The other day I saw a tweet of Nicola Sturgeon, as she responded to Christian Fraser of the BBC.
First, we must draw the distinction between Westminster and Holyrood mandates. The SNP can never command a mandate at Westminster, since they can only get 59 of the possible 650 seats (democratic deficit in action). Obviously, the focus was on the SNP having a mandate in Holyrood, or if you like, Scotland. The FM was comparing her Holyrood mandate to the PM’s Westminster mandate, but let’s go a little further.
The problem with politicians and their ever-shifting use of the word ‘mandate’ is that they use it to make a political point, rather than to accept the reality of the electoral situation. A simple definition of a mandate from Oxford English Dictionary:
“The authority to carry out a policy, regarded as given by the electorate to a party or candidate that wins an election.”
Of course the reality in most parliaments is what the governing party can get away with (and I mean by electoral majority or consensus, rather than any other definition). Another reality is that under the Holyrood AMS system of voting, achieving an overall majority is incredibly difficult.
Other than the 2011 election, no Holyrood government has ever had an overall majority (65 seats required). The highest that Labour ever managed in seats was in 1999 with 56 seats, and they formed a coalition with the Lib Dems, and again in 2003. The SNP formed a minority government in 2007, secured an overall majority in 2011, and have a very strong minority (with possible support from the Green Party) at present.
The one thing that’s not seen when looking at these charts is how the Conservatives do in Scotland, as they haven’t been involved in any of the Holyrood governments since its inception. Until 2016 their electoral fortunes were way below par, and the only reason they have risen in Scotland recently, is because of Labour’s electoral demise.
So if you’re not of a mind to vote Conservative, it seems a bit brass-necked of any Conservative politician talking about mandates in Scotland. Let’s look at some other Conservative / SNP data. Below are how the Conservatives in Scotland compared to the SNP in vote share in some of the more recent elections. For added perspective, I included the Scottish Brexit vote (perhaps we should rename it E&Wexit?).
So to sum up, the Conservatives have never had a mandate in Holyrood. In fact, if you check the Conservative Westminster performances in Scotland, you have to go back to 1955, when they got 36 of the 71 seats (to Labour’s 34). In short, it has been 60 years since the Conservatives had anything approaching a mandate in Scotland.
A couple of other tweets caught my eye, and echoed my sentiments:
The David Mundell typo aside, it’s an excellent point, and it is strange that Scotland can be pulled out of the EU by a party with a single (1.7% of Scots MPs) Conservative politician, but the 56 SNP MPs (95% of Scots MPs) are not considered a mandate by those that like to re-define the meaning of mandate as and when they like.
Of course changing one’s policy on what a mandate means, seems to be a trend, as Christina McKelvie (SNP MSP) highlighted today:
(Thanks to Wings Over Scotland for the Video)
So there you have it. The leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland arguing that for a mandate on a referendum, a party needs enough pro-indy voters in Holyrood. The SNP’s 63 seats + the Green Party’s 6 seats comes to 69 seats, which is more than enough.
Edit: 19th March
Since publishing, someone else put the whole question of a mandate into another perspective. Remember I mentioned that a mandate is ‘what the government can get away with’? Consider this graphic:
Checkmate again, and then some.