The Decline and Collapse of the Conservative Party

Mark McGeoghegan analyses the Tory collapse, the Labour polling lead and what it means for Scottish politics.

The electoral shift against the Conservative Party has come, as these shifts tend to, incrementally and then all at once. Gradual decline in Conservative voting intention through a series of scandals under Boris Johnson has given way to collapse under Liz Truss.

That collapse was predictable. The moment the pound crashed a significant shift against the Tories in the sentiment and intentions of voters was inevitable.

But the scale of the shift has been surprising. Before the ‘fiscal event’, Labour was leading by high single digits to low double digits. Some outliers were beginning to show Labour leads of around 17 points, but these were in a small minority.

At the time of writing, we have had eight polls with fieldwork conducted entirely after the mini budget. 17 points is Labour’s smallest lead, but larger than any other lead they’ve held in two-decades. A YouGov poll giving Labour a 33-point lead, and 54% of the vote, sent the commentariat into a frenzy of speculation over the Prime Minister’s future.

Labour leads since Friday 23 September

The average Labour lead across these polls is not quite the 33 points recorded by YouGov, but still a substantial 24 points, with 50% of the vote to the Tories’ 26%.

Labour has not polled this well since the mid-1990s, ahead of Blair’s New Labour sweeping the Tories away in the 1997 landslide. If a general election were held tomorrow, the New Statesman’s Britain Predicts election model projects that Labour would win an enormous 262 seat majority. Kwasi Kwarteng would lose his seat, and Liz Truss would be in a tough fight to hold her own. An election on these terms would be cataclysmic for the Tories.

A general election will not, however, be held tomorrow. Facing such dire numbers, no Prime Minister with a shred of sanity would move to an early general election.

Rather, Truss will stick it out and hope that, by some miracle, the UK economy grows at an appreciable rate between now and 2024 – at which point, she will claim that her plan worked and seek to reap the political rewards.

Even without such a miracle, the polls will likely tighten again in the coming months. A large proportion of 2019 Tory voters have not switched to Labour but say they don’t know who they would vote for. Many of them will come back to the Conservatives over the course of an election campaign.

And, typically, governments tend to recoup some of the support they lose during a term as the public begin to look at the opposition more critically (and as that opposition comes under intense assault from the right-wing press).

At points, New Labour led in the polls by more than 40 points. In the end, they won by 13. But a Tory comeback would have to be an unbelievably strong to deprive Labour of largest-party status, and Labour’s path to a majority is clear.

What does this mean for Scotland? We do not have a Scotland-only poll, and the Scottish subsamples in UK polls are unreliable.

But let’s consider the possibilities. With this kind of collapse UK-wide, it’s likely that we will see movement away from the Scottish Conservatives to other unionist parties. But it is the SNP who are the likeliest beneficiaries. They came second in every constituency won by the Scottish Tories in 2019, and further splitting the unionist vote in those seats would be far more likely to help the SNP take them than either Scottish Labour or the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

In the few seats held by Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Tory switchers will shore up those majorities. But there are few seats in which there are enough Tory voters to help either party make gains from the SNP.

As the Fabian Society rightly identified, to win seats in Scotland Labour needs to beat the SNP. A Tory collapse at Westminster will not help them achieve this.

In the immediacy, the SNP and the independence movement are strengthened by the mini budget. As I have written elsewhere, the politics play to the independence movement’s strengths by deepening both the divide between Edinburgh and London in policy terms, and the sense in Scotland that Westminster cannot be trusted to act in Scotland’s interest.

But in the longer term, a Tory collapse in England could also weaken the SNP, at least in terms of electoral and parliamentary politics.

If there is an independence referendum in October 2023, and the pro-independence camp wins, there is almost zero chance that the UK government will recognise the result of the vote. The SNP’s only electoral or parliamentary avenue to secure concessions of any kind would be through negotiation in a hung parliament.

The same goes for a general election in which pro-independence parties successfully secure a majority of the vote.

Setting aside whether Labour would or wouldn’t do a deal that helps the SNP further its cause, without a hung parliament in which Labour needs SNP votes to govern, there is no parliamentary or electoral route to independence.

A sustained Tory collapse will be publicly welcomed by the SNP and would likely help them win seats in 2024 and retain power in Scotland beyond that, while doing little to help Scottish Labour. It could also, in the longer term, be the biggest setback for the independence movement since 2014.

