No wonder Nicola Sturgeon looked so happy in those photographs taken early that morning at the Emirates arena in Glasgow. Her first general election as leader of the SNP had just gone stunningly well.

No wonder that her predecessor, Alex Salmond, freshly returned to the House of Commons as MP for Gordon, felt moved to declare: “There’s a lion roaring tonight, a Scottish lion, and it’s going to roar with a voice that no government of whatever political complexion is going to be able to ignore”.

It was Friday, May 8, 2015. Coming but a few months after the bitter disappointment for independence-minded Scots of the defeat in the referendum, the victory was one for the ages. The Nationalists had swept up seat after Scottish seat, unceremoniously ousting many key figures in rival parties in the process.

“SNP landslide”, read the dramatic splash headline on that morning’s Herald. Our then UK political editor, Michael Settle, began his report thus: “Political history has been made in Scotland today with the SNP sweeping to a dramatic landslide victory as the Conservatives were set to hold on to power as the largest party across the UK.

“The Nationalist surge led to unprecedented swings of 35 and 39 per cent, leading to a rout of Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates with the SNP poised to take nearly all 59 Scottish seats”.

The Herald: Jim MurphyJim Murphy (Image: free)

Among those who suffered what he described as “humiliating defeats” were the Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy, and the Shadow Scottish Secretary, Margaret Curran. In Paisley and Renfrewshire South, the party’s chief strategist, Douglas Alexander, had been felled by the SNP’s Mhairi Black – who, aged just 20, became the youngest MP in some 350 years. The party even took all seven Glasgow seats, the first time they had ever won at UK parliamentary level in a city that had long belonged to Scottish Labour.

It wasn’t quite a clean sweep for Sturgeon’s candidates, however. The Scottish Secretary, Alistair Carmichael, triumphed for the Lib Dems in Orkney and Shetland (although on a majority that had been slashed from nearly 10,000 to almost 80), while Ian Smith retained Edinburgh South for Labour. Scotland’s solitary Conservative MP, David Mundell, held onto his seat.

The SNP’s previous best performance in a general election had occurred in 1974, when it captured 30 per cent of the Scottish vote and sent 11 MPs to Westminster. By the time of the 2014 referendum, the party had a reported 25,000 members. The number exceeded 100,000 by March 2015 and by the time of the May general election it was 125,000.

Digesting the results, Salmond had been quick to assert that David Cameron, who was returning to 10 Downing Street, had “no legitimacy in Scotland”. Referring to an occasion when he had been ejected from the Commons for interrupting Nigel Lawson’s Budget in 1988, he added: “I seem to remember when the SNP had three MPs facing Margaret Thatcher’s majority of over 100, we managed to create some excitement.

“There is a range of possibilities that will allow Scotland’s voice to be heard loud and clear”.

As Settle now observed, the scale of the SNP’s triumph prompted suggestions that Cameron, in order to avoid the prospect of becoming the last Prime Minister of the UK following a second independence referendum, could consider making Holyrood an offer of full fiscal autonomy and that a federal-type structure might be the last redoubt of the Unionists to save the 300-year-old Union.

Boris Johnson, the London mayor who was returning to the Commons as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, was quoted as saying: “There has to be some sort of federal offer. People are crying out for that kind of solution ... I’m absolutely certain it can be done”.


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Scottish Labour’s dismantling at the hands of the Nationalists had been considered unthinkable just a year earlier; indeed, it wasn’t an outcome that had been seriously entertained even when opinion polls in the final fortnight of the campaign had pointed to a decisive SNP victory.

Once all the UK results had been declared the tally read: Conservatives 331, Labour 232, SNP 56, LibDem 8, DUP 8, and others 15. Labour’s leader, Ed Miliband, the LibDem’s Nick Clegg and UKIP’s Nigel Farage had all swiftly resigned.

Speaking at Westminster on the Friday, a clearly elated Sturgeon declared: “The political firmament, the tectonic plates in Scottish politics, have shifted. What we are seeing is a historic watershed ... It can’t be business as usual in terms of how a Westminster government relates to and treats Scotland, and that message has to be heard loud and clear.

“We’re not here to disrupt or destroy: we’re here to get the best possible deal for Scotland and everything the [SNP] group [of MPs] does down here will be designed to achieve that”.

Over the weekend she posed for a special photograph of all but two of the party’s 56 MPs, against a backdrop of the Forth Bridge at South Queensferry.

The election result was watched avidly by publisher Adrian Searle, of Glasgow-based Freight Books, who decided that the 56 nationalist MPs deserved a book of their own. The result, later that year, was We Are the 56: The Individuals Behind a Political Revolution, by Josh Bircham and Grant Costello.

In his preface Searle said that on the morning of May 8 the political map of Scotland had changed “arguably more dramatically than it had done since the Act of Union in 1707”. Who, he had wondered, “were these people who had been in the vanguard of a peaceful but dramatic political revolution?”

The sheer significance of the SNP’s achievement was put into context by the political commentator, Iain Macwhirter, in his introduction in the book. “The May 2015 general election wasn’t just any old election”, he wrote. “It was a defining moment in Scottish history. Never before had Scottish voters united on this scale across class, religious and regional divisions in support of one political party: the Scottish National Party.

The Herald: Nicola Sturgeon with her husband Peter MurrellNicola Sturgeon with her husband Peter Murrell (Image: free)

“The SNP went from six seats out of 59 in 2010 to 56 seats out of 59 five years later. In general elections swings rarely reach double figures. In May 2015, the average swing was 30%, and in Glasgow North, supposedly one of Labour’s safest seats, it reached 39%, breaking the BBC’s swingometer. Results like these are simply unprecedented in Scottish or UK politics”.

The book, with its interviews with, and pen-portraits of, everyone from Salmond and Black to Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) and Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East) captures the heady optimism in the ranks of the SNP. The independence referendum may have ended in defeat – but who knew what was possible when the party controlled Scotland and had such a powerful voice in London, and when pro-independence sentiment was still on the rise?

So much has changed, of course, in the last nine years. Sturgeon resigned as leader more than a year ago, to be replaced by Humza Yousaf, and the party has become mired in legal and reputational difficulties. A number of the MPs have had well-publicised problems of their own. Even Mhairi Black, who made so many headlines with her decisive victory and maiden speech in 2015, has signalled her departure from the Commons at the next election, saying last summer that Westminster’s working environment was “outdated, sexist and toxic”.

What the SNP would give now for a return to those heady days of May 2015.