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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Fri, 06/16/2017 - 15:13

"He presented the SNP as a party that could both resist austerity and democratise the UK's highly centralised and militarist state."

No area of the UK is more centralised than Scotland is under the SNP. Everything that isn't nailed down is being moved into the Central Belt.


Fri, 06/16/2017 - 15:17

Writing off areas that were SNP strongholds for 30 years because of one bad election seems to be a bit of a strategic boo-boo, to say the least.


Sat, 06/17/2017 - 00:25

If the Westminster MPs were solely responsible for rejecting left wing
Tommy as leader it speaks volumes about THEIR inability to read the mood of the Scottish and British electorate. Victims of the Westminster bubble perhaps.
Don't they understand that the Scottish electorate didn't shift its allegiance to the SNP because of the quality of their candidates, elloquence of their speeches or their deeply held belief in independence.

They saw Scottish Labour's lurch to the right during the Blair years. Scottish voters were propelled into the arms of an SNP who had stolen labours clothes with policies like free university tuition,free prescriptions and care for the elderly. When this was set against a background of a Blairite British labour party so hopelessly compromised by its Blairite ideology that it was effectively in collusion with a Tory party who continued to aggressively pursue their neoliberal programme so what's not to vote for.
The Scottish electorate also saw independence as a way of escaping a future dominated by Tory / British labour austerity
We are now in a qualitively different situation now,and unless the SNP reads the situation properly we stand to set back the cause of Scottish independence indefinitely
A GE is increasingly likely. The Scots have labour leader they COULD vote for with a manifesto that would fly with them.
For the SNP not to elect a well known left winger to lead its parliamentary group sends all the wrong signals to the Scottish electorate. They do so at their peril.


Sun, 06/18/2017 - 19:50

I am surprised at this call from Tommy Sheppard, who had been excellent until now with his calls and his rhetoric, but here he seems to have lost faith in himself, his party, and with Independence - and there is no real reason for this.

Some of what he said, I agree with. This should be a wake-up call to the SNP and its supporters, about its true level of support.

I also agree about its left wing politics, which frankly I don't think there has been quite enough of. But from there, we part ways.

Going back to the first point about this being a wake-up call, it should be, because, as with Mr Sheppard's comments about his own constituency - which this article backs up with polling from Lord Ashcroft and views from John Curtice - the SNP has lost some support to Labour.

However, I dispute these findings as the main reason for the SNP losing 21 seats, as too narrowly focused. These conclusions simply do not add-up when you check the number of voters who went away from the SNP, and the number of voters that went Tory, as opposed to went Labour. The conclusion that should be drawn is that the SNP vote that defected mostly went Tory.

This is true of Mr Sheppard's own constituency. His vote went down from 23,188 in 2015 to 18,509 in 2017. The second place Labour candidate's went up slightly from 14,082 to 15,084, however the Tory candidate's vote went up from 4,670 to 8,081.

The matter is a little more complicated because there was no Green, UKIP of TUSC vote this time, but the latter two only had about 1,000 votes between them and The Greens had 2,809.

Still, there is enough information here, and across Scotland, to tell you that most of the vote that was SNP in 2015 and deserted it in 2017, actually went Tory, rather than Labour.

A classic example of this is the Airdrie & Shotts constituency. The incumbent SNP’s Neil Gray had an 8,779 majority slashed to 195. Whilst the Tories finished third, with Labour second, Labour’s vote only increased by 3 points, whereas the Tory vote increased by 15.5. The SNP vote went down by 16.3.

In Kilmarnock & Loudoun, the SNP held it fairly comfortably, despite a drop in their vote by over 13 points. The Tories finished third but their vote increased by just over 14 points, with the Labour vote down only very slightly.

You can't explain these results with 'SNP voters going Labour'. The numbers makes this claim out for what it is - a secondary headline to what the headline should read - which is that most of the 500,000 votes the SNP lost from 2015, went Tory.

Edinburgh South was a notable exception. The SNP vote went to Labour, who already held it. But, across Scotland as a whole, the Labour vote only increased by a net figure of 10,000.

Yes, some may have gone Tory in some constituencies, and the overall growth may be explained by the SNP losing some votes to Labour to in others, but these are nothing compared to the fall in SNP numbers and the rise in the Tory numbers.
There are no two ways about it; the SNP losses mostly went Tory. That should be the headline of this General Election, as far as Scotland is concerned. But then we need to look at why.

The 'why' is harder to work out, but it would seem to be a combination of people not wanting Indy and people who disagree with SNP policies in Government.

If you go back to 2005 and 2010 and compare the results with 2015 and 2017, you should start to realise that the 2015 SNP vote was artificially high, having been inflated by tactical voters.

In 2015, the SNP vote went up by circa one million and then down by circa 500,000, in 2017. I believe the 2015 vote included a lot of centre/centre-right voters, more inclined to vote Lib Dem or Tory, taking advantage of the SNP surge to slash the number of Scottish Labour MPs.

Realise also that in 2015 the Indyref had not long occurred and Independence was off the table. It is back on the agenda again now, and with SNP policies moving left from where they were, these floating, tactical voters have moved predominantly behind the Tories, in part because of the Indyref stance, but in part because the Lib Dem vote has collapsed - so what would be the point in voting Lib Dem, except for those few places where they did have a chance of winning.

You may care to note that whilst the Lib Dems gained three seats, the number of votes they had across Scotland was down by 40,000 on 2015, and down by almost 300,000 on their vote in 2010, when they had 11 seats.

Let's go back to Sheppard wanting Indyref put 'on ice'. I say no to this, because whilst the SNP support was inflated more than most realised by the 2015 results, polling for independence has been consistently into the 40% plus range, which is a far better starting point from 2013 and when the mandate for a referendum was unaffected by this vote, as it came from The Scottish Parliament.

Let's not forget that the SNP still has more MPs than the rest put together and is still up 500,000 votes from 2010.

However, the SNP is not Indy, and Indy isn't the SNP. There is cross-party support.

Also, note how Corbyn in England had a major effect on voters there with his left-wing manifesto, and his polling figures changed substantially for the better during this campaign period.

It just goes to demonstrate that a good campaign can turn a minority into a majority, especially if there isn't too far to travel to get there - as in already having 40% plus support.

it also demonstrated how social media and new media outlets managed, for the first time, to counter the right wing press, thereby levelling the playing field for parties in the future.

So no, do not take Indy off the table. The Unionist case for remaining is in tatters and even without a campaign to back them up, Indy supporters have been making in-roads in terms of the financial arguments, amongst others.

Do not equate the SNP losses with Indy losses. In my view, very few of those voters who went elsewhere supported Indy in the first place.

What we need from the SNP is for it to maintain its position in the Scottish Parliament/Scottish Government and to make more of an effort to reach out to other Indy supporters who vote for other parties - not to capitulate before trying again for #indyref2.

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