If the local elections are a guide, we are likely to see two mandates emerge following the General Election on June 8th: Theresa May’s Conservative Party with a sizeable victory, including an increase in the number of seats they hold in Scotland, alongside Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP emerging with another clear majority of Scottish seats.
This situation raises the interesting prospect of a ‘battle of the mandates’ after the election. It was an idea I explored last week in focus groups with a great mix of politically articulate Edinburgh voters. The key takeaways for me were: • The prospect of a fight of the mandates was unsurprisingly not very appealing and is in part shaping how voters will cast their vote in June.
• Respondents generally dislike any political party having a sizeable majority – whether across the UK or in Scotland. They think it’s bad for democracy, leads to a lack of accountability and allows leaders to assume a ‘blank cheque’ for a wide range of issues as they see fit. If we end up with two large majorities as described above, voters fear two intransigent positions that risk being inflexible and unproductive.
• Concerns about landslide majorities help explain their likely voting choices in June. Even for those who dislike the SNP and what they stand for, many believe that it’s important the SNP are a strong, sizeable force in Westminster to replace the absence of strong opposition from the Labour Party and act as a buttress against a large Conservative majority. The reverse also applies, explaining why those who may not consider themselves ‘Scottish Conservatives’ are so keen to reign in the dominance of the SNP.
• If the result is still two competing mandates, voters have a clear ask of the Party leaders: soften your tone and be seen to listen and engage. They are critical of what they see as political game playing in recent weeks and while both mandates are perceived to be legitimate and should be respected, they want the two leaders to show maturity and focus on common ground where possible.
As we move into the last month of the election campaign, it will be fascinating to see how the idea of mandates and the size of potential majorities across the UK and within Scotland shapes the election debate and ultimately the result.