Scotland ‘only part of the UK’ where Brexit not the defining issue of GE2019

Across the UK, the vote on December 12 is the Brexit election.

But in Scotland the issue of independence will be as – if not more – critical in determining how people vote.

The main parties have, by and large, focused their campaigns around their stances on these two key constitutional issues.

For the Scottish Tories, who are hoping their vote will hold up after returning 13 MPs from north of the border in 2017, that means highlighting their opposition to a second Scottish independence referendum, and backing PM Boris Johnson in his drive to “get Brexit done”.

The SNP take entirely the opposite view, with leader Nicola Sturgeon arguing the vote on December 12 is an opportunity to stop Brexit, and “put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands” by returning a majority of MPs from her party.

And while it is unlikely that the SNP will win the 56 seats it took in the 2015 general election, there is no doubt Ms Sturgeon’s party will return more MPs than its rivals put together.

Despite the SNP, which has been the party of government in Scotland since 2007, coming under fire at Holyrood over issues such as health and education, it continues to dominate in polls north of the border.

Those polls, however, make less pleasant reading for Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, with research suggesting his party could be in line for heavy losses.

Having only returned one MP from Scotland – which was previously a heartland for Labour – in 2015, it staged a partial recovery two years later, winning seven seats.

But while Scottish Labour has a clear stance on both Brexit and Scottish independence – it is opposed to both of these – UK leader Jeremy Corbyn’s “neutral” stance on Brexit could cost the party support north of the border after almost two thirds of Scots voted to Remain in 2016.

Politics professor Nicola McEwen of Edinburgh University said Scotland was “perhaps the only part of the UK where Brexit may not be the defining issue of the campaign”.

She stated: “At least as important is that other big constitutional divide that dominates Scottish politics – the debate between independence and union.”

In a blog for the University’s Centre on Constitutional Change, she also said: “There is no one who would bet against the Scottish National Party emerging yet again as the dominant force. The only doubt is over the size of its winning margin.”

However she said that Ms Sturgeon’s decision to put the demand for an independence referendum at the heart of the SNP campaign was a “high risk strategy”.

The academic said: “Recent opinion polls suggest that support for independence — when posed as a binary yes/no question — is at an historically high 50%, around 10 percentage points higher than the SNP’s forecast vote share.

“But this tells us little about whether support for independence runs deep enough to drive vote choice beyond the party’s base.

“It also gifts the Scottish Conservative Party the campaign it craves – to lead the defence of the Union, a strategy that helped them win 13 seats in 2017 and a vote share not seen in a general election in Scotland since 1979.

She described Mr Leonard as having “failed to make much of an impression on the Scottish electorate”, adding that Labour has “largely lost its distinctive Scottish identity”.

Prof McEwen also said the two main UK parties – Labour and the Conservatives – had focused less on Scotland than in previous campaigns, “perhaps reflecting low expectations of electoral rewards”.