Comments (18)

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    ” It could also, in the longer term, be the biggest setback for the independence movement since 2014.”

    Can you justify this disdainful assertion?

  2. Jim Stamper says:

    You indicate “If there is an independence referendum in October 2023, and the pro-independence camp wins, there is almost zero chance that the UK government will recognise the result of the vote.”
    “The same goes for a general election in which pro-independence parties successfully secure a majority of the vote.”
    The UK Government, which progressed Brexit with a 52% majority in a referendum would have no democratic justification to stop Scottish independence. Independence should be declared in either scenario.

  3. Paul Martin says:

    The SNP rightly bemoans that Westminster isn’t working for Scotland. So it makes no sense at all to call for an indyref2 plebiscite via a UK GE route. We need an indyref2 plebiscite delivered from Holyrood, via a Scottish election in October 2023. Political and moral authority for independence can only come from Holyrood. Crucially that voting franchise includes 16-18 Yr old and EU citizens. Didn’t we spend all our time after the Brexit vote saying how much Scotland valued them? It would be plain wrong – callous in fact – to exclude them in this vote. The solution is simple and right – a Holyrood plebiscite election. It can be done and it should be.

    1. Your point about 16-18 Yr olds and EU citizens is critical Paul.

      1. John says:

        So why does the SNP appear to believe we can do without them?

        Using a WM GE and it’s franchise as the vehicle/event just reveals a bit more of their cringe and/or ineptitude and/or mendacity again.

        It’s called self-determination. Self. Which means it should be a stand alone event and apply to Scotland only. If they don’t have the minerals for a non-binding referendum, then once the inevitable UKSC verdict comes in the Scottish government should announce an intention to resign and use the resulting Holyrood GE as their plebiscite.

        In fact, they should announce that that right now.

    2. 221003 says:

      There’s a lot to love about the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act. Not only did it extend the franchise to everyone who has leave to remain within the jurisdiction of the parliament (and not just to those who have migrated to Scotland from EU countries), but it also required a super-majority of two thirds of the parliament to pass. Extending the super-majority requirement to all legislation would be a welcome check on the tyranny of the majority and promote a more dialectical/less adversarial style of public decision-making.

  4. john burrows says:

    There are possible solutions. But not many.

    Westminster itself has shown the way for one option. Their introduction of English votes for English laws creates the corollary of Scottish Votes for Scottish laws, within the UK.

    A Scottish referendum question requires a Scottish law to be enacted to bring it about. In Westminster, it should be only Scot’s parlimentarians who should have the right to vote on a law, which will only be in effect in Scotland.

    As an example, it was Scottish parlimentarians who co-signed the Act of Union in 1707.

    Even then, the English ruling class recognized Scotland’s independence was a question that only the Scots could answer. This is why they needed the signatures of our ‘Parcel of Rogues’ to seal the deal. It was the only way of legitimizing the act.

    Indeed, the further precedent set in 2012, vis a vis the Edinburgh Act, recognizes the current Scottish demos as a political entity which has the right to bargain with Westminster on an extra judicial basis.

    But the concept of projecting the Scot’s independence question to a jurisdiction beyond the border of a Scottish state is logically ridiculous.

    Therefore, as it was Parliamentarians who got us into the Union in the first place, it follows that only they can get us out of it again. The precedent of joining a union does not negate departure from it. Brexit is the case in point, du jour.

    It’s either that, or we take to the claymores.

    If democratic means to accomplish ends are denied, people will turn to more extremist measures to bring about change. The history of Britain itself is replete with examples.

    If the legal beagles of the UK Supreme Court decide the Scot’s have no legally coherent path to nationhood, by permanently assigning responsibility to decide the question of Scottish independence to a political institution opposed to same, stuffed with MP’s from beyond the borders of Scotland, they will simply be inviting civil disobedience as the only path left available to supporters of Scottish independence.

    It’s either one or the other, in my opinion. I don’t really see any other alternatives.

    1. dave says:

      Hullo john. All we need is a DECLARATION of independence from the S.G. It was the British F.M. NU-S.N.P. Leader, along with herself appointed husband Murrell, who came up with this ‘ Kick the Can’ rubbish of begging to the ENGLISH supreme court for permission of a referendum which WE DO NOT NEED. We are a SOVEREIGN country. The problem is that the NU-S.N.P.s still think that they are in an ALEX SALMOND dynamic party dedicated to independence.

