‘Bittersweet’ night for SNP with prospect of no referendum re-run for at least five years
Drew Hendry re-elected in Inverness
‘Pact’ plan against Ian Blackford is a failure
Election night special report
BORIS Johnston and the Conservative Party have confounded fears of a hung parliament by gaining a huge 70-plus seat majority in the General Election.
They swept to victory as the Labour vote fell apart under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
The result – accurately predicted in a 10pm television exit poll – ended fears of “the Christmas nightmare” of a hung parliament alliance between Corbyn and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.
It also means it’s unlikely that another independence referendum will be held in Scotland for at least the next five years.
The pound soared by the biggest margin in 10 years as financial markets welcomed an end to the Brexit uncertainty which has paralysed Westminster over the past three years.
Prime Minister Johnson has pledged to “get Brexit done” by January 31, with an initial deal with the EU being firmly agreed, before ongoing negotiations on the specific detail continue over succeeding months.
Corbyn, who had pledged to spend around £800 billion in “free giveaways”, said he would stand down as Labour leader, without specifying a date.
In Scotland, the SNP gained a number of seats as the Labour vote collapsed.
Their final total was expected to be around the 50-mark.
There was a predictable early clamour overnight for another independence referendum, which will continue over the coming days and weeks.
But Prime Minister Johnson has promised to refuse a Section 30 order giving legal permission for a referendum “no matter the circumstances”.
And Unionists across Scotland, aware of his huge government majority, will be relieved he has a “cast-iron mandate” to do so.
Nicola Sturgeon has previously claimed this is “unsustainable”.
But faced with a Prime Minister in such a commanding position, it is unclear what, if anything, she can do about it, although there has been talk of the SNP mounting some form of legal challenge.
At the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow it was reported: “This is a bittersweet moment for the SNP. Despite the exit poll (which forecast they would win 55 seats) and early wins, there’s a subdued mood among many of their activists there. They are all too aware what a large Tory majority in Westminster means for their hopes of a second independence referendum.”
During the course of the night SNP representatives were unable to offer any course of action when Boris Johnson rejects their referendum demands, with the party line only being that “Scotland has spoken and wants indyref2”.
Unionists will expect the Prime Minister to stick rigidly to his pledge to keep Scotland in the Union after the “once in a generation” referendum and deny all attempts to force another on the country.
The “Corbyn-Sturgeon nightmare” – which loomed large after late polls predicted a sharp narrowing of the Tory lead – would have meant the Labour leader granting permission for “indyref2” in exchange for Sturgeon’s support in propping up his minority government.
But the prospect of a repeat of the “once in a generation” referendum will now seem to many as being further away than at any time since the independence poll in 2014.
The next date at which anything of significance – as opposed to what’s been described as “ongoing SNP noise” – is liable to emerge is after the outcome of the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2021.
Whether or not the Prime Minister will decide to shift his stance on a Section 30 order then remains to be seen. A poll two weeks ago predicted the pro-independence SNP-Greens alliance at Holyrood by then would fail to gain a majority.
In the Inverness constituency Drew Hendry was re-elected as MP for the third successive times with an increased majority. He gained 26,257 votes, more than 10,000 ahead of Conservative candidate Dr Fiona Fawcett, who gained 15,807. Robert Ricksen gained 5,846 for the Liberal Democrats, and Lewis Whyte 4,123 for Labour. The turnout in the seat was 70 per cent.
Mr Hendry’s victory was widely expected. During his campaign he mainly confined himself to his industrious track record in pursuing local issues, and in his campaign literature he made no direct reference to “indyref2”.
He has been a strong opponent of Brexit and what he sees as its negative impact on the Highlands, saying that Scots should be able to choose their future.
In Caithness and Sutherland Liberal Democrat Jamie Stone was re-elected by a narrow margin, with 11,705 votes. It was one of the few successes on a bad night for the party, with its leader Jo Swinson losing her seat. The former Highland councillor and MSP came just ahead of Highland councillor Karl Rosie, who gained 11,501 votes for the SNP.
In Ross, Skye and Lochaber Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, was re-elected with 19,263 votes – nearly 10,000 ahead of Craig Harrow of the Liberal Democrats, who gained 9,820. There had been strong speculation that Tory and Labour voters would back Harrow in a bid to oust Mr Blackford, but that spectacularly failed to materialise. The Conservative candidate won just under 7,000 votes and the Labour candidate just over 2,000.
In his acceptance speech Mr Blackford immediately cast down a challenge to the Prime Minister declaring “we will have our referendum”.
The bigger challenge for him, and other senior figures in the SNP, will be what they do when he refuses to grant it.