The Long and the Short of the SNP Breakthrough

  • Richard Rose
  • Mark Shephard


The 2015 election campaign saw the Scottish National Party (SNP) abruptly transformed from a largely irrelevant minority party to one with a major impact on British politics. For two generations after Scottish Nationalists began contesting elections in 1929, their efforts had demonstrated the commitment of Scots to the two British governing parties. Together, the Conservative and Labour Parties took up to 97% of the Scottish vote, while the Nationalists averaged only 1%, and did not win a single seat at a general election until 1970. The SNP first gained significance when the share of the two British governing parties fell to 75% at the 1974 British general elections. While in England the Liberals benefited, in Scotland it was the SNP that gained most. In the February 1974 British general election its vote almost doubled and it won seven MPs, enough to hold the balance of power in an almost evenly divided House of Commons. In October 1974 the SNP won 11 seats and its share of the Scottish vote reached 30%, only six percentage points less than the Labour vote. The Labour government introduced a bill for the devolution of a minimum of powers to a Scottish assembly, but many Labour MPs were hostile and the proposed assembly was rejected because of insufficient turnout at a 1979 Scottish referendum.


Opinion Poll Absolute Majority British Government Labour Party Scottish Electorate 
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  1. 1.
    James Mitchell, L. Bennie and R. Johns, The Scottish National Party. Oxford University Press, 2012.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Gerry Hassan and Eric Shaw, The Strange Death of Labour Scotland. Edinburgh University Press, 2012.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See Richard Rose, Understanding the United Kingdom. Longman, 1981.Google Scholar

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© Richard Rose and Mark Shephard 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Rose
  • Mark Shephard

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