Do the maths, people!

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.


6 thoughts on “Do the maths, people!

  1. Pingback: Wanted: an economic narrative to sway the voters and stay the country « A Burdz Eye View

  2. Six months is a long time and all the maths will go out of the window come polling day.The reforendum on pr on the same day could spoil the party and the other big unknown is all the legistlation voted on to impact small business could backfire on the SNP.
    I don’t know if you are aware of the huge backlash Labour suffered in England by the voting in of the tobacco display ban. Conservatives and Lib-Dems offered to repeal or bring back the legistlation and got huge support. The promises made before the election will have to be delivered.
    The situation is similar in Scotland and could have similar impact on the SNP vote even though Labour and Lib-Dems also backed the bill, people will only remember the government implimenting it.
    So the political dice are up in the air and everthing to play for.

    • You are spot on about the impact of the AV referendum – it might well spoil the party and crowd out Scottish issues. With regard to the small business vote, are there not things the SNP has done that other parties didn’t eg with regard to the rates? I ask, cos it’s not my area of expertise! I think we are all very good at remembering the slights and the bad stuff and much more conveniently forget the good things any government might have done. Jack McConnell suffered from that in 2007 I think!

      Interesting times ahead, let’s revisit in a few months and see if we all still think the same!

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  4. Cracking analysis Burd! I mean, I disagree with some of it, but where would we be if everyone agreed all the time?! I think your numbers are similar to mine, but I do have a couple of differences about. Net result will be the same though – Lab minority govt?

    Incidentally, Will beat us both to the punch in looking at the new boundaries, both at his new blog ( and his old one ( Granted his are the notional figures for what would have happened in 2007 on those boundaries, but I suspect he won’t be far away from publishing thoughts on 2011. Worth keeping an eye out for.

    • Yep I think they will go for a minority government with Lib Dems on an issue by issue basis ie there will be a secret deal but Labour won’t be able to be seen to be in cahoots with them. Will’s analysis is always great. He is essential reading in this burdz nest and I look forward to seeing his thoughts on 2011. Crucial I think to the overall result is what happens to the Lib Dem vote and if it plummets, where it goes.

      And of course disagreement is the spice of life – and there’s still plenty of time for us all to change our minds before May!

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