Scotland's Nationalists Dealt a Blow in U.K. Local Elections

  • Conservatives win more from Labour’s capitulation in Scotland
  • Vote was overshadowed by plan to hold independence referendum

Why the U.K. is Heading to the Polls… Again

Scotland’s nationalists failed to gain ground in local-government elections as Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives cemented themselves as the biggest threat to their dominance after campaigning against another independence referendum.

With ballots in all of Scotland’s 32 regions counted, the Scottish National Party lost seven council seats and the Conservatives gained 164. The SNP also lost control of the city of Dundee, one of the few places that backed breaking away from the U.K. in a 2014 plebiscite.

The vote in Scotland was framed as a chance to protest Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s plan for another independence referendum following the decision to leave the European Union. In reality, it was a preview to the June 8 general election. Results suggest the SNP will retain its command over Scotland’s parliamentary seats next month, though the question is by how much, as the Tories return to levels of support not seen since the 1980s.

“People right across Scotland now are looking for this fight back against the SNP,” Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson told the BBC. “The only party strong enough to lead this fight back is the Scottish Conservative Party.”

Glasgow Falls

Following the trend elsewhere in the U.K., most of the gains were at the expense of the Labour Party. It lost control of Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, for the first time since 1980, as well as two other councils.

Sturgeon said it was nothing short of a “clear and emphatic victory” for the SNP, which won the largest number of seats overall, and showed its share of the vote had held up. “It’s not the SNP losing ground to the Tories,” she said in a BBC interview. “The real soul-searching in Scotland has to be done by the Labour Party.”

The SNP said it increased the party’s number of councilors compared with the last local elections in 2012. The results published by the BBC were adjusted to reflect boundary changes to the districts since then.

As Davidson champions her opposition to Sturgeon’s plan for a second independence ballot, the nationalists talk of Tory spending cuts and the dark days for Scotland under former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

June Vote

The problem for the SNP is that next month will be more about defending its position than strengthening it. The party took 56 of Scotland’s 59 districts in the U.K. Parliament in 2015 in what had been one of the biggest Labour capitulations. The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats took one seat apiece.

That came less than a year after Scots voted 55 percent to 45 percent to remain in the U.K. and the nationalists went on to build support up to unprecedented levels.

Read More: a QuickTake Explainer on Scotland’s Independence Bid

Scots then voted against Brexit last year, and Sturgeon has said they should get the chance to decide their future after the terms of leaving the EU become clear by spring 2019. She won the backing of lawmakers in the Scottish Parliament to seek the legal means from the U.K. government to hold another referendum, though May rebuffed the demand.

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