I was talking to someone the other day about the independence referendum – you know in that way where you have to initiate the conversation, as most normal people don’t have independence as top of their agenda. But, they said, Scotland is a left-wing country, and independence will mean we can finally be rid of those Tories – you guys in Labour are happy to have us under a vicious Tory Government, hell bent on destroying the NHS and so on.
Leaving aside the fact that the last thing I want is to have a Tory Government at Westminster, or the fact that nothing that they do to the NHS, or the Education system doesn’t affect us up here – they’re all devolved, but is Scotland a left-wing country? Have we really been “oppressed” all these years by Tory majorities in England forcing their policies on us?
I’ve long been surprised that an area like Angus has always struggled to elect Labour representatives – it’s often been described to me as a very conservative (small ‘c’) place. The high point was in the late 70’s/early 80’s when there were 3 district councillors – out of 22. But that obviously isn’t true across Scotland – Glasgow has long been a Labour stronghold.
I suppose a lot depends on how you classify some parties as being on the left or right. But for a generation after the Second World War, politics was a two party game – the classic left vs. right battle. Many voters from this time are still alive, while many others had their views shaped during it. So I collated the figures for every general election since 1945, and graphed them to see if there was any trend.
What we can see is that for nearly 20 years, the vote of the two major parties was very stable, and the rise of the Liberals in the 1960s seems to be mainly at the expense of the Conservatives. The post war high for the left was 1966, but still less than 50%. After this point, the SNP gains in support, but this seems to be actually at the expense of both the conservative and Labour parties – although marginally more so of the Tories. 1964 was the start of a continuous downward trend for the blues, with, interestingly enough; a stabilisation through the Thatcher years, and 1997 saw a slump to their present level of approximately 15%.
The Labour vote has stabilised at around 41% – with good years such as 1997 (45.6%) balancing out the bad years like 1983(35.1%). This is only slightly down on the 30 year post war average of 45.1%.
What this shows is that Scotland has actually been a slightly right of centre country, with right wing parties having a slight advantage in the post war years. Labour has lost on average about 5% of its vote, probably equally to the nationalists and the liberals.
But since the 1970’s, the Liberal and SNP vote has increased from 12% (11.8% in 1966) to average 35-40% (the high point was 2005, a post 97 low for Labour). Where have they got those votes from? It’s clear from these figures that many people, who used to vote tory, are now voting Lib Dem and SNP. We found out in 2010 the effect that those right wingers in the Liberal Democrats affected the outcome.
I wonder how long it will take people to realise that the SNP isn’t a left wing party either.