The 2016 UK elections provided some insight into the evolution of Scottish politics, which is important in itself and also because of how it may determine two other critical matters (1) Whether the UK breaks apart and (2) Which party governs Britain if it does in fact stay in one piece.

The chart displays the major party results for each election since the Scottish Parliament was devolved under PM Tony Blair (The LibDems are included because they once were a major party, not because they still are). The pattern is as plain as a pikestaff: the Scottish Nationalists have grown mighty and the Labour Party has withered.


The British Labour Party was originally a Scottish creation, and Scotland used to be a Labour preserve both in the Scottish elections and nationally. But yesterday’s results were another in a series of disasters for Scottish Labour.

Part of Labour’s problem may have been not allowing the SNP to be a part of the government in the years the latter was the second biggest party (1999-2007). Labour skipped over them and formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, convincing nationalist voters that only outright SNP victory would bring them any power. When Labour campaigned against the Scottish independence referendum, its slow bleed became a spurting artery.

The Scottish results are dreadful for the UK Labour Party. With Scottish voters abandoning it and the UK Independence Party (which had a good 2016 election) nibbling away some of its Northern English and Welsh support, the odds of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party winning a national UK election victory look very slim indeed.

The most surprising result in Scotland last night was the Tory resurgence, which is even more of a dagger in Labour’s heart than losing seats to the SNP. Like many people, I thought the Conservatives were dead north of the border, but they somehow came back to become the largest opposition party, led by Ruth Davidson. She and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon seem the most talented politicians in Scotland.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Keith Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and served as Senior Policy Advisor in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Obama Administration. @KeithNHumphreys