Glasgow, Scotland - As the UK electorate prepares to go to the polls on June 8 for the country's second general election in two years, Britain's politicians are readying themselves for yet another unexpected turn of events.
In a nation that unexpectedly voted to quit the European Union in last year's in/out EU referendum, the election campaign has seen Britain's current prime minister Theresa May lose ground to UK Labour Party opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.
While British Conservative Party leader May, who has said she called the snap election to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations, still looks on course to remain as UK premier, in the febrile atmosphere of Brexit Britain there are few political certainties.
As has been the case for a decade, intrigue continues to surround the electoral trajectory of Scotland, which somewhat narrowly rejected independence in the constituent country's 2014 independence referendum and which voted by 62 to 38 percent to remain in the EU in the June 2016 plebiscite.
Indeed, ever since the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) secured victory in the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, constitutional matters have dominated Scottish political life. Today, and after SNP victories in the 2011 and 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, some 40 to 50 percent of Scots remain supportive of Scottish statehood.
Yet, despite the party's success in Scotland, this week's UK general election is threatening to strike a blow to the SNP's dominance. After stunningly capturing 56 out of Scotland's 59 Westminster seats in the UK's 2015 general election - up from just six seats five years before - the SNP is facing a battle from a party that has failed to win more than one Scottish Westminster seat since 2001 - the pro-union Scottish Conservatives.
"It's the rise of the Conservatives and how much the SNP will slip - that's the big story in Scotland," said Simon Pia, a former Scottish Labour press adviser, speaking to Al Jazeera. "Will the Conservatives do as well as polls suggest in Scotland, and what will be the position of the SNP after the election - and how weakened will they be?"
|SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon with supporters and local SNP candidate for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale Mairi McAllan, second from right, while campaigning for the General Election on June 3, 2017 in Biggar, Scotland [Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images]|
'The root of everything is fear'
Polls indicate that, while the SNP will remain the largest party in Scotland after June 8, it could lose up to a dozen seats to a resurgent Scottish Conservative Party, which has been appealing to Scots heavily disgruntled with the prospect of a second Scottish independence poll.
At the root of everything is a fear that another independence referendum can only make the Brexit process more difficult, or make the SNP day job impossible to deliver
SNP leader and Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon won a vote in the Scottish Parliament in March, which called for Scots to be given another chance to vote for sovereignty in light of a British Brexit vote that will see Scotland taken out of the EU against its popular will.
However, Conservatives in Scotland - who maintain that few Scots want another "divisive" referendum - are spying gains in Scotland's rural areas - along the Scotland-England border and in Scotland's north-east. Conservative Ian Duncan, who is looking to topple a leading SNP MP in the seat of Perth and North Perthshire, told Al Jazeera that his party's unabashed anti-independence message, which has drowned out the pro-union voices of Scottish Labour and the Liberal Democrats, is resonating on the doorsteps.
So, too, said Duncan, are accusations that the SNP has "taken their eye off the day job" at the Scottish Parliament in pursuit of independence.
"At the root of everything is a fear that another independence referendum can only ... [make] the Brexit process more difficult, or make the SNP day job impossible to deliver, or simply that the people had their chance [for independence] and didn't want it, so let's move on," said Duncan, a current member of the European Parliament.
With Scottish Labour - which lost a catastrophic 40 seats to the SNP in 2015 to leave it with just a solitary seat in Scotland's capital, Edinburgh - also looking to challenge for second place, the SNP appears unlikely to hold on to its 56 constituencies. Indeed, while British Labour leader Corbyn has somewhat closed the gap on May's Conservatives UK-wide, Labour in Scotland, once the party of choice for Scots, has also appeared to have enjoyed a so-called "Corbyn bounce" and could go on to stage some kind of recovery.
So, despite forecasts suggesting that the Nationalists will emerge with anything between 40 and 50 seats after the election, its opponents insist that any drop in SNP support should be taken as a loss of appetite for independence itself.
'2015 was a supernatural exception'
Prolific SNP blogger James Kelly disagrees. He said that "the contention of the anti-independence parties is that they will have secured some sort of mandate if they take perhaps one-quarter of the seats between them, leaving the SNP with three-quarters", which is "ludicrous".
"There's no great mystery as to why the SNP's vote share has dropped a little since 2015," continued Kelly, the author of the Scot goes Pop! blog. "In most Westminster elections, the London-based broadcast media becomes preoccupied with the Labour v Conservative battle, which makes it hard for the SNP to get a look-in."
He added: "2015 was a supernatural exception with the SNP moving to the centre of the campaign because of paranoia south of the border over the influence they might enjoy, but normal service has been resumed on this occasion."
Should the Scottish Conservatives go on to take seats off the SNP - and high-profile seats too - their ability to remain a significant presence in Scotland, at a Westminster level, say experts, would depend on whether they could translate their anti-independence message to a show of long-term support for a Conservative Party that, for many Scots, remains a toxic political brand. Professor James Mitchell stated that while the "Conservatives were getting the unionist vote, the messaging was about the union and not about Conservative policies".
"I think that is limiting their appeal," said the Edinburgh University academic. "It may mean that the support they win is transient because they've got to somehow move beyond from just talking about [their opposition] to another independence referendum. They are still a long, long, long way off to coming close to governing Scotland at the Scottish Parliament."
That said, with Conservatives in Scotland almost certain to secure some SNP seats this week, no Nationalist majority appears too big. Scots Conservative Duncan, who is fighting to overturn a 9,641 SNP majority in rural Perthshire, has his eye firmly fixed on delivering an upset.
"I'm under no illusions about the mountain I'm climbing," he said. "But as I tell people, the Perthshire mountains are the best."
Follow Alasdair Soussi on Twitter: @AlasdairSoussi
Source: Al Jazeera News