Scottish National Party's poor UK election showing derails independence push

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) -The Scottish National Party posted its worst showing at a British parliamentary election since 2010, a major setback for its push for a new independence referendum, as a resurgent Labour Party made gains in former heartlands.

The SNP, which held 43 seats before the election was called, has suffered from a period of turmoil that has seen two leaders quit in little over a year, a police investigation into the party's finances and splits on a range of policies including its attempts to secure a second referendum on independence.

The SNP had said that winning a majority of Scottish seats would give it a mandate to pursue independence talks, but won only nine of 57 Scottish seats, its lowest since the six won by the party in 2010, with one seat yet to declare.

"We are experiencing something that we have not experienced in quite some time. We are going to be beat in Scotland, and we are going to be beat well," the SNP's Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said after retaining his own seat.

The SNP had dominated the British parliament's Scottish seats since 2015, garnering the support of pro-independence voters in the wake of a 2014 referendum where Scots voted to remain part of the United Kingdom by 55% to 45%.

While the 2014 referendum failed to deliver independence, it did unite many supporters of the cause behind the SNP, which won so dominantly in 2015, 2017 and 2019 that it was the third largest party in the Westminster parliament despite contesting fewer than 10% of possible seats.

It is now the fourth-largest party behind the Liberal Democrats.

Then-leader Nicola Sturgeon channelled discontent over government by Conservatives in London and the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union when Scotland voted to remain. But she failed to secure a second independence referendum, as successive prime ministers blocked the move.

A police investigation into the SNP's finances, Sturgeon's sudden resignation as leader last year and the implosion of her successor Humza Yousaf's administration in the devolved Scottish government have contributed to the party's declining fortunes.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has ruled out another independence referendum. Recent polling has indicated that Scots favour remaining part of the United Kingdom by a slim margin.

Labour, projected to win a big majority in the British parliament overall, won 37 seats, its most since the 41 won under the leadership of Gordon Brown, a Scot, in 2010. It won just one seat in Scotland in 2019.

Labour's Scottish roots run deep - from party founder Keir Hardie to Brown, its most recent prime minister - and it won the most seats in Scotland in every election from 1959 until 2010.

Among the prominent Labour figures elected to seats in Scotland were Douglas Alexander, a former minister under Tony Blair and Brown, and Blair McDougall, who directed the campaign to reject independence in 2014.

"Labour is ready to put Scotland at the heart of government, to serve the people of Scotland and to deliver the change Scotland needs," Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Alex Richardson, Toby Chopra, Philippa Fletcher)