It has been assumed by many a political pundit that the Lib Dems are facing an electoral massacre in Scotland on May 7th. Several have predicted that the party will hold only two of their current eleven seats – with some even suggesting that Charles Kennedy will lose his seat, bringing the Lib Dem representation in Scotland to a mere one MP.
However, I think, and I stress this is only a theory, that the SNP might actually help the Lib Dems hold on to a few more seats. A good constituency to look at in this respect is East Dunbartonshire, Jo Swinson’s seat. For a great deal of this parliament, pundits have assumed Labour would get this one by a canter in 2015. After all, the Labour message was fairly simple: vote yellow, get Tories, with the coalition providing the proof. How the local Lib Dems were meant to respond to this effectively was unclear. However, the seat becoming a Lib Dem-SNP marginal as it has done has two effects that are pro-Liberal Democrat: one, the messaging is much simpler. Vote for the Lib Dem incumbent to keep the SNP out – the hope being that there is tactical voting on this basis. If people in the constituency think it’s a two horse race between Jo and the SNP that could mean enough people vote tactically in her favour. Two, Labour divert funding away from the seat, meaning at least the Lib Dems aren’t facing the machine as they had expected.
A lot of the same parameters can be applied to other Scottish seats. Look at Gordon: going up against Salmond is no mean feat, but at least there’s something for the local unionists to rally round. No doubt there are some seats in which the balance might not work out (Danny Alexander’s is a good example of this – what would have been a three, even four way marginal in the old days might become SNP by some ways if the surge works out the way some polls are predicting). But again, trying to face a resurgent Labour in Scotland would have been a complete nightmare, so in the end it will probably be to the Lib Dems’ benefit.
I stress in closing that, like everything else connected to the 2015 election, predicting what the size and shape of the SNP vote in Scotland will look like is very difficult to do. Also, how effective tactical voting to keep them out will work is equally impossible to predict with any certainty. But the Lib Dems have to look at what is happening with the SNP in Scotland and, thinking about how differently it might have gone, be silently thankful for it all.