The SNP will start 2015 with a solid base of support with thousands of new members having joined its ranks, despite losing the referendum just three months ago. But is the only way up for the party that has governed since 2007?
Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership will face its first test at the General Election in May with many of the polls suggesting the party could defeat Scottish Labour and win the first General Election in Scotland in its history. Managing expectations might well need to feature in her strategy if under Jim Murphy’s leadership, Scottish Labour can avoid a pasting next spring. The Scottish Government’s programme for business is ambitious and seeks to set a new paradigm under the ‘One Scotland’ mantra, engaging business under a ‘fair work convention’, prioritising public sector reform and seeking to decentralise power from Holyrood to local communities. Land Reform will be contentious throughout 2015 and plans for local income tax, combined with pressure to tinker with the already proposed stamp duty rates will put pressure on the new Deputy First Minister. The SNP has an opportunity, if it gets it right, to complete an ambitious programme before the 2016 elections, solidifying its grip on power. On the other hand, there is every chance that many of the proposed reforms bite into their popularity giving Scottish Labour the chance to reset themselves.
The party can be expected to hit the ground running at the start of the year. With only four months until the General Election, leaders Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale will need to move quickly to establish a series of policies which can recapture those disillusioned Glasgow Labour voters who went for Yes in September 2014, while at the same time demonstrating that they are different enough to the SNP. If they manage to stem the SNP tide at the 2015 General Election, they will need to move quickly to take on the SNP at Holyrood where they are at a significant financial and vote share disadvantage. Expect Murphy to undertake a more joined up approach to political campaigning, marshalling the still not insignificant numbers of MPs, MSPs and Cllrs under his leadership. It is likely that Murphy will present a less defensive position for the party – this will be a new start, unshackled from the old way of doing things.
With the Scottish Tories and Ruth Davidson in particular having a ‘good’ referendum, the party goes into 2015 quietly confident that the tide may finally be turning on their electoral fortunes north of the border – that is to say they are confident of increasing their MP representation by one or two.
With the SNP moving leftwards under Sturgeon, there is an opportunity to attract support from traditional Tory areas who have given their support to the SNP and others for more than a generation. The key to achieving this is developing a distinctly Scottish Centre-Right and viable alternative. Davidson has already begun mapping out such a course with movement on educational reform, double devolution and offering a commitment towards tax cuts. However, despite this and an increasingly confident leader, the party’s problems remain the same – convincing the electorate that they have Scotland’s best interests at heart.
It seems an age ago since the Coalition was formed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. And yet, the Party continues to suffer for both the decision to enter the coalition and the reversal on English tuition fees. While 2015 looks bleak for the Party, in many ways the Scottish party is in a better position to respond to the changes than its southern counterpart. The Party has already suffered from severe casualties in the last round of Scottish Parliament and local government elections. The General Election will undoubtedly reflect the Party’s low polling, with the loss of many much-cherished seats. However, there will be hope for some that their personal vote may be enough to allow them to hold onto office. Carmichael and Kennedy may survive the cull. Others will be lucky if they do.
To the party faithful, the results in 2015 will feel like rough justice. The party has not only been a steadfast proponent of devolution, but has also been a staunch defender of the Union. Its decision to enter the Coalition was not one it took lightly either. Nevertheless, the Party will be hoping to maintain a role in UK national politics post-May, particularly if there is a hung parliament – and more generally, the Party will be hoping that 2015 might be the building block towards the 2016 campaign, unfettered by the Coalition.