Support 100 years of independent journalism.

Scotland’s general election 2017 surprise – 3 of the biggest shocks north of the border

The Tory surge was more spectacular than even insiders expected. 

By Julia Rampen

When the exit poll predicted that the Scottish National Party, hegemonic in Scotland, would lose 22 seats, opposition parties were cautious. Sources in both Labour and the Conservatives warned it wasn’t very clear where those losses would come from. But their tone soon changed.

As I wrote before the polls closed, one of the factors that could shift the election predictions would be a surprise in Scotland. It turned out to be more of a surprise than even those on the ground imagined. 

The resurgence of the Scottish Conservatives under sparky leader Ruth Davidson has long been predicted. East Renfrewshire, a leafy, middle-class, pro-union suburb on the edge of Glasgow, was a target seat for the Scottish Conservatives as soon as the snap election was called in April 2017. They won it.

But they also won Angus, formerly held with an SNP majority of 11,230, with a swing of 16 percentage points. And Moray, the seat of the SNP’s deputy leader, Angus Robertson (you can read Jason Cowley’s profile of the constituency here). 

So the first big surprise was the scale of the Tory surge. But that wasn’t the only upset of the night.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

The second was the Labour comeback, which James Millar spotted, but the scale of which has taken even insiders by surprise. Labour, the banished Scottish giant, had grabbed back not only its target seat of East Lothian, but Midlothian, Glasgow North East, Kirkcaldy and Rutherglen and Hamilton West by 3.15am. A source called five or six seats “huge progress”. One activist I spoke to believed Labour is scooping up voters it lost in 2014 and 2015. As an STV/Ipsos Mori poll recently showed, Labour is the least controversial party for tactical voters, even when it isn’t their number one choice. Still, Labour activists used to disappointing results are in a state of disbelief. Alex Salmond, the former SNP First Minister, blamed his party’s poor showing on Labour’s recovery thanks to support for Jeremy Corbyn. 

The third shock (perhaps) is the return of the Lib Dems, which I’ll admit I didn’t see coming, although Jo Swinson always looked tantalisingly close to winning back her old seat of East Dunbartonshire (she did, with a majority of 5,339). But at time of writing, the Lib Dems had won Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, and were projected to win two more seats. 

So what to make it of all? Well, Scots who have prided themselves on being the bulwark against eternal Tory rule must now accept that if the Tories manage to form a government, it’ll be thanks to voters in Moray and East Renfrewshire. 

But to balance that out, it’s worth remembering amid all this excitement that the SNP are still on course to be the biggest party north of the border. In 2010, it had six seats. So this is a correction rather than a decimation of its strength in Scotland.