Last night’s bizarre edition of Scotland 2014, in which the three Scottish Labour “leadership” candidates were quizzed by the daughter of a former Labour leader in front of an audience of the candidates’ own supporters (comprising MSPs, councillors and activists), saw all three stick doggedly to what’s clearly going to be the party’s main pitch in the 2015 general election – “Vote SNP, get Tories”.
It’s a line the party has trotted out at every election for decades, and which has been getting pumped out almost daily since Johann Lamont’s resignation – former deputy “leader” Anas Sarwar (who oddly declined to stand for the actual job when it became available) penned a column for the Evening Times on Monday, for example, entitled “Every vote for an SNP candidate is a vote to help elect David Cameron”, and he said the same thing in the Commons this very afternoon.
As alert readers will know, we like to check the facts on these things.
So we had a look at the figures for some UK general elections in the modern era, to try to ascertain whether there was any relationship between the SNP vote and the likelihood of a Conservative government being elected. Those of you familiar with the veracity of Scottish Labour claims will, perhaps, be less than stunned by the results.
Alert readers will have noticed several things from the graph above.
One is that Labour’s vote in Scotland has been remarkably consistent for the last 70 years, only twice dipping (just) below 1 million and only once exceeding 1.3 million, including the years we haven’t put on the graph. Another is that the SNP’s is far more volatile, even if you only count from the 1970s when the party became a serious force. In the 1970s alone it rocketed from 360,000 to 840,000 then back to 504,000.
(The span between Labour’s biggest and smallest Scottish votes since 1970 is just 289,000. The gulf between the SNP’s best and worst over the same period, however, is a whopping 508,000 – a figure that’s even more dramatic considering the SNP’s average vote is less than half of Labour’s.)
But our elite band of super-alert readers will have spotted something else. Of the ten elections we’ve selected above, eight of them resulted in Conservative governments. The only two Labour won – 1974 and 1997 – were the ones with the highest and third-highest SNP votes.
(We initially chose the eight years because they were all the Conservative wins since 1945 where Scotland had voted Labour, and we wanted to see any correlation between Tory victories and the size of the SNP vote. We then included 1974 and 1997 because in compiling the data we noticed how strikingly large the SNP vote was in those years. The elections we’ve left out don’t change the overall picture at all.)
When voters abandoned the SNP in large numbers to stick with/return to Labour, the Tories still got in. Labour got almost triple the SNP vote in Scotland in 1983, but it didn’t stop Mrs Thatcher securing the biggest landslide in Tory history with 397 seats to Labour’s 208. By the 1997 election the SNP vote almost doubled in size, but Tony Blair got an even bigger Westminster landslide, even though Labour’s own Scottish vote had only grown by 20,000 from their 1987 thrashing.
So the demonstrable, empirical truth is that voting SNP rather than Labour in Scotland does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in practice to make Conservative UK governments more likely. Indeed, statistically the exact opposite is true – the years with the lowest SNP votes are the years the Tories do best in and vice versa.
The four UK elections with the highest SNP votes (1974a, 1974b, 1992 and 1997) saw three Labour governments and the Tory government with the lowest majority. The four with the lowest SNP votes (1970, 1983, 1987 and 2005), conversely, were the other way round (3 Con 1 Lab), including the two highest Tory majorities ever.
The assertion on which Labour are fighting and will fight the 2015 election, then, is a flat-out lie comprehensively disproved by the facts. If you want a Conservative government in London, the best thing you can do in Scotland is vote Labour.
Full Data, all UK general elections since 1945
Text colour: party which formed government
1951: Lab 1.33m SNP 7,300
1950: Lab 1.26m SNP 10,000
1955: Lab 1.19m SNP 12,000
1959: Lab 1.25m SNP 22,000
1964: Lab 1.28m SNP 64,000
1966: Lab 1.27m SNP 129,000
1970: Lab 1.2m SNP 360,000
1974a: Lab 1.1m SNP 633,000
1974b: Lab 1m SNP 840,000
1979: Lab 1.21m SNP 504,000
1983: Lab 991,000 SNP 332,000
1987: Lab 1.26m SNP 416,000
1992: Lab 1.14m SNP 630,000
1997: Lab 1.28m SNP 622,000
2001: Lab 1m SNP 464,000
2005: Lab 922,000 SNP 412,000
2010: Lab 1.04m SNP 491,000
Highest five SNP votes (since 1970)
Lowest five SNP votes (since 1970)