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This Scottish electoral earthquake has killed Indyref2 and shaken the SNP

Nicola Sturgeon has four years to save her neck.

Scotland seemed ready to teach the SNP a lesson about accountability. We knew that. No one realised quite how ready Scotland was. The general election result was seismic in many ways in many parts of the UK, but north of the border it hit a magnitude of 10: naw to a second independence referendum, no more gravity-defying Nat heroes, a brutal response from a nation that has tired of constitutional engineering and wants someone to attend to the basics.

Alex Salmond and his close friend Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh went. Westminster leader Angus Robertson went. John Nicolson, that cocky enemy of a free press, went. The dominos tumbled and kept tumbling. The messages from Tory and Labour friends grew more excitable and more disbelieving as the night wore on. "Keep watching," texted Ruth Davidson at 2.30am, "you might have a Tory MP in Stirling [my hometown, SNP 2015 majority 10,480]. Gordon’s getting tasty."

Stirling, once the stamping ground of Michael Forsyth, went Conservative for the first time in 20 years. Gordon meant Alex Salmond, which seemed unthinkable even as the unthinkable continued to happen. The SNP’s greatest leader was not spared. The night of the long claymores brought down the tallest of poppies.

In the end, an astonishing 21 out of 56 SNP MPs were fired by the voters, only two years after most of them had been handed the gig in the first place. "Not up to it," as Attlee would have put it.

Why? Well, Nicola Sturgeon won’t say it publicly, but her demand for a second independence referendum only three years after the first angered a great many voters who had asked the Nats to stand up for Scotland at Westminster rather than seek to rip it out. It was a catastrophic misjudgment by an otherwise canny leader. She and her colleagues were told, again and again, that the school-gate chat suggested a frustrated electorate felt taken for granted and had grown tired of the SNP’s one-track politics. As reports emerged showing numeracy and literacy rates falling despite ten years of Nationalist government, Scots wondered what they were getting from the deal. They have made up their minds: not enough.

As Sturgeon’s deputy John Swinney said, the proposal for a second referendum played a "significant" role in the result. "We will take time and care to reflect on the outcome of this result. But we have to acknowledge that the question of a second independence referendum was a significant motivator of votes against the SNP in this election, and we have to be attentive to that point." Bit late, but yes.

By any normal account, the SNP had a reasonable evening, winning a substantial 36.9 per cent of the vote and 35 out of a possible 59 seats. But they will be judged by their own previous high standards: this meant a loss of 21 seats and a drop of 13 percentage points since 2015. The Tories, meanwhile, doubled their share of the vote to 28.6 per cent, and even poor old Scottish Labour found itself up by 2.8 points at 27.1 per cent, going from one seat to seven. The Lib Dems leapt from one seat to four.

This was Davidson’s night, as her broad smile on the small hours TV screen made clear. Her (latest) achievement cannot be overstated: in a land where the word ‘Tory’ is still often used as a curse, she has detoxified the brand, produced a thumping success even as Theresa May fouled up across the rest of the UK, and has set up the possibility of a true electoral earthquake in the devolved elections of 2021. It is not yet clear where Davidson’s ceiling lies, if it even exists, but she has fans in interesting places. If she announced tomorrow that she had decided to lead a UK version of En Marche!, she would have the money and backing to do it.

Nicola Sturgeon has four years to save her neck – in the cold light of 9 June that doesn’t feel like an overstatement. "Indyref2 is dead. That’s what’s happened tonight," said Davidson. She’s right. And a Unionist majority at Holyrood in 2021, which now seems inevitable, will seal the deal. Scots desire strong, effective and accountable government no less than anyone else. They have spoken, loudly and clearly.

Can the Nats deliver? Can they genuinely set aside their raison d’etre and make some enemies in the name of public service reform? Is Sturgeon a First Minister for the whole nation, with the same concerns and passions as its people, or, as someone who joined the SNP while still in school, can politics only ever be a route to the One True Goal? We are about to find out. That is the challenge that now confronts her. Game on.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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