      I, like many others, left the S.N.P. a few years ago, when it became so obvious that F.M. Sturgeon was working to keep Scotland under English rule. Then we were informed that we should all be together working for independence and NEVER criticize Ms. Sturgeon as it would be detrimental to Indy. Ms. Sturgeon immediately attacked Alex Salmond and refused to even recognize ALBA or any other TRUE Indy party but had no problem recognizing the 3 English branch parties at Holyrood. Still the NU-S.N.P. members & supporters didn’t get it.

      The problem is the BRITISH F.M. S.N.P. Leader Sturgeon and her current leadership. We need a BARBADOS DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE NOW.
      Everyday trillions of SCOTTISH pounds are collected by the English Gov’t. thanks to the BRITISH UNIONIST F.M. S.N.P. Leader STURGEON.

      1. Alec Lomax says:

        Alba Party’s doing real well, eh?

        1. dave says:

          This is for you Alec Lomax and your 9 or 10 nom-de-plumes. ALBA’s 2nd annual conference is being held in Stirling on October 15th & 16th.
          You should attend, whatever your real name is, an get an education on how ALBA will deliver Independence instead of wasting you and your nom-de-plumes time listening to the BRITISH leader of the S.N.P. telling her members what a lousy P.M. Ms. Truss is. We all know that. That is her new approach to deliver Independence for the next 9 years. Under your heroine’s 9 tear begging programme to Westminster the Yes vote is still around 50%. Now that’s what you Alec & your nom-de-plumes call SUCCESS. LOL.

  5. Wul says:

    “A sustained Tory collapse…….could also, in the longer term, be the biggest setback for the independence movement since 2014.”

    Thank you for the heads up. I’ll have the “sustained Tory collapse” please.

    It could save some lives North and South of the border.

    1. BSA says:

      Nobody suggested it was an ‘either or’.

  6. James Robertson says:

    “If there is an independence referendum in October 2023, and the pro-independence camp wins, there is almost zero chance that the UK government will recognise the result of the vote.”
    If there is a referendum in October 2023, it will happen because either the Supreme Court has said it is legitimate or the UK Government has agreed to it, or both. Please explain how the above assertion make any sense.

  7. John Wood says:

    Charles has had to publicly uphold the Claim of Right on his accession. The Claim of Right has also been endorsed by a vote in the Westminster Parliament. These are both undeniable.

    There is therefore no question about the sovereignty of the Scottish people and our right to decide our own future.

    Westminster of course will fight tooth and nail to keep us in the Union, but legally, Scotland is a country in a treaty relationship with England.

    The Supreme Court has to judge the case by Scots Law. If they fail to uphold the claim of right, the sovereignty of the Scots, they simply destroy their own credibility. Scotland would never accept such a judgement.

    It doesn’t really matter whether it’s via a referendum in 2023 or via a majority for independence supporting parties in an election, our independence from Westminster is inevitable. And the more the Unionists try to tell us ‘No’, the stronger ‘Yes’ becomes – especially in the current situation.

    I think it highly likely that Westminster will try to militarise the situation, and send in the troops under some pretext or other. But this would be a (typically) disastrous thing to do. Even if they brutally attacked us, which I’m sure they are quite capable of, there is no way violence could win over anyone’s hearts and minds. It would be utterly counter-productive.

    There is already growing opposition to the Tories and the Labour leadership across the UK. It might well be the final straw that broke the UK – and it would surely fuel the the pro-EU, anti-Brexit lobby.

    I am not myself a supporter of hereditary monarchy but I think it would be wise to leave it be, for the time being anyway, and focus on separating our parliament. Charles, having recently publicly sworn to uphold the claim of right, could hardly then fail to do so. If he did that he would surely find the monarchy rejected even by Unionist inclined Scots (something he would surely hate – after all, his grandmother was a Scot, and he likes to be north of the border). I imagine him preferring a Scotland with a similar status as ‘his’ dominions of Canada and Australia, retaining him as ‘head of state’, than becoming a republic, like Ireland. He won’t want to provoke a violent reaction in Scotland. His favourite uncle after all was assassinated by the Provisional IRA.

