What led to the SNP electoral earthquake?

No longer a one-party state, Scotland delivered a major surprise on election night

Alec Salmond
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In a general election full of unexpected twists, perhaps the biggest came north of the border where the Scottish National Party suffered heavy defeats ending their one-party hegemony.

"The SNP tsunami of 2015, in which the party took 56 of Scotland's 59 constituencies, was followed yesterday by an earthquake in which the SNP lost more than a third of their MPs," says Alex Massie in The Times.

Across the country, Labour, the Tories and even the much-maligned Lib Dems were the beneficiaries as the SNP haemorrhaged votes in areas considered entirely safe.

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Two of the party's grandees lost their seats: Angus Robertson, SNP leader at Westminster, succumbed to the Tory vote in Moray, while, in what The Times describes as the "McPortillo moment", former scourge of the Tories Alex Salmond saw his majority crumble in Gordon.

So what caused this remarkable shift in the Scottish political landscape?

United in unionism

The results place a large question mark over the wisdom of pushing for a second independence referendum so soon after 2014's plebiscite.

The party's deputy leader John Swinney said that the proposal for a second referendum played a "significant" role in the result. "We will take time and care to reflect on the outcome of this result. But we have to acknowledge that the question of a second independence referendum was a significant motivator of votes against the SNP in this election, and we have to be attentive to that point."

The Times writes that "throughout the campaign the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats insisted that their voters were appalled by the prospect of a second independence referendum."

"This, they said, was the issue raised on the doorsteps of Scotland more often than all other issues combined. Last night that was translated into votes."

The T word

The biggest Conservative winner from last night was undoubtedly Ruth Davidson. The Scottish Conservatives' leader saw her party accrue 13 seats, their best performance in the country since 1983.

"In a land where the word 'Tory' is still often used as a curse, she has detoxified the brand and produced a thumping success even as Theresa May fouled up across the rest of the UK," says Chris Deerin in The New Statesman.

The Conservative revival in Scotland has come on the back of the ebullient Davidson. "It is not yet clear where her ceiling lies," adds Deerin, "but she has fans in interesting places – if she announced tomorrow that she had decided to lead a UK version of En Marche!, she would have the money and backing to do it."

Perhaps most pertinently of all, the 13 seats the Tories won in Scotland have allowed Theresa May to keep the keys to Number 10, not something many would have predicted.

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The Corbyn surge

In an address following the election, Nicola Sturgeon highlighted the role of the Labour leader in the SNP's demise.

"Clearly in the last few days of this campaign we saw a surge towards Jeremy Corbyn, which we saw in parts of Scotland, as well as across the rest of the UK," she said.

Ruth Wishart in The Guardian agrees with the First Minister's assessment, saying the result was more "generally attributed to the Corbyn factor rather than Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale, who opposed his election."

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