Class, SNP and the 2015 General Election

Alongside the role of middle classes within civil society, the appointment of Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP was a key factor. Sturgeon capitalised on the tide of public opinion and saw the SNP become even more associated with anti-austerity and with the conditions of the poor. The surge in support of independence meant that the Yes campaign, despite failing to gain a majority, emerged from the referendum with great political optimism; the SNP was a distinct beneficiary of civil society mobilisation. Far from experiencing a decline in support after the No vote (as it did in the 1980s following the 1979 devolution referendum) the SNP saw its membership quadruple from 25,000 in September 2014 to 100,000 by March 2015. An Ipsos Mori poll just one month after the referendum showed 52 % support for the SNP, with Labour down to 28 % (Rose and Shepherd 2015). This was clear evidence of Labour’s misjudgement in deciding to join the Conservative-Liberal democratic coalition’s Better Together campaign, rather than running its own antiindependence campaign. The result of the May general election was an unprecedented landslide for the SNP, which won 50 % of the vote and 56 out of 59 seats, compared to Labour’s 24 % and a loss of 40 seats. According to one survey, over 90 % of those who voted Yes in the independence referendum voted for the SNP in the general election the following year (Curtice 2015a). The following table uses the 2015 wave of the British Election Study data based on respondents actual voting in the general election. It clearly shows the remarkable success of the SNP in its ability to gain cross-class support (Table 5.2).

Compared to respondents’ recalled vote in the 2010 election, the party saw significant increases in support in each of the socio-economic classifications. In 2010 it was the employer classes (1.1 and 4) which stood out, and only in these two classes did the SNP receive a higher proportion of respondent votes than Labour. In addition, the party in 2015 continued to receive proportionate support from middle-class groups, not least from managers, employers and the self-employed. The biggest increases in 2015, however, were in the professional and working-class groups, and especially the routine manual occupational group, where the proportion of respondents voting for the SNP rose from 22.7 % in 2010 to 53.5 %

Table 5.2 Class support for SNP in 2010 and 2015 general elections

  • 2010
  • (%)
  • 2015
  • (%)

+/- (%)

Large employers and higher managerial and



+ 14

administrative occupations

Higher professional occupations




Lower managerial, administrative and professional





Intermediate occupations




Small employers and own account workers




Lower supervisory and technical occupations




Semi-routine occupations




Routine occupations





1 9.9


+ 24.4

Source: British Election Study (BES). Wave 6 of the 2014-2017 BES Internet Panel (post-election wave): DA3NjE0NjIzNzI1MzU=#.VyoIGxsUW70

in 2015. The same BES data also showed that over 60 % of those in the ‘unemployed and never worked’ category voted for the SNP in 2015. This suggests to us that some broader patterns of similarity and difference exist between UKIP in England and the SNP in Scotland. Despite offering very different ‘nationalist’ alternatives, both parties enjoyed increased support from members of the routine manual class who had switched from Labour. As we will describe, this is in contrast to Plaid Cymru in Wales, whose support is far more restricted to middle-class socio-economic groups.

The next table makes it clear where SNP support in2015 came from. Almost as many respondents had previously voted for the Labour party (33 %) as had voted for the SNP (38.7 %). Previous voters for the Liberal Democrats as well as those who did not vote previously together also provided just under a quarter of the SNP votes (Table 5.3).

A poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft in December 2014 (Ashcroft 2015) was carried out in 14 electoral constituencies in Scotland with the specific intention of testing the potential support for the SNP in Labour majority areas. Several of these 14 areas are within the four income- deprived local authorities voting Yes (over 50 %) in the referendum. These include the constituencies of Cumbernauld in North Lanarkshire, Dundee West and several in Glasgow. Across all 14 areas, both SNP and Labour were found to command cross-class support. However, the intention to switch from Labour to the SNP is linked to economic pessimism. On the question of whether the economic situation of your fam-

Table 5.3 Recall of 2010 vote of SNP voters in 2015 general election









Liberal Democrat






Did not vote









Source: British Election Study, wave 6 of 2014-2017 BES Internet Panel (post-election wave): NzYwNDY2Nzg=#.V_qukDiQJ3V ily will fare well or badly over the next year, 45 % of SNP intending voters thought their situation would fare badly compared to 29 % of people intending to vote for Labour. Unsurprisingly, only 11 % of those intending to vote Conservative thought they would fare badly. Moreover, looking at those intending to switch from Labour in the 2010 general election to vote SNP in 2015, we find those intending to switch are more pessimistic—of those intending to continue to vote Labour, only 29 % saw themselves as faring badly, compared with 48 % of those intending to switch to the SNP

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