Scottish Nationalists Lose Support in Vote That Split Nation

  • SNP’s deputy and former leader among the biggest scalps
  • Sturgeon says party will seek ‘progressive’ U.K. government

SNP's Sturgeon Says Election Was a Disaster for May

Scotland’s nationalists lost significant ground in the British election, weakening their push for independence after voters returned to parties opposed to holding another referendum on leaving the U.K.

The Scottish National Party won a majority of Scotland’s districts, but its wings were clipped like few predicted for a party that’s been in the ascendancy for a decade. Among the dramatic casualties were Angus Robertson, its leader in the U.K. Parliament, and former chief Alex Salmond, who turned the SNP into an electoral force and led the campaign to break from England and Wales in 2014.

“I think this kills Scottish independence,” said Peter Kellner of polling organization YouGov Plc.

Nicola Sturgeon, right, and Angus Robertson.

Photographer: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader and head of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government, said during the campaign that a win is a win and she would retain her mandate for a vote on independence once the terms of Britain’s departure from the European Union are known. Senior party officials, though, weren’t expecting to lose anything like the number of districts after every region of Scotland opposed Brexit in last year’s vote. Now the attention turns to any role the SNP might play in supporting a new government in London.

With ballots counted in all of Scotland’s 59 districts, the SNP won 35, losing 21 mainly to the Conservatives and Labour. It won 56 in the 2015 election when it redrew the political map in Scotland.

At the vote count in Glasgow, Sturgeon said it was still the second-best result in the SNP’s history, though “clearly I have to reflect on the result in the days to come.” She said the party, still the third-largest in the British Parliament, would seek to back a “progressive government” for the U.K.

Peak SNP?

While in the U.K. as a whole the election has been about whether Prime Minister Theresa May could unite the country behind her Brexit vision and trounce Labour, in Scotland the political dynamic is different and the question was whether the nationalists have peaked. Their massive victory in 2015 came less than a year after losing a referendum on independence and it increased the party’s presence in Westminster from just six. 

On the flip side, the SNP may end up playing a greater role in the U.K. Parliament, albeit with fewer lawmakers, as part of either a block opposing a weakened Conservative government or propping up a new leadership.

Read More: Scotland’s Battleground Over Britain’s Future

While May looked set to fail in her bid for an increased majority, results suggest her Conservatives had by far their best result in Scotland for more than two decades. Their support collapsed following Margaret Thatcher’s closure of heavy industry and they haven’t won more than a single seat since.

The Tories won the region of Angus from the SNP, previously among one of the nationalists’ safer seats. They also took the scalp of SNP deputy leader Robertson in Moray, the whisky-distilling area that had the highest vote for Brexit in Scotland. In all, they gained 12, with Scottish leader Ruth Davidson declaring another independence referendum “dead.”

Glasgow Heartland

Labour, meanwhile, also was doing better than expected. Its support caved in 2015 as the SNP wiped it out in former heartlands like Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city. In the first result declared, it took a district near Glasgow from the SNP and then took another six.

Ged Killen, the party’s candidate in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, said in his victory speech the result was a “rejection of a divisive independence referendum.”

Former SNP leader Salmond said that wasn’t the case and attributed the loss of SNP seats to a late surge in support for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“The SNP group will be influential,” Salmond said. “We are very interested in a progressive alliance to deny the Tories a majority, but I think we will be facing a different prime minister.”

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