Scots Myths (1) – ‘Scotland Always Gets The Government That England Votes For.’

After the 2011 SNP Conference,  it was reported that its activists possessed an unshakeable confidence that they would easily win an independence referendum. This was obviously not based on their election victory – in which they secured less than a popular majority, and only increased their vote by attracting further Lib Dem and Tory voters. Instead, activists took strength from the assertion that “we have true religion, and the Nos do not.” 

Religions of course do not operate on a basis of fact, but on a faith stoked by myths and folklore, and the SNP faith is no different. Anyone who spends a day of two on social media will verify this: and a week or two will prove beyond all doubt that the SNP and the Yes campaign share a rich landscape of received wisdom which informs their world view and dominates their logic.

Scots Myth 1: Scotland Always Gets The Government England Votes For.  

The truth is that since 1945 there have been 18 General Elections. The outcomes were as follows.[1]

 

England

Scotland

   

Year

Lab

Tory

Lab

Tory

   

1945

48.56

36.88

47.88

36.75

Same

Lab*

1950

46.13

43.82

46.18

45.23

Same

Lab*

1951

48.81

48.78

47.89

48.57

E – Lab

Sc  – Con*

1955

46.77

47.82

46.71

50.09

Same

Con*

1959

43.61

49.98

46.68

47.24

Same

Con*

1964

43.5

43.79

48.85

39.9

E   – Con

Sc – Lab*

1966

47.84

42.64

49.84

38.14

Same

Lab*

1970

43.24

48.3

44.53

37.97

E – Con*

Sc – Lab

1974

37.64

40.06

36.66

32.94

E   – Con

Sc – Lab*

1974

40.08

38.78

36.28

24.7

Same

Lab*

1979

36.67

47.18

41.54

31.41

E – Con*

Sc  – Lab

1983

26.94

45.98

35.07

28.37

E – Con*

Sc – Lab

1987

29.51

46.15

42.38

24.03

E – Con*

Sc – Lab

1992

33.93

45.46

38.98

25.65

E – Con*

Sc – Lab

1997

43.55

33.7

45.56

17.51

Same

Lab*

2001

41.4

35.2

43.3

15.6

Same

Lab*

2005

35.46

35.74

38.87

15.83

E   – Con

Sc – Lab*

2010

28.07

39.5

42

16.75

E – Con

Sc – Lab

Same = England and Scotland voted for the same majority party; E = England; Sc =Scotland; Bold* = Majority party. In 2010, there was no party with overall majority.

The above shows votes cast, rather than seats gained; in other words, these are the outcomes when individual voters  have been to the ballot box and how this relates to the overall result of the elections in question.

 (Incidentally, I am in favour of electoral reform, although the prospect appears to have been put back at least a generation by the LibDems and their miserable failure with the AV referendum of 2011.)

The table shows:

  • 8 elections when the electorates of Scotland and England voted the same (1945, 1950, 1955, 1959, 1966, Oct 1974, 1997, 2001) and got the governments each wished (6 Labour and 2 Tory)

 

  • 5 elections when the Scottish electorate prevented the outcome that England had voted for:

    

  • 1 election when more people in England voted Labour but got a Tory government Scotland voted for (1951);
  • 3 elections when more people voted Tory in England but got the Labour government Scotland voted for ( 1964, Feb 1974, 2005);  and
  • 1 election when Scotland prevented  Tories from getting the overall majority which was voted for by the English electorate (in 2010).

 

  • In the 5 remaining elections, English voters prevented the outcome that Scotland voted for: in 1970, 1979, 1983, 1987, and 1992. In all of these, Scotland voted Labour but gt the Tory government for which England had voted.

 

  • In the 7 elections from 1945 to 1966, the Scottish voters always had the government which they voted for, including 2 (1951 and 1964) when these were not those for which the English electorate had voted.

 

  • Other then 1970, all of the instances of Scotland voting Labour and getting the Tories were in the Thatcher and Major years.  Interestingly, if support for independence is strong in the age group 40 to 50, this may be because these were the people who had most to complain about in these elections.

 

  • Since 1992, Scotland has twice voted with England to produce Labour governments, once voted for a Labour government that English voters did not want; and once stopped the Tories getting an overall majority.

 

The current indications are that Labour could either win a small majority or will be the largest single party in the 2015 UK General Election, which means that Scots will again cast crucial votes to determine which party forms a government, either alone or in coalition.

Whatever the case, it is clear that there is no truth in the assertion that Scottish votes have no influence on who forms the government at Westminster.

 

Addendum: Comments on LabourHame: http://www.labourhame.com/archives/3905#comment-37312

I deliberately used the percentages of votes cast as the basis of my comments, as these concentrate on voters. The idea is to show that a Scottish elector casting their vote gets the government of their choice nearly as frequently as their English counterpart. I do not take into account the duration of the governments in question, as that is not on the ballot paper, and to me it appears that only someone deliberately seeking a grievance would use that approach.

It is true that since 1970 (the first bifurcation), Scotland has not cast its votes for a winning Tory government. This appears to be because those not voting Labour chose increasingly to vote for the SNP: for example the Nationalists only stood in 23 seats in 1966 but had polled over 128,000 votes; in 1970, this had increased to 307,000 or 11.41% as the party organised in 65 seats.

Throughout the Thatcher and Major years, the two parties contested the position of the main anti-Labour party, with the Tories ahead until 1997 and the SNP pulling marginally ahead thereafter, with the situation fairly even at SNP 20% to the Tories 17% in 2010.

What is clear however, is that the impact of the SNP has been to split the opposition to Labour which elsewhere in the UK is attracted to the Tories and the LibDems. In fact the latter are probably the better analogy, as to vote for them has usually been a vote for a bogus radical party which cannot provide a government at Westminster.

The realpolitik of the situation is that a UK General Election is a vote for a Tory or a Labour Prime Minister, and a vote for any other party is an abstention in that process. If the non-Labour voters of Scotland choose to take that option, that is of course their prerogative, but if they do so, it is in the knowledge that they are reducing their influence on the government which results. In contrast, a Labour vote counts at Westminster.

There is a further element which must also be taken into account, which is that since the Tory governments of 1979 to 1997, the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown introduced and enhanced the powers of the Scottish Parliament. This means that unlike English voters, but like those in Wales and Northern Ireland, Scots get the government they choose every time at Holyrood to govern Scottish issues.

Finally, the evidence of the elections of 1951, 1964, February 1974 and 2010 is that Scots votes are most influential when the result is tightest. This could well be the same in 2015.

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