    Retaining his Scottish titles would help Charles keep his extraordinarily powerful international role as head of the Commonwealth – and as before 1707, a ‘United Kingdom’ does not actually require a union of parliaments. Like the Soviet Union, which was theoretically a union of independent republics, the ‘UK’ might even keep its prized place on the security council ( although Westminster would actually have to grit its teeth and consult Scotland before voting.)

    A Westminster that tried to enforce its power by violence would face real, sustained international opposition. All around the world, especially from former colonies, including the US Scots diaspora, there would be instant support for Scotland, as we have seen for Ukraine. I could expect international sanctions and even dangerous attempts to exploit the situation by certain countries. We would have to avoid being provoked, stick together, and practice nonviolent civil resistance.

    Across the UK too there would be fury – it would probably unite the opposition to the present ‘managed democracy’ regime like nothing else. Even traditional Scots Unionists and even ‘Ulster Scots’ could question where their loyalty really lay.

    Westminster cannot hold onto Scotland (any more than it could to other parts of the Empire) without the hearts and minds of the people. It has done nothing at all to win those hearts and minds, in fact everything seems almost designed to alienate them.

    We don’t need Westminster’s approval. Sooner or later, we will have our self-determination, and there is nothing they can do to prevent it. It’s the tide of history.

  8. dave says:

    Mark, your article re: Independence. it seems to be based on the same premise of the British F.M. NU-S.N.P. Leader Sturgeon. i.e. That Scotland has to obtain from the English Gov’t permission to hold a non-binding referendum. In the case of F.M. Sturgeon the word OBTAIN would be replaced by BEG.
    Many Scots. including myself, do not accept that premise. Scotland is a SOVEREIGN country and has no need to obtain or beg any foreign country for permission to do anything. As we know from Ms. Sturgeon’s own words that she is British, and Scotland will always be part of England/Britain. Proof: Last year The Scottish people voted overwhelmingly to give F.M. Sturgeon the authority to declare independence. However, Ms. Sturgeon immediately said that vote was for a 2nd referendum, and she would do her best to hold one in late 2023. That vote was the 2nd referendum. So once again since 2014 the F.M. delayed independence for the umpteenth time. Everyone knows that the English will never accept any referendum unless it is a NO win. F.M. Sturgeon has never, ever said she wanted independence, but it was up to the Scottish people. Since 2014 she has BLACKED OUT all true economic facts about how rich Scotland is in conjunction with the English aristocrats, some of whom control 95% of Scottish media.
    CONCLUSION: Under the BRITISH F.M. NU-S.N.P. Leader Sturgeon, Independence will never happen. The F.M. Sturgeon and husband Murrell are BOTH UNIONISTS.

    Neal Hanley of ALBA was right on when he stated that the F.M. Sturgeon’s project to remove Boris was an absolute waste of time as we would get more of the same from the next English P.M. That time should have been spent promoting Independence instead of adding it to the already wasted 8 years of doing nothing except finding excuse after excuse to pretend that now was not the time.
    I find it very surprising that it is believed by Scots, English permission is needed for Independence. Barbados did it as did many other Colonies, none of whom begged for permission.
    I look forward to your reply.

  9. ST says:

    What happens to the alleged 38% of Labour voters who support Indepence.
    Do they put country before party in a defacto Indy GE?

  10. Ewen A Morrison says:

    I ended my long-time membership of what had been an honourable and respectable political party… However, what’s now called the ‘NuSNP’ is nothing like the original meritorious SNP! In fact, a growing number of us understand that Westminster thinks that Scotland is the last of London’s colonies. No politician or political party in Scotland can change that mindset. Do our people need to contact the UN instead of politicians and political parties? Sometimes, a politician’s salary seems more important than the realities that their voters need to tolerate! Are Scotland’s people really sovereign or not? In fact, every politician is elected to serve their electorate; and they must bear this in mind!

  11. SleepingDog says:

    I think we are yet to see the effects of the Al Jazeera Labour Files investigations play out.
    I wonder what would happen if the Liberal Democrats ran on a platform of replacing First-Past-the-Post with some much more proportional form of election of MPs and promised to hold a general election on those terms within a year? Not only are political parties corrupt, capturable and sometimes fronts for other interests domestic and foreign, but the main parties of government in the UK take to the field with incompatible and often warring wings. And therefore should logically be split up, which could happen under more proportional representation because these offspring parties would still win seats and be able to form coalitions, while presenting a more coherent policy platform with (potentially) less infighting and dirty tricks.

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