Defeated Joanna Cherry says battered SNP’s ‘ship has gone down’

“It wasn’t personal” was the message from David Robb, a 72-year-old Labour voter and one of the constituents in Edinburgh South West responsible for the SNP’s Joanna Cherry losing her seat.

Robb, like an increasing number of Scottish voters, has no fealty to any one party but said he had been at his wits’ end with the nationalists generally. He wanted change.

“I was fed up with the SNP,” Robb said. “There always seems to be someone and something wrong with the party, and this vote was about sending a message to them.

“I thought Joanna Cherry was a very good MP but it’s just a pity she’s with the SNP.”

Cherry, a high profile Scottish politician not shy of challenging party orthodoxy, was one of Thursday night’s shock losers as the SNP’s Westminster numbers were devastated. Edinburgh South West saw a 23% swing to Labour on a night when the SNP lost 38 seats, putting their current total at just nine.

A third recount was under way on Saturday in Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire, which was expected to swing from the SNP to the Liberal Democrats.

Some 24 hours after the loss of her seat in Edinburgh, Cherry was in a reflective mood about the future of her party. “When there’s a tsunami,” she said on Saturday, “good people go, as well as the people responsible for the tsunami.”

As to who is responsible, Cherry blames the agenda set by former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, most notably the push for gender recognition reform, and an unwillingness to listen to dissenting voices in the party.

“For many years, people were cheesed off with Labour, but it took a long time before Labour got its booting in 2015,” she said. “This is what’s happened to us; people have been getting more and more exasperated with us over a long period of time.

“Many voters from all sorts of different persuasions have particularly articulated to me a concern that the SNP has taken its eye off the ball on big issues.”

Scotland’s general election results are being viewed in the broader context of the 2026 Holyrood elections, which are expected to cause further upset for the party, unless the SNP manages a drastic reversal in fortune over the coming 18 months.

“People who really want independence feel we dropped the ball,” Cherry said. “People who don’t want independence but voted for us because we had competence and governed with integrity feel we’ve lost our competence and there’s a question mark over our integrity.”

The only way forward for the SNP now, Cherry believes, is to “openly and honestly” address what has gone wrong. “The appetite, first of all, was for continuity. Then it was for a candidate who could steady the ship. But Swinney has not steadied the ship: the ship has gone down.”

Cherry stops short of saying that SNP leader John Swinney should be replaced, but she does say that a new broom is needed.

Anas Sarwar with his greatly enlarged team of Scottish Labour MPs. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Observer

Even that may not be enough to stop the Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who is widely expected to become Scotland’s first minister after the 2026 elections, although in the longer term his fate will rely heavily on Keir Starmer’s performance at Westminster. Certainly, he showed no sign of fatigue at a press call the morning after the election.

Speaking to reporters in the shadow of Glasgow’s Titan Crane, a giant relic of the city’s shipbuilding past, the Scottish Labour leader stood with a lineup of his 37 MPs.

Among them is Blair McDougall, whose East Renfrewshire seat, on the outskirts of Glasgow, changes hands constantly: from Labour to SNP in 2015, to Conservative in 2017, back to SNP in 2019, and now back to Labour.

McDougall was head strategist for Better Together, a coalition of unionist parties campaigning against Scottish independence during the referendum in 2014.

In his constituency, he said, voters were focused on the record of both governments, Westminster and Holyrood.

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“People would very quickly volunteer something along the lines of ‘I want to get rid of that rotten lot’, and you had to use clues to work out which of the two they meant [SNP or Conservative],” he said.

“There was often sheer despondency towards one and sheer ire towards the other.”

As independence has dropped down voters’ list of priorities, “it creates a space for real conversation about real politics and what the Scottish government does,” he said.

“But that is so dangerous for the SNP because they haven’t been able to find a language which says ‘we take responsibility and here’s our plan’. They’re stuck and they need to recalibrate that.”

One of the quieter successes of the election in Scotland was an increase in vote share for the Scottish Greens, with the party coming third place in some constituencies.

Co-convener Lorna Slater believes leftwing independence supporters have made a shift from SNP to the Scottish Greens, who advocated for independence during the referendum, adding that the SNP has a “hard slog” ahead to regain voter trust.

“The independence landscape is now three parties: Alba, the SNP and the Greens,” she said. “Independence is becoming unlinked from any particular party and that’s a good thing, although it creates real problems for the SNP.”

The SNP, Slater said, may be able to capitalise on what she describes as Scottish Labour’s “inevitable failure” to deliver on its promises in Scotland due to tight fiscal rules set by the UK party.

“We’re going to have the next few years of Labour and the SNP slagging each other off and it will come down to whose narrative sticks,” she added.

Back in Edinburgh South West, Rose Scott, 63, was returning home with her shopping bags. In what was a low-turnout election, she speaks for a large proportion of her neighbours, and highlights the challenge ahead for all parties.

“It makes no odds to me,” she said, when asked about her community’s shift from SNP to Labour. “I never bother with any of them.”

The Guardian