Election Battlegrounds 11) Scotland

6 Dec

In 2015 and 2017, we ran a region-by-region overview of the key seats which could decide the general election. We have revived it for 2019, and these battleground profiles run regularly throughout the campaign.

Overview

  • There are 59 parliamentary constituencies in the principality. At dissolution 35 were represented by SNP MPs, 13 by Conservative MPs, 7 by Labour MPs, and four by Liberal Democrat MPs.
  • Before the party positions, a general notice: there are an extraordinary number of marginal and ultra-marginal seats in Scotland. A small shift in either direction from 2017 could see the SNP regain a lot of seats or lose a lot more. Listing every seat below would be silly, but for several not included in this analysis to change hands would not be at all surprising.
  • Given that the campaign kicked off with most commentators anticipating a near-wipeout, the Conservatives will be pleased that the expectation is now that they will hold about eight seats. It could well be more – the key question is whether pro-UK voters vote tactically or not.
  • Labour is forecast to have a disastrous night, and it would have been in keeping with how this series runs not to give them any targets here. We have done so to highlight just how many low-hanging fruit they had to pick, and how extraordinarily badly they’ll need to do not to get any.
  • The Liberal Democrats ought to be safe in the four seats they currently hold, and will be very disappointed if they don’t win North East Fife. Anything north of five seats looks unrealistic.
  • With so many of their majorities slashed to razor margins in 2017, the SNP will be pleased that the polls suggest that they will consolidate their grip on all of those seats and make a decent number of gains against an uncoordinated unionist opposition and a stricken Labour Party.
  • As for Independents, it is not impossible that a Nationalist candidate who was suspended from the SNP after close of nominations over anti-Semitism could win anyway, because the broader nationalist movement has refused to stop campaigning for him and donating to him.

Method

As in 2015 and 2017, we’ll be taking a region-by-region look at the seats which could change hands. These lists aren’t predictions of gains: rather, they’re just seats which we think could be competitive. They might be official party targets, have a small majority, or be subject to other factors which could leave them open to change.

Amongst the resources we’ll be using to steer us through these murky waters are Electoral CalculusUK Polling ReportNumber Cruncher Politics, and Election Polling, whilst all Leave vote share estimations are from Chris Hanretty’s very helpful constituency-by-constituency charts. For these last few we’ll also look at YouGov’s MRP poll, and in this post we will consider how a seat voted in the 2014 referendum where such data is available.

We’re also keeping an eye on the work of many other pollsters, psephologists, and analysts, some of whom our assistant editor has collated onto a Twitter list.

Targets by party:

(NB These are our own suggestions of potential attack seats for each party – including those officially designated as targets and others where the incumbent has a relatively small majority, or local factors are at play which may open the seat to change.)

Conservatives:

Argyll and Bute: One of the ‘five key seats‘ being identified by Conservative campaigners where even a relatively small amount of unionist tactical voting could put them over the top. A reliably Tory seat until the mid-80s, the party was second-placed behind the Liberal Democrats here until the SNP surge in 2015 but then stormed back last time, running the Nationalists close and taking second place. The SNP majority is just 1,328 but YouGov has the Conservatives five points behind with the Lib Dem share up.

Central Ayrshire : This always used to be Labour, but since the Nat-quake the Tories are now a close second. With a nationalist majority of 1,267 and over 15,500 Labour votes to squeeze this ought to be vulnerable to a coordinated pro-UK campaign, but YouGov sees the Labour share collapsing but the SNP extending their lead over the Conservatives by six points – the exact size of their forecast rise in the Lib Dem vote. This seat is quite Remain-y but voted ‘No’ in 2014.

East Lothian: Followers of my column will know that there has been talk in recent weeks of the Tories winning here, with Jeremy Corbyn’s wooing of Nicola Sturgeon having not just prevented Labour winning the Conservative switchers they needed but even pushing pro-UK Labour voters the other way. Martin Whitfield, the incumbent, has launched a final-week rebellion against his own leadership – but all that might do is bring about YouGov’s forecast, an SNP win on 34 per cent of the vote with both Labour and the Tories taking 29 and 26 per cent respectively.

Edinburgh North and Leith: It would be surprising if the Conservatives actually won this – they’re third, and a few thousand votes behind Labour – but it is being tipped as one to keep an eye on regardless. The Party is fielding a veteran candidate in Iain McGill, who fought the last three elections, and could capitalise on Labour’s weakness on the Union in a seat which voted 60 per cent ‘No’ in 2014. YouGov tip the Tories to take second place.

