By Jeremy Blackwell
Now that the Conservatives have won the Council elections in Scotland, and Ruth Davidson has taken Glasgow and won the French Presidential election, I will have to reconsider all my predictions. Just kidding, but in some cases what happened last Thursday offers a different perspective on what might (or might not) happen on 8 June. So let’s go.
How did the polling data evolve?
For the record, I have my doubts about polls. In 2011 they underestimated the SNP and failed to predict the SNP majority in the Scottish Parliament. In 2015 they were spot on and predicted the SNP landslide in Westminster. In 2016 they overestimated the SNP and failed to predict SNP losing their majority in the Scottish Parliament. So what is it going to be this time?
That being said, there have been few new polls in the last week and unfortunately no full Scottish polls. The trend, not unexpectedly, is again better for the Conservatives than for the SNP:
The rolling average also moved in favour of the Conservatives and against the Liberal Democrats. This obviously has an impact on the projections, and has also changed my prediction for a few seats.
How does it change the projection and prediction?
Small changes in the vote shares have shifted three seats in my projection: Edinburgh West from the Liberal Democrats to the SNP; Stirling and Dumfries & Galloway from the SNP to the Conservatives.
I have altered my prediction to 53 SNP seats. For reasons explained below I put East Renfrewshire back in the SNP column. Because of the results of the projection, plus some insider info, I also moved Edinburgh West back to the SNP (though this one is still under close watch).
Unfortunately I had to move Dumfries and Galloway to the Conservative column as all projections have it going that way and I have found no strong reasons to keep it in the SNP column for now. I also kept Stirling in the SNP column for now as my model is the only one to project it for the Conservatives, and as I said earlier my model is generally less favourable for the SNP in potentially marginal seats.
Seats to watch
This will undoubtedly be one of the most watched races in this General Election because the two top contenders are both high-profile and high-visibility candidates.
The SNP candidate is sitting MP John Nicolson. He’s as high-profile as can be and his flamboyant demeanour has earned him both praise and criticism; the weirdest of the latter probably being that he is ‘not Scottish enough’ to represent East Dunbartonshire while he was born in Glasgow and has been a member of the SNP since he was 16. He’s a SNP frontbencher as Spokesperson on Culture, Media and Sport. The SNP can be expected to campaign strongly for him as this is another seat they can’t afford to lose.
Nicolson was also at the center of a controversy when he and fellow SNP MP Pete Wishart were accused of attempting to gag STV journalist Stephen Daisley and being instrumental in his resignation from STV. Both Nicolson and Wishart have denied any active involvement other than questioning Daisley’s neutrality on social media.
Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson is seeking a rematch of the 2015 election. She’s a former Parliamentary Private Secretary to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and then an Under Secretary of State in the Coalition government. So far her main talking point is her strong support for EU membership, supposedly an asset in a constituency that voted 71% ‘Remain’. But this will probably turn out to be irrelevant as Nicolson also strongly supported ‘Remain’.
What will be more relevant (and certainly used by the SNP during the campaign) is Swinson’s voting record, which puts her squarely on the right wing of the Liberal Democrats and often siding with the Conservatives. This might very well come back to hurt her this year. But that’s me campaigning so I will leave it at that.
Labour has selected Callum McNally, about whom I know absolutely nothing. Except that the best he can do is finish fourth. I haven’t yet seen the name of the Conservative candidate, but we should know soon as the deadline is this afternoon. He/she can be expected to do better than in 2015 but whoever stands won’t change the probable outcome.
I rate it as a SNP hold
SNP 40% (-), LibDems 33% (-3%), Conservatives 13% (+4%), Labour 10% (-2%)
This seat has an interesting history in its various incarnations through the years and boundary changes. First as East Renfrewshire, then as Eastwood and then again as East Renfrewshire. It elected a Labour MP in 1922 and then was a safe Conservative seat from 1924 to 1997 when Jim Murphy gained it for Labour on a 14% swing. Over the years Murphy succeeded in turning it from a Lab-Con marginal into a strong Labour seat. And then in 2015 the SNP’s Kirsten Oswald unseated him on a 24% swing.
Conservatives have high hopes for this seat. They gained the Eastwood Scottish Parliament seat (which covers the southern part of the Westminster seat) from Labour last year. They also did well there in Council elections last week, but that is obviously not a predictor of what will happen in the General Election. And anyway the SNP also did better than in 2012 while Labour suffered major losses.
This year Jim Murphy is not standing for a rematch. The Labour candidate is Blair McDougall, best known as campaign director for ‘Better Together’. McDougall also has a very visible (and often highly controversial) presence on social media. He’s going to compete with the Conservatives for the ‘no to independence’ vote. This may well end in a split vote that will benefit the SNP.
Conservatives have nominated Paul Masterton, a local lawyer. Other than that I know absolutely nothing about him. He’s already made it clear his main talking point will be ‘no to independence’ like all Scottish Conservative candidates. Ignoring other issues might very well be a liability for him as the SNP will undoubtedly be campaigning on them (rape clause, benefits caps, pensions, energy policy…).
The SNP have re-selected sitting MP Kirsten Oswald. She’s part of the SNP frontbench as Spokesperson for Armed Forces and Veterans. So the SNP can be expected to campaign strongly for her and make sure she is re-elected. James Kelly has an interesting take on this seat on his blog. I don’t always agree with James but this time he might be spot on.
East Renfrewshire is statistically a marginal but I have a hunch the campaign will shift it to the SNP. So I’m going out on a limb here and…
I rate it as a SNP hold
SNP 39% (-1%), Conservatives 31% (+8%), Labour 28% (-6%), LibDems 1% (-1%)
Next week: Dumfries and Galloway, Edinburgh South
Saor Alba gu bràth.
Jeremy Blackwell, 10 May 2017
Jeremy Blackwell is an analyst and statistician living and working in Edinburgh. You can follow him on Twitter at @WeAreThe59.