Ruth Davidson and new Scottish Conservative MPs

What does the General Election mean for Scotland?

The consequences of last week’s General Election are now only becoming clear; the results in Scotland were significant and without the tremendous success of the Scottish Conservatives, Jeremy Corbyn would be in Downing Street. Ruth Davidson will seek to leverage this power in a number of ways:

– She will push for a softer Brexit; she is a Remainer, as were many Scottish Tories, and while doing so, will seek to circumvent any similar claim put forward by Nicola Sturgeon. Davidson will ensure that the Scottish Conservatives are now seen as the party in Scotland that ‘stands up for Scotland’.

– Davidson will seek to ensure that the DUP’s social conservatism is not pushed elsewhere in the UK and will use her position to juxtapose any claims made by the Opposition and the media that the Conservative position is compromised on these issues. A lot of this will be window dressing as many of the policies that the DUP profess are mostly devolved already.

– The new 13 strong Conservative group will become more distinct as an entity, pushing a clear agenda of its own, answerable as much to Davidson as David Mundell and the Prime Minister.

The election results also mean that English Votes for English Laws will present difficulties for Theresa May.  This Standing Order was passed by Parliament in 2015. It essentially means that the Speaker determines whether or not a Bill affects England only, or impacts on the rest of the UK. If it’s England-only, like the Higher Education and Research Bill, then only English MPs can vote on it. New MPs from Scotland and Northern Ireland won’t help the Prime Minster get these bills past. There are two options; the government either seeks support from the other Opposition parties or they try and repeal EVEL. Both are not easy options to deliver. It should however be understood, that EVEL hasn’t created the controversy expected at the time. The claim that there are now two classes of MP is a matter of interpretation not fact.

Nicola Sturgeon is bruised as First Minister, but not fatally wounded like Theresa May. The same can’t be said of IndyRef2, which is now indefinitely delayed. The Conservatives can point towards the fact that 62% voted for Unionist parties at the General Election, with the First Minister’s push on IndyRef2 seen as a miscalculation. In many ways her call for IndyRef2 during the Brexit negotiations was a result of pressure from hardliners within her party (most notably Alex Salmond) many of whom lost their seats as a result. Similar to the Tories, the SNP will not favour another General Election as many of its MPs who survived are now sitting on tight marginals.

The SNP remain the party with the most seats at every level of government – local, Holyrood and Westminster. The party will now need to focus on its domestic agenda, rebuild trust and evaluate its position on IndyRef2. Obviously the reality of Brexit and a potential General Election are all on the cards which could reverse the party’s fortunes quickly.

In terms of Scottish Labour, it believes its results last week put back on the map. It does in a few more seats than it anticipated, and maybe it’s the start of a long-road back to relevance, but it’s not yet clear if this is a result of its Scottish leadership or the Corbyn bounce. Its vote share wasn’t remarkably different than GE2015 and until voters once again trust it on the independence question the main opposition to the SNP remains the Tory party.

Scotland’s 59 MPs are now more diverse, party wise. As a consequence, the Scottish Affairs Committee will once again be populated by Scots representing Scottish constituencies. The same will be true of Scottish Questions, enabling all parties to counter the claim from the SNP that they are the only party that can stand up for Scotland’s interests. As I’ve written above, Davidson will be keen to ensure that the Tory group acts as one to pursue Scotland’s interest, and be seen to be doing so.

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