Edinburgh South West: Miles Briggs fell only just over 1,000 votes short of winning this for the Conservatives in 2017, and it is listed as one of the ‘five key seats’ where unionist tactical voting could make the difference. However this is also a very Remain seat, with almost three in four voters backing the EU in 2016, which is expected to hurt the Party this time out. Another seat where YouGov expect a comfortable SNP win on a split unionist vote.

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey: On paper, this is not a promising seat, with the SNP incumbent enjoying what for today’s Scotland is a pretty comfortable majority of almost 5,000. But a couple of sources have suggested it’s worth keeping half an eye on in light of the extraordinary 2017 result, where the previously strong Lib Dem vote dramatically unwound and the Tories put on almost 25 points to take a clear second. YouGov’s model seems to see 2017 Labour voters switching to the SNP.

Lanark and Hamilton East: Another of those ‘What the hell…?’ seats, last time the Conservatives put on 16.2 points whilst the SNP lost 16.3, transforming this seat into a razor-edged three-way marginal with both those parties and Labour between 16,000 and 17,000 votes. YouGov currently have the Tories a few points behind, apparently because the SNP are winning more Labour switchers over.

Perth and North Perthshire: The Scottish Conservatives were very sorry to miss out on this one last time – Pete Wishart, who must qualify as one of the Nationalists’ most irritating MPs in what is a crowded field, clung on by just 21 votes (becoming one of only two of the Party’s six pre-2015 MPs to do so). With around 8,000 Labour and Liberal Democrat votes to squeeze you would think the Tories should have a very strong shout here, although they’re not forecast to win it.

Labour:

Airdrie and Shotts: Rock-solid Labour until 2015, when the SNP took it by almost 8,800 votes, but two years ago Labour slashed their majority to just 195. Had Labour shored up their pro-Union credentials it is hard to see them failing to secure enough switchers from the almost 9,000 Conservative voters to take it back – as it is, they’re forecast to slip back again.

Glasgow East: First went on the Nationalist radar after a dramatic by-election victory in 2008, was won in 2015 by the now-disgraced Nationalist MP Natalie McGarry. The SNP switched candidates in 2017 and retained it by just 75 votes. Again, with almost 7,000 Conservative, Lib Dem, and UKIP votes floating about Labour ought to be well-positioned to finish the job here, but again they’re forecast to go backwards.

Glasgow South West: Similar story to the above, absent the embezzlement: solidly Labour until 2015, went Nationalist in a big way at that election, Labour fell just 60 votes short of retaking it two years later. Despite the third-placed Tories having over 5,500 votes, and Conservative voters being probably the most likely to vote tactically for the sake of the Union, Labour are just not positioned to pick any of these up and the Nationalists are predicted to storm ahead again.

Lanark and Hamilton East: As mentioned above, this is now a very close three-way marginal and the combined pro-UK vote ought to be more than enough to put the SNP away. Labour ought to have an advantage in a seat which was previously rock-solid for them, but Corbyn’s soft stance on another independence referendum will hurt them with this seat’s working-class unionists and YouGov forecasts a collapse in their vote.

Inverclyde: I won’t just copy and paste, but it really is striking just how close Labour got to re-establishing itself in more seats last time. Same pattern as with the last few seats, save that this time the SNP majority is in three digits! A majority of 384 ought not to be safe, not with 8,400 Tory voters up for grabs. But it apparently is.

Motherwell and Wishaw: And again: Labour since forever, five-figure Nationalist majority in 2015, cut to just 318 two years later. Tories in third, combined vote of the other pro-UK parties is over 10,000, yet Labour are still expected to lose the seat by a thumping margin next week. If this gives the SNP a chance to bed in properly in this seats Corbyn would well end up shouldering the blame for the complete electoral marginalisation of Labour in Scotland.

Liberal Democrat:

Fife North East: If there is any single finding making local campaigners wary of YouGov’s MRP projection, it is its forecast that the SNP will retain this seat, which they retained by just two votes last time. With the third-placed Conservatives taking over 10,000 votes in 2017 it seems almost inconceivable that the Lib Dems can’t find enough tactical switchers to carry the day – yet YouGov foresees the Nationalist share up by four points, with the Lib Dems chasing but not closing.

