If everyone has a mandate… surely nobody has a mandate?

In his victory statement to the media, Boris Johnson asserted that, “…we will get Brexit done…delivering on the democratic mandate of the people” (Source: BBC news online). Surrounding Boris during his victory statement, the Conservatives proclaimed in logos that they were ‘The People’s Government’. Later the same day, Boris’s media message from Number 10 had strengthened to “an overwhelming mandate from this election to get Brexit done” (Source: BBC news online). With 365 seats out of 650 the Conservatives had captured 56% of the seats. Presumably ‘The People’, who had voted 52% in favour of Brexit, were now 56% in favour of the ‘get Brexit done’ Conservative Party. However, the mandate for Brexit derived from 37.4% of the total electorate voting for leave in 2016, and the mandate for the Conservatives in 2019 was even worse at 29.3% of the total electorate. Moreover, the EURef2 poll of polls (source: whattheukthinks.org) suggests that average support for Brexit (2016 to 2019) is 53% remain versus 47% leave. So where is the mandate from ‘The People’?

It is not only the Conservatives who are claiming a mandate from their seat total, the SNP won 48 out of 59 seats (81%) in Scotland and so claim that they have a very clear mandate for a second independence referendum. In her victory statement, Nicola Sturgeon asserted that, “the stunning election win last night for the SNP renews, reinforces and strengthens the mandate we have from previous elections to offer the people of Scotland a choice over their future. That mandate says that it is for the Scottish Parliament, not a Westminster government, to decide whether and when there should be a new referendum on independence” (Source: BBC news online). In turn, this re-energised SNP supporters on Twitter and calls for an indyref2 are trending once again. However, only 30.6% of the total Scottish electorate voted for the SNP.

Of course, it might all seem a little disingenuous to be focusing upon measures pertaining to the total electorate and not total voters. But, even if we focus on votes, the Conservatives still got a minority of the votes in the UK (43.6%) and the SNP still got a minority of the votes in Scotland (45%). The SNP also picked up some tactical votes as most of the tactical voting sites recommended voting SNP to block the Conservatives and Brexit, so support for the SNP and/or independence may even be over-stated a little – albeit 46% of the vote (SNP 45% + Greens 1%) looks about right given the indyref poll averages).

Conversely, the unionist parties in Scotland could also be claiming a mandate as although they lost the lion’s share of seats to the SNP, combining their vote totals (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Brexit Party), they got 54% of the vote compared to 46% of the vote for the SNP and the Greens. Meanwhile, in Wales, Labour took the most seats (22 out of 40) and the 2016 Welsh mandate for Brexit looks to have slipped as both the Conservatives and Brexit Party could only muster 41.6% of the vote. That said, support for the Conservatives in Wales increased in both vote share and seat share (up six seats to 14).

The Liberal Democrats can even claim two mandates. Not only are the majority of people now not in favour of Brexit (EURef2 poll of polls noted above), but in Scotland, the majority of people were not in favour of Brexit (62% voted to remain in 2016) and were not (and are not on average) in favour of Scottish Independence (55% voted to remain in the UK in 2014).

Meanwhile, online many of the public seem to use the party colours of the constituency winners on the electoral map to illustrate what a mandate is. The UK looks nearly all blue and Scotland looks nearly all yellow. What the press statements and social media comments tell us is that there is going to be an almighty battle in the coming months and years over who has a ‘mandate’ and who are ‘The People’. This argument is also likely to rage between the British government and the SNP, each with their own justification of their mandate. The government will argue the SNP lack a mandate while claiming one themselves, this will be countered by the SNP claiming the Conservative have no mandate in Scotland. Thus the battle over mandates could become one of the most contentious issues for 2020.