There’s a friend of mine who for years had an old newspaper bill pinned to his wall that he nicked from outside a newsagent on the morning of Friday May 2nd 1997. “Tories wiped out in Scotland” it said in big black inky letters and my friend had much to say about how delighted he felt that day. Lots of people did.

Twenty-seven years later, it looks like something similar is going to happen all over again: Tory wipeout in Scotland and existential disaster in England. You probably remember how at 3.10am on that Friday in ‘97, before he became a benign old buffer who makes train documentaries, millions of people delighted in the defeat of Michael Portillo in Enfield. It felt like the definitive sign that everything had changed. It was the Portillo moment.

If we’re to believe the latest MRP polling by Survation – and it proved extremely accurate for the 2017 and 2019 elections – there are going to be many potential new versions of the Portillo moment in 2024. Perhaps it’ll be the Gove moment, or the Badenoch moment, or maybe even the Sunak moment, who can say: there are many Cabinet ministers who look extremely vulnerable to any kind of Labour surge.

Scotland also looks like it’ll pretty much be a rerun of '97 for the Conservatives: complete annihilation, although in other ways, the predicted Scottish result couldn’t be further from ’97 if it tried: 41 of the seats would go to the SNP, down from 48, with Labour on 14, up from one. Wales is also interesting: the Tories wouldn’t win a seat there either which means the Conservatives would be an England-only party.

All of this is good news for people who want a “Tory-free Scotland”, but whether you’ve voted Conservative or not in the past, a general election result in which the SNP is way out in front in the number of seats and the Tories are on zero is a sign of where we – as in the political system in general and the way we talk about politics in Scotland – have been going wrong. Tory or anti-Tory, we should all want to fix the problem it demonstrates.

The problem – and it’s an old one – is that the results of the general election rarely reflect Scotland as it really is. Support for the Conservatives has plummeted from the 25-28% it was in 2017-2019 when the party was able to harness the frustration many people felt with the talk of second referendums. But a disastrous drop to zero seats at Westminster this time round would not reflect what’s going on: support for the Tories in Scotland is now about 14% – pathetically low obviously, but on the other hand go out and tap Scottish people on the shoulders and every seventh one will be a Conservative. Tory-free? Hardly.

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The same disconnect applies to the SNP, only the other way round. If the MRP polling comes to pass, they’ll rake in 41 seats at Westminster, way more than Labour on 14, the Lib-Dems on two and the Tories, as you know, on nada. However, in percentage terms, support for the SNP (around 39%) is nowhere near that far ahead of Labour (around 32%) – in some polls they’re neck and neck – and yet the SNP will hold the vast majority of seats. The interpretation, for some, is that the vast majority of Scots support the SNP. Hardly.

You can see where such a result in three or seven months (depending on what Rishi Sunak decides) will take us. Humza Yousaf and Anas Sarwar will say Scots have rejected the Tories and that the country is Tory-free. Mr Yousaf will use the result as his increasingly threadbare mandate for a second referendum on independence. And it will perpetuate the idea (always wrong) that Scotland speaks with one voice and the voice is left-wing. In other words, everyone will look at the Westminster runes and read precisely the wrong things from them.

Exactly how voters should respond to this situation is unclear. The detailed work for the Survation poll shows that my own constituency, Ayr Carrick and Cumnock, would be one of those seats that would go over to Labour from the SNP, but it’s by no means certain. Ayr Carrick and Cumnock is one of those places that used to deliver bucketloads of Labour votes in the old days but 2014 changed everything and it’s sometimes been SNP and sometimes Conservative. Labour would also have to come back from some pretty disastrously low support last time round but the polling says it will, so who knows it may do.

The deeper issue is that the result in Ayr Carrick and Cumnock, and lots of other constituencies in Scotland, is unlikely to reflect how support really breaks down among voters and is more likely to reflect the behaviour of voters who’ve increasingly become political tacticians when they cast their vote. If Labour do win in Ayr Carrick and Cumnock for example, they will do so despite a still large support for the SNP and partly because Tory voters want to ensure the SNP lose and so lend Labour their votes. To be honest, it’s unsatisfactory for everyone.

I wouldn’t want to underplay the disastrous nature of the Tory Government and the fact they deserve to lose badly – and I do wonder who the 14% of Scots are that are still willing to vote for them this time (what will it take for God’s sake?) But the problems that will apply to individual results in constituencies at the general election will also apply collectively if the Tories end up with nothing and the SNP get 41 or whatever: one in seven Scots vote Conservative and yet they do not have a single MP to represent them.

It's for this reason that I say a Tory-free Scotland would be a sign of where we’re going wrong. First, the results allow the politicians to assert things that aren’t true (“there are no Tories in Scotland,” “Scotland wants a referendum”, etc, etc). But it also proves how flawed our system for general elections is if the aim is to reflect what voters want in the right proportions. It’s also extraordinary that we still have a first-past-the-post system when the Scottish Parliament has shown that a proportional system works fine and reflects what’s really going on (which in some cases means quite a lot of Tories).

The Herald:

Will Labour ever grasp this nettle and change things? If Keir Starmer wins a massive UK majority (as the Survation polls says he will) then I am a little pessimistic. Why would he change something that’s just handed him a win? It was also the Labour party that delivered on Scottish devolution in the 1990s only for it to turn around and bit them on the bum so they may be wary.

On the other hand, if Labour do not make a major breakthrough in Scotland based on first-past-the-post, reform starts to look like a better option. They could sit back and keep things as they are and watch the SNP take most seats again in the future and claim some kind of mandate. Or Labour could embrace proportional representation for general elections which, based on both the SNP and Labour being on the mid-to-high 30s, would deliver many more seats for Labour and a much more representative result for the voters as well. The problem is of course that it would mean Scotland would never be “Tory-free” again. But let me ask you this: isn’t that a price worth paying for doing things properly?