Ross, Skye and Lochaber: As in Inverness, its Highland counterpart, the Lib Dem vote has been tumbling here and the Conservatives took second place last time. Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, also enjoys a comfortable majority of almost 6,000. But there is a deep well of ill-will here over what a lot of unionists consider to be Blackford’s especially nasty campaign against Charles Kennedy, whose seat this was, and the Lib Dems fighting hard here as a result.

SNP:

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross: One of those reliable, heartland Highland seats which has been with the Lib Dems since the 1990s. It went SNP in 2015 like everything else but the Lib Dems took it back two years later and are defending a majority of just over 2,000. With the third-placed Tories taking almost 7,000 votes you might expect them to hang on, but YouGov forecasts a very narrow SNP gain. They might be missing tactical voting, but Inverness and Ross both suggest that the Lib Dems might have a Highland problem.

Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill: At the 2010 election Labour’s majority here was more than 20,000. Today it stands at just under 1,600 after the party overturned an 11,000 SNP majority to win the seat back in 2017. That’s a relatively healthy buffer by current Scottish standards and YouGov’s MRP model actually anticipates that Labour will just about hold on here, even with the Conservative share holding steady.

East Renfrewshire: Another forecast which has local sources dubious about YouGov. Paul Masterton is defending a Tory majority of more than 4,700, and he got that despite Labour running an ill-advisedly strong and very unionist campaign fronted by Blair McDougall, who helped run Better Together, and taking more than 14,000 votes. It would be surprising if Masterton couldn’t win over a substantial chunk of those voters, but the MRP projection has him losing by a nose. Electoral Calculus also has it close, but with the Tories ahead.

Glasgow North East: Usual drill: used to have a Labour majority of over 15,000, SNP took it by other 9,000 in 2015, Labour took it back by a couple of hundred votes two years later. There are over 4,000 Conservative votes which could potentially be squeezed by a pro-UK incumbent, but both YouGov and Electoral Calculus anticipate a very comfortable Nationalist victory here next week.

Gordon: Home to Colin Clarke, the ‘Salmond Slayer’, his majority of 2,607 is actually the second-smallest Conservative majority in Scotland. This was always on the Tory radar but they have benefited from a collapse in the Lib Dem vote and are now clearly positioned as the pro-UK choice. The North East of Scotland has also become a very strong area for the party. Signs are that it is a close race, with YouGov showing Clarke marginally ahead and Electoral Calculus favouring his SNP challenger.

Midlothian: If you can’t recount the rough recent electoral history of this once-safe Labour seat with your eyes closed, you’ve skipped the rest of this article. The Opposition is defending a majority of 885 in what could again become a three-way marginal, as the Conservatives won over 11,500 votes in 2017. Both YouGov and Electoral Calculus show the SNP regaining this comfortably; the latter also suggests Labour could come close to losing second place to the Tories.

Rutherglen and Hamilton West: Labour’s majority here, which differs from the other seats we’ve looked at in so significant respect save that its 2010 majority was an eye-watering 21,000, is 265. The Tories are a long way back but again took almost 10,000 votes, so it isn’t impossible that Labour could lose its status as the challenger in several of these seats over the medium-term if it can’t stabilise its position. YouGov have the SNP ahead by six points as the Conservative vote refuses to budge towards Labour.

Stirling: Something of an iconic seat for the Scottish Conservatives, as it was formerly the home of Michael Forsyth and thus the scene of his surprise retention in 1992. Stephen Kerr took it back in 2017 by just 148 votes and was always going to be square in the Nationalists’ sights. In a reverse of many of the other seats we’ve looked at, here it is Labour sitting on a respectable third place and almost 11,000 votes, and Kerr’s fate may hinge on whether or not he can win them over. Both YouGov and Electoral Calculus have the SNP comfortably ahead, despite the Labour vote being well down.

Independent:

Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath: The SNP were on track to win at a canter before they had to suspend their candidate, Neale Hanvey, for posting anti-Semitic messages online – Labour’s majority in Gordon Brown’s old seat is just 259, and if the Tories build on their 10,700 votes from 2017 rather than switching it could evolve into a three-way marginal. The reason this could go independent is that the nationalist movement has not stopped campaigning for Hanvey: activists have been photographed hitting the streets for him and he apparently crowd-funded over £5,000 for his campaign in just 48 hours.

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