On December 12th, 2019, the United Kingdom has an early general election where the opposition Labour Party was resoundingly defeated in favor of a Conservative majority. However, the more interesting result came from Scotland where the SNP (Scottish National Party) won a large majority of the seats to Westminster. This has raised the question about whether Scotland wanted to gain independence from the United Kingdom, or was this just a result of the first past the post system. While the SNP won 48 out of 59 seats in Scotland, the party only won an outright majority in a few constituencies.
Looking at all of that yellow may indicate that Scotland as a whole favors independence, but that is not telling the entire study. Consider this map:
As you can see, the vast majority of the voting constituencies actually had more votes for unionist parties than independence parties. Unionist parties took 54% of the vote compared to the 46% won by the nationalists. The main reason for the over-representation of the SNP in Westminster is because of the first past the post system. The Unionist vote was split between different parties (which took between 9% and 25% of Scotland’s vote), whereas the Nationalist vote was split between two parties (the SNP took 45% and the Greens took a measly 1%). This split in the vote allowed the SNP to rack up many wins with only 40% of the vote.
Another issue to look at when considering if SNP has a mandate to demand a second independence referendum is looking at past results. In 2014, Scotland rejected a referendum which would establish Scotland as an independent country by a margin of nearly 11%. In the next year, however, the SNP would receive just under 50% of the vote in the Westminster election and won all but three seats.
The SNP did not run on an independence referendum, but part of their agenda will always be an independent Scotland. Considering how the party went from 50% to 45% only four years laters show that independence does not have a mandate that the party claims. There has not been a period where independence was constantly winning in the polls in Scotland, only periods of spikes after the Brexit referendum resulted in a Leave victory despite Scotland’s large margin for Remain.
One problem that prevents the SNP from having an independence mandate is their ideology. The SNP is a center-left party that caucuses with the Greens in the European Parliament. There is no center-right party that promotes the idea of an independent Scotland, so many people who are center-right support unionist parties, which further diminishes the mandate that the SNP and the Independence movement claim to have. There is no outreach to voters who lean to the right or who back Brexit. One of the running theories on why the SNP lost many voters in the Northeastern part of the country was because of the SNP’s stance on issues that were not necessarily popular in the region (like another vote on Brexit).
The SNP claiming to have a mandate a mandate on independence is simply not based in reality. The SNP did not receive a majority of the vote in the most recent Westminster election or in most voting constituencies, and they only won because of the split in the Unionist vote. The only change that the SNP is showing a need for is a reform in elections themselves from first past the post to multi-member districts; the SNP has over 80% of the Scotland’s seats in Westminster despite winning only 45% of the vote. This overrepresentation is a mistake and is the main reason why the SNP’s argument on having a mandate is not a convincing one. Since the SNP is providing such a weak argument for another referendum, do not expect Scotland to have a vote on independence in the next five years.