Stewart Hosie, Depute Leader of the SNP and MP for Dundee East in the 2010 parliament, is not a man likely to lose his seat in May.
Though Dundee East was the closest SNP/Lab marginal in 2010, he is already sitting on an increased majority — and with a swing from red to yellow across the whole country and even Labour strongholds likely to fall, this is hardly a contest still poised on the edge.
Still, Hosie is measured in his assessment of the situation. “We take nothing for granted — not a single vote has been cast, not a single ballot counted. But, you’ve seen the polling evidence over the last 5 months. There’s no reason to believe that the same swing we’ve seen all over the country won’t be represented here.”
Though the referendum is to thank for Hosie’s security and the national surge for his party, the cause is not a cross he’s bearing into the next election — though of course with the SNP, it’s always somewhere on the horizon.
“We came to terms with the referendum result very quickly, and we’ve been explicit: this 2015 election is not about independence, it’s about holding Westminster to account: making sure that they deliver on the promises that the Scottish people think they were made.”
Unlike some of the Scottish candidates likely to take up seats at Westminster in 2015, Hosie is a politician with significant experience under his belt. This permeates every aspect of our conversation. Even a question about how to describe Dundee to those who don’t know the city receives an answer wound around a political message.
“Dundee is Scotland’s 4th biggest city, which has seen massive improvements in the last 7-8 years”, Hosie tells me. His statement comes as no great surprise — the SNP have had a majority on the City Council here since 2012, and increased their plurality against Labour from a one vote to a three vote gap.
He continues: “On building and development of the local economy, the council are doing their best to bring new jobs, massive investment in housing and education. Two fantastic universities, huge potential — is the answer. It’s the kind of place that has been abandoned by Labour throughout the UK, this kind of city — and the SNP are put in charge here, and you can see the improvement.”
Hosie is keen to emphasise the status of the SNP in Scotland as a legitimate democratic force, with experience in government: something which he feels is at times lost on the English media.
“We’re a mainstream social democratic party; this is not some kind of insurgent politics. We’ve been in government in Scotland since 2007. We run this city. We run lots of councils. We’ve had unbroken representation in Westminster since 1967; in Europe since 1974. In the Scottish Parliament since its inception.”
The SNP had only 6 MPs in the Westminster parliament; but they already have majorities under the belt in both the Holyrood parliament and several City councils. “We won the last council elections in votes and seats. An extraordinary achievement, and even in a PR system we won 16/29 in Dundee. If it had been under a first past the post system we’d have won around 25, the way Labour used to be. So what we’ve done is incredibly good, given how difficult it is to win majorities in a PR system.”
He’s not particularly sympathetic to the narrative often put forward that the SNP will have disproportionate influence in post-election negotiations, in a way which might be damaging to democracy.
“There’s one Tory MP in Scotland, and George Osborne runs our economy. If the unionists during the referendum were telling the truth, that we’re all one big happy family, then they must stop whinging and whining if, in electoral terms, suddenly Scottish votes count.”
As a member of the party leadership, Hosie is an authoritative voice on exactly how the SNP might try to make SNP votes count in post-election negotiations. The SNP have long made clear that they’re interested in coming to a supportive arrangement with Labour in the case of a hung parliament.
“We’ve already laid out what we think the negotiations should be about, the powers we want: an end to austerity, powers north of the Smith Commission, an end to Trident — because we don’t have £100bn to spend on it — and urgently at this point, a support package for the North Sea in terms of reduced taxes to make sure the oil and gas sector remains viable. That’s actually important for the whole of the UK.”
The SNP leadership and Labour have already ruled out a formal coalition, and Hosie thinks that some kind of confidence and supply arrangement has the potential to work well. But, as always, with the familiar caveat: “We know what we would want in return for that help”.
Unsurprisingly though, the Conservatives are not extended the same graces. Even if the Conservatives were the largest party in Parliament — though not large enough for a majority — Hosie struggles with the idea of allowing them to form a minority government.
“It’s very very difficult to see how we could possibly possibly support a Tory government”.
It remains highly uncertain as to whether Labour will play ball, though: the possibility of accommodating SNP demands is under a lot of heat from the English media. But from the Scottish perspective, the justification for some of these demands comes from promises that have already been made — and are in danger of being broken — by English politicians.
“When our opponents talked about maximum devolution, or ‘Devo Max’, the public though that meant everything apart from defence and foreign affairs. That’s the bar the public think was set, and our job is to make sure our opponents — the Westminster establishment — actually deliver on that.”
“If you listen to the language of the pre-referendum vow, Gordon Brown said that it would be the closest thing to a federal state within 1 to 2 years. The PM mirrored that language, saying there would be the most substantial devolution. They set the bar very high.”
If the bar that Westminster politicians set with the pre-referendum vow is high, so is the bar set by the SNP to its own voters: the key messages on which they’re standing are securing an end to both austerity and Trident.
The Liberal Democrats didn’t secure concessions of anywhere near this magnitude, and it’s unlikely the SNP will either. But of course if they don’t, the SNP can point to the Westminster politicians as further obstructing goals they feel they have a democratic mandate to secure — even if they have big ramifications for the rest of the UK.
A possible SNP failure to secure their stated demands might result in disillusionment from Scottish voters; or it might fuel to the flames of support for independence, paving the way for a Yes vote in a referendum perhaps five or ten years hence.
But whatever the consequences of such ambitious electoral pledges, every resource is being thrown into spreading the SNP message as far and as persistently as possible.
“We’re deploying every possible thing we can”, Hosie tells me. “So whether that’s doorstep canvassing, telephone work, social media activity, we will deploy all the tools we possibly can.”
The national campaign strategy does seem to be paying dividends. “We’ve seen from the poll evidence that we’ve a substantial lead over Labour. Something around a fifteen point swing since last time. That’s now been consistent for five months.”
With around a month to go, it would be a dramatic turn indeed for this swing to be undone. A lot can happen during the short campaign, but there are no signs of the surge abating yet. Dundee East will likely be in the minority of Scottish seats not to change their colours in 2015. As one of Scotland’s key marginals in 2010, this says a lot about what’s happened to Scotland in the last few years. What happens in the next will likely determine what happens to the SNP.