly in the urban areas where we now have a challenge from Labour because of Corbyn." Tommy Sheppard

Sheppard said: "The biggest effect I think, certainly the biggest effect in my area, was the fact that, what you might call the Corbyn effect, you know, people who voted for independence in 2014 and then voted for SNP in 2015 and maybe even 2016 and quite a number of them have decided to lend their vote to Corbyn.

"We lost seats and we need to take that seriously, I think it’s a wake-up call, particularly in the urban areas where we now have a challenge from Labour because of Corbyn."

Sheppard, who was assistant general secretary of Scottish Labour under John Smith, proposed his leadership of the parliamentary group as a "focus on our left flank" and a re-assertion of the SNP as "Scotland's radical voice". He presented the SNP as a party that could both resist austerity and democratise the UK's highly centralised and militarist state.

He said the SNP could even show up Labour by being more radical on the abolition of Trident nuclear weapons based on the Clyde, and in its bid for democratic reform.

He called off his bid on 13 June, saying in a statement that he had failed to secure sufficient support from his parliamentary colleagues. He pledged to continue to argue for a change in direction and also support the new parliamentary group's leader.

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

The next day Ian Blackford MP took up the post of Westminster group leader, pledging to focus on Brexit.

Sheppard also told CommonSpace that some conservative areas of Scotland should be seen as "probably" unwinable for the SNP or Labour, and that the 2015 result, when the SNP extended its political hegemony across Scotland, was a "fluke".

He said:"I think things are settling down to what you might expect from the history and democracy of the different areas of Scotland. We have affluent rural areas which is over-laced by the Brexit debate and they’ve gone back to the Tories.

"But Aberdeenshire [West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine] really has always been conservative, it’s just the size of the seat that matters. We won Aberdeenshire [West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine], in what you can only describe as a fluke, two years ago, probably won’t ever happen again.

"There are areas of Scotland that are Tory and neither Labour nor ourselves would expect to control the whole country."

Read more – New SNP Westminster leader side-steps calls for firmer leftwing approach 

He said this reality had to be taken into account when undertsanding what the election meant for the cause of independence, and for the debate around the timing of a second referendum.

Evidence from polling has emerged in recent days to confirm the view that the SNP was hit most strongly on its left flank during the election. Survation has found that 25 per cent of Scottish Labour voters in the General Election were pro-independence. Polling by Lord ashcroft has found that twice as many SNP voters, at 12 per cent, switched from SNP to Labour as switched from SNP to Tory.

Leading poll expert, Professor John Curtice, told CommonSpace that the appeal of Corbynism to leftwing independence supporters was a key factor in the SNP's loss of 21 seats. Following the election, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would "reflect carefully" on the results.

The instability of the of Theresa May's UK Government, which lost its overall majority in the House of Commons, means that another election may be called before the end of the year.

UPDATE 19/06/2017 4.25pm: This article was updated to clarify that Tommy Sheppard was referring to West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine during our interview, as opposed to Aberdeenshire as a whole area. Our article reflected the transcript of the interview accurately, but we accept that Mr Sheppard had intended his comments to refer to a particular seat and are happy to update.

Read more – Leading SNP activists call for Scottish Government to adopt ‘Renew’ leftwing platform

Picture: Facebook/Tommy Sheppard

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