When Attitudes and Behaviour Collide: How the Scottish Independence Referendum Cost Labour
30 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 27, 2016
Perhaps the most notable feature of the 2015 UK General Election was the fragmentation of support for the ‘challenger parties’. One major factor in this was the rise of the SNP in Scotland. Borrowing the concept of ‘punctuated equilibrium’ from evolutionary biology, we argue that political equilibrium is punctuated by critical moments characterised by key events that act as catalyst for abrupt change. In this paper, we examine one such ‘event’: the referendum on independence in Scotland in September 2014, and show substantial spill-over effects on the 2015 General Election. Drawing on theories of attitudinal and behavioural inconsistency from social psychology, we argue that Labour supporters who voted ‘Yes’ to independence subsequently became more favourably disposed towards the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the policies that they advocated, and less favourably disposed towards Labour. Moreover, a realignment of attitudes and voting among 2010 Labour voters meant that those supporting independence, more devolution and higher Scottish national identity were more likely to switch to the SNP. In other words, the referendum did not simply reflect Labour’s problems in Scotland but further contributed to those problems, resulting in almost total annihilation in terms of Parliamentary seats.
Keywords: referendum, realignment, social identity, Scottish National Party, Labour Party, British politics, Scottish politics
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