The Scottish referendum and the UK general election

By Lisa Day

The 2015 UK General Election revealed that the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) took 50% of the vote within the Scottish Borders, which is up by 30 points from 2010. Labour, on the other hand, dropped 17.7 points from 2010. The SNP completely obliterated the Labour Party out of Scotland by gaining 56 out of the 59 seats. The causes behind the SNP’s victorious outcome, which has been hailed as a "historical watershed", may be down to the particular sequencing and timing of the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum.

According to Pierson, the “timing and sequence of particular events or processes can matter a great deal. Settings where event A precedes event B will generate different outcomes than ones where that ordering is reversed.” As mentioned above the main difference between this election and the last is that a Scottish Independence Referendum was held just before the 2015 vote. Although the SNP ended up 'losing' the referendum with a majority vote of “No” to independence, the Labour Party seems to have lost Scotland altogether. The referendum campaign seems to have left the SNP stronger than ever. “Indeed, the SNP is no longer just a party, it is a movement — and one boasting, per capita, more than twice as many members as the three main unionist parties combined.” Since the referendum the nationalist party gained 1/50 of all adult Scots in members. It is clearly evident that this huge increase in members and support for the SNP triggered such a historical victory for the party.

In addition, the SNP can also be seen as a party filling up political space - a particular feature of sequencing that involves a first mover advantage. “Labour’s hegemony in Scotland needed an opposition and the SNP was happy to fill that void.”

The timing of the Scottish Independence Referendum appears to have materialized the SNP’s election victory within the Scottish borders whilst the party also acted with a first mover advantage by providing the Scots with an alternative, optimistic and conceivable future.