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Will the UK move away from a two party system?
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Scotland's rise in nationalism means two party politics is over

The electoral success of the Scottish Nationalists in parliamentary elections and in the devolved Scottish Parliament is a direct challenge to the two party political system.
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Since 1922 the British electorate has returned either a Conservative or Labour Government, leading many to conclude that British politics will continue to be dominated by a two-party system. However, rising levels of public disenchantment with the major parties has seen the popularity of smaller parties, including nationalists, grow. The electoral success of the Scottish Nationalist Party in Scotland and the Liberal Democrats/Brexit Party in the last European Elections have led some to doubt whether the future of the UK's two-party system.

The Argument

In the last three general elections the Scottish Nationalist Party has dominated in Scotland, bucking the trend of smaller parties being squeezed out by the Conservative and Labour Party. In just a decade the Scottish Nationalists have expanded the amount of parliamentary seats in their control from just 6 in 2010 to 48 in the recent election in 2019. The success of nationalism in Scotland has come at the expense of the two major political parties, particularly the Labour Party that historically controlled Scottish politics. This has led many analysts to point out that Labour cannot win a parliamentary majority and form a government without gaining seats in Scotland or coming to some form of power-sharing arrangement with the Scottish Nationalists. Either way it all but ensures that the Scottish Nationalists will continue to remain in the picture as a possible ‘king-maker’ when it comes to a future Labour government.[1] Despite both of the main parties making electoral inroads in Scotland in 2017, the Conservatives and Labour have subsequently gone backwards with each now only having one Member of Parliament in Scotland. While the Conservatives can boast of a large parliamentary majority, north of the border the Scottish Nationalists are supreme, challenging the very notion of two party politics and claims that the Government can speak for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Counter arguments

The continued electoral dominance of the Scottish Nationalists is far from assured. The majority of voters in Scotland did not vote for the Scottish Nationalists in the 2019 General Election, opting for other parties. However, the first-past-the-post electoral system continues to aid the Scottish Nationalists through the geographic concentration of their voters, delivering a majority of the parliamentary seats with the Nationalists receiving only 45% of the total vote share in Scotland.[2] Similarly, the number of votes and the percentage share of the national vote the Scottish Nationalists received in 2019 was still significantly lower than their 2015 general election high,[3] which has led some to speculate whether they have reached an electoral ceiling with the only direction open being decline.


[P1] The Scottish Nationalists will remain dominant in Scotland. [P2] The Labour Party will only be able to gain a parliamentary majority and form a government with the parliamentary seats in Scotland. [P3] The Labour Party will continue to entertain the prospect of a coalition or some form of electoral pact with the Scottish Nationalists as a path to power.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] The Scottish Nationalists have hit an electoral ceiling and the main parties will likely make renewed electoral inroads in Scotland at the next general election. [Rejecting P2 & P3] The Labour Party could form a government without securing further parliamentary seats in Scotland and ruling out an electoral pact or post electoral arrangement with the Scottish Nationalists.


This page was last edited on Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 11:35 UTC