Predicting the General Election in Scotland: a fragile landslide?

Predicting the General Election in Scotland: a fragile landslide?

‘Too many moving parts.’ This was the understandable complaint of a political scientist (oh, all right, it was Philip Cowley)  about the complexities of writing about the 2015 election. Back in the day, David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh could get a good deal of the story by trotting from one side of Smith Square to the other, but it has all got complicated now. The most unpredictable of these moving parts is Scotland. In my recent seat by seat analysis for Westbourne Communications, I found it pretty much impossible to speculate sensibly about most Scottish seats from my London vantage point, and just assumed that the SNP would take most of the Lib Dem seats and a fair chunk (10? 15?) from Labour, reflecting a swing back to Labour between now and the election. I have recently spent a few days in Scotland, talking to knowledgeable people from various points on the political spectrum and return, in the words of Reggie Maudling, none the wiser but considerably better informed. The truth about Scotland in the 2015 election is that nobody knows. We can be reasonably confident that most of the 11 Liberal Democrats will be swept away – only two (Alistair Carmichael and Charles Kennedy) are likely winners. West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, and Michael Moore’s seat in the Borders, are Con/ Lib Dem/ SNP wild cards. We can also regard the sole Tory MP in Scotland, David Mundell, as a likely winner on a split vote in a strongly No voting area. But these are details – what about the other 54 seats where the winner is likely to be SNP or Labour? While the SNP won beyond its dreams in 2011, its more usual experience has been to swagger confidently into an election only to underperform when the votes are counted. The last rites were being read for Labour Glasgow in the run-up to the 2012 local elections, but Labour held on surprisingly well. Estimates of the number of SNP seats I heard ranged from 20-ish to over 40, and I still do not feel able to rule any of those numbers out. The error margins on Scottish electoral predictions are huge because: Scottish public opinion on the centre-left can be very volatile, even during campaigns – there was little sign of the impending SNP landslide in 2011 until late in the campaign, for instance. If the election can be seen as a choice of UK government, Labour has a chance of persuading at least some of its lost voters (and alienated Lib Dems) back into the fold, but if it is seen as standing up for Scotland against an unsympathetic bipartisan austerity regime in London, the SNP will...

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Reading the Political Map (April 15 2010)

Westminster voting intention polls in Scotland show that remarkably little has changed since 2005, particularly in the gap between Labour and Conservative where there seems to be a swing of between 0 and 2 per cent. The principal difference seems to be a fairly strong swing from Lib Dem to SNP. What appears to be happening (although the reality is that movements in public opinion are always complex and flow in many directions between any two points) is that there is a floating centre-left vote in Scotland that has chosen differently in different elections. In 2005 the SNP was at a low ebb and the Lib Dems performed strongly with voters critical of Labour on Iraq and the apparent centre-right drift of UK Labour policy. In 2007 the SNP benefited, but in 2010 Labour seem to have rallied some of it and the SNP has also picked up. In terms of seats, projecting the trends across Scotland shows only one seat changing hands since 2005 (other than Glasgow North East going from Speaker to Labour). This would be an SNP gain from Labour in the highly marginal Ochil & South Perthshire constituency. However, swing is unlikely to be uniform and there may be changes during the election campaign. In particular, assuming that a drop from 23 per cent to 14 per cent for the Lib Dems in the Scotland polls will lead to a 9-point drop in their support everywhere will give wrong results. The Lib Dems tend to gain support during campaigns, and are also good at playing the First Past the Post electoral system to target the seats they need to win. It would be foolish to count them out in the marginals despite their apparently poor poll showing. One seat where they stand a very good chance is Dunfermline & West Fife, where they won the by-election in 2006; they are also strong contenders in Edinburgh South and not to be dismissed in a few others such as Edinburgh North & Leith, Aberdeen South and maybe Glasgow North (although they may have maxed out their appeal there  in 2005). On the other hand, they risk losing a couple, such as the Berwickshire seat and Argyll & Bute, which went to the Tories and SNP respectively in 2007. Scotland would contribute no Tory gains at all on a uniform swing, even if the UK polls are correct and the Conservatives end up on the cusp of an overall majority. This would naturally have significant implications for Scotland’s place in a Tory Britain. At least, thanks to devolution, the Tories would not need to staff a full Scottish Office. The Conservatives can hold out the hope that their...

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