Labour has been mischief making and many, including David Maddox, in yesterday’s Scotsman, fell for it. Gorgeous George Galloway entering the fray in Glasgow apparently will hurt the SNP most but people are ignoring the maths inherent in the D’Hondt electoral system used for the Scottish Parliament elections.
Psephology can never be an exact science: you can play the numbers in a whole range of combinations and come out with the outcome you desire (take note everyone who hangs on John Curtice’s every word). But you do also have to factor in a bit of instinct. So for what it’s worth here are some predictions from the burd for next year’s elections, which I will of course reserve the right to change at any given point in the next six months and will not be held to when they turn out to be spectacularly inaccurate….. there will be nay tartan bollocks awards for blogs thank you.
I recommend you digest this post in bite sized chunks, with a coffee and chocolate bar to help you….
- George Galloway will be fighting it out with the Scottish Greens and the Lib Dems for the 10th place on the Glasgow regional list
In 2007, Patrick Harvie only just scraped the necessary votes to grab the last list seat. On that basis alone, he is most at risk from the impact of George – which would be awful actually. However, Glasgow is one of the areas where the Lib Dems are likely to struggle next year and I comfortably predict their vote to be in freefall pushing them down the regional list from their current 3rd place standing. It is hard to see how the emergence of George will cause problems for the SNP in Glasgow. They are unlikely to repeat their high water mark of 2007 in this election so if they hold Nicola Sturgeon’s seat, it is the balance built into the D’Hont system that will do for their 4th list seat. If Nicola loses her seat, they are likely to keep 4 list seats, still resulting in a loss of one. George is not going to take votes or seats from them.
- the Lib Dems will haemorrhage support in aspirational urban seats but maintain their rural strongholds
Thus, the Lib Dems will lose Edinburgh South, Aberdeen South and Dunfermline West. They will hold on to Edinburgh West but with a much reduced majority. They won’t take target seats like Strathkelvin and Bearsden and Edinburgh Central nor take back Argyll and Bute. But they will hold Orkney, Shetland, West Aberdeenshire and the two Highland seats. Tweeddale is harder to call. The impact of this will also depend on what happens to them on the list vote. Second votes that might have gone to them will probably head to the Greens this time round, possibly some to the SNP and also to Labour if they get their list strategy right. And three of their current list seats have been gained from the bottom two positions, making it even more shaky. The net result could be the Lib Dems going down from 16 to 10 seats in total. Their numeric inadequacy together with their toxicity due to their involvement in the UK Government coalition will make them much less attractive coalition partners in 2011.
- the SNP will lose seats
Well, I never claimed to be the Brahan Seer! But the net impact of losing constituency seats could be marginal if their list vote holds up. 2007 was the high point, 2003 the low point, 2011 will be somewhere in between and their total is likely to fall from 47 to somewhere between 38 and 42. There are two potential threats to them, from a resurgent Scottish Green party and from a targeted Labour list strategy. And it’s in the maths – they are most at risk of losing at least a seat where they hoovered up last position on the lists. Thus, in central Scotland, if they lose Falkirk West they are unlikely also to lose a list seat but if they hold Falkirk West, that 5th regional seat is on a shoogly peg. The burd predicts that the SNP will have a net loss of one seat in Central Scotland, one seat in Glasgow, one seat in Highlands and Islands, two seats in Mid Scotland and Fife, one seat in West of Scotland and two seats in South of Scotland. They will not lose any in North East Scotland because they will either take Aberdeen South or keep their single regional seat.
- Labour’s new targeted list strategy will have marginal impact
In regions like Glasgow and West of Scotland where the number of seats gained totally outweighs the votes cast, the redistributive effect of the regional system means Labour is unlikely to pick up list seats in these areas. They will gain seats on the night because they pick up constituencies from both the SNP and the Lib Dems. Voters will be going home because the Tory bogeyman is back, the Lib Dems have climbed into bed with them and the SNP have run out of steam. Thus, Labour will regain Edinburgh East & Musselburgh, Dunfermline West, Stirling, Fife Central, Livingston and Cunningham North. Not sure what will happen in Govan (as was), Kilmarnock and Loudoun (or Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley as the seat is now called), Ochil and Western Isles. I reckon they’ll stay away. And this is where their targeted list strategy should come into play, ensuring that Labour picks up more seats in these regions from the list than previously.
- Mid Scotland and Fife and South of Scotland will provide all the action
There is likely to be more change in the outcomes in these two regions than in any of the others. The SNP could lose all the constituency seats it gained in Mid Scotland and Fife but make it up on the lists. Labour could retake all its losses but still gain at least one seat because it is now targeting the second vote in constituencies like Perth and Tayside North (I know they have all got new names and boundaries but you know what I mean). South of Scotland is the big unknown because of the shift of Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley. The SNP has always managed to do very well on both votes in this seat with it being largely 50-50 between them and Labour. Thus, if the SNP holds the seat, Labour might gain one on the list . But not necessarily at the SNP’s expense, especially if Tweeddale stays Lib Dem. They in fact are most at risk of losing a list seat – it’s the maths, people! – but if the SNP vote falls generally across the region, they risk losing a list seat too. If Labour’s targeting works, they might retake Kilmarnock AND still gain a list seat. It is these regions that are likely to have the greatest impact on which party forms the next Scottish Government.
Of course, there are other factors at play, not least the notional impact of boundary changes and the volatility of the voters – I reckon more votes will shift in the actual four week campaign than at any previous recent election – but ultimately it all comes down to the maths and the turnout in key marginal seats, regions and groups of voters. Whisper it, but this election will probably be decided by about 50,000 voters in only a handful of seats. The party that works out who they are and woos them effectively will gain the keys to Bute House.