Teaser: this week’s update will definitely be better for the SNP than the previous ones.
Scottish Greens standing down: a game-changer?
Technically the Scottish Green Party are not standing down. They just will be fielding only three candidates, compared to thirty-two in 2015. Whatever the official explanations and carefully crafted talking points, the true political intention is clear: get out of the way in marginal constituencies and hope it will benefit the SNP. And then get something in return. But that’s me going cynical.
In 2015 Scottish Greens received 39,205 votes or 1.3% of the national vote (sixth behind UKIP). In the 32 constituencies where they stood their average vote was 2.6%. Lowest in Rutherglen and Hamilton West (0.5%) and Glasgow East (0.9%). Highest in Glasgow North (6.2%) and Edinburgh East (6.0%). They also lost their deposit in 29 constituencies and that’s certainly something they chose to avoid this year. But that’s me going cynical again.
Recent polls credited Scottish Greens with 2 to 6% of the vote, with pollsters assuming they would stand in all constituencies. On average they’re credited with almost 4%, double their 2015 vote share. Allowing for margin of error and uncertainty about how Green supporters will vote now, it probably leaves about 2 to 3% of the vote literally up for grabs for the SNP nationally.
At the time of the announcement my model identified 14 Scottish seats as marginals. Seven of them with the Conservatives favoured; five with the SNP and two the Liberal Democrats. The Scottish Green Party fielded candidates in nine of these constituencies in 2015 and will be fielding only one this year (Edinburgh North and Leith). So the SNP have a real opportunity either to switch some seats back to their column or to hold them on better margins than projected.
Will the Greens’ decision be the turning point of this campaign? Probably yes if the SNP play it smart from now on. Conservatives have already started denouncing a ‘Yes alliance’ which in fact doesn’t exist; because they know some seats might be out of their reach now. And ultimately it’s up to the SNP to make the best out of the better hand they have unexpectedly been dealt.
UKIP are also fielding fewer candidates this year than in 2015, and this should bring a few more votes to the Conservatives. I expect the impact to be less visible, because polls show UKIP in Scotland down from 2015 as in the rest of the UK. Their vote share was never really significant in Scotland and some of their 2015 voters seem to have shifted to the Conservatives already.
How did the polling data evolve?
Unfortunately we don’t have any new full Scottish poll again this week, but a large number of new Scottish subsamples from UK-wide polls, used with all the usual caveats. Now that the campaign has started, polls show a slight swing towards the SNP and against the Conservatives. This is visible in the trendlines and has started to make rolling average better for the SNP.
James Kelly’s ‘Poll of polls’ on Scot Goes Pop is even more favourable to the SNP. But he doesn’t use the same set of subsamples. I keep some older ones in my set that James has already discarded. They were distinctly less good for the SNP than the more recent ones. And, as I said before, when I have a choice I always choose the scenario that is least favourable for the SNP. Previous elections taught us that a cautious approach is often the wisest.
How do all these factors change the projection and prediction?
I have adapted my model to the new context. In an additional final step I chose to reallocate 60% of the potential Green vote to the SNP and 90% of the potential UKIP vote to the Conservatives in all constituencies where Greens or UKIP stood in 2015 and don’t stand this time. This is obviously an approximation and the real transfers will be more complex. But I had to make an assumption and this one seemed as good as any other.
The cumulative effect of the slight change in polling average and the reallocation of Green votes is to shift three marginal seats from the Conservative to the SNP column (Edinburgh South, Perth and North Perthshire, and Stirling). Aberdeen South and Moray remain in the Conservative column because of the reallocation of the 2015 UKIP vote but in both cases the Conservative lead is much reduced.
Martin Baxter at Electoral Calculus has also adapted his model to account for the actual Green and UKIP candidacies. He delivers the exact same number of seats as my model when fed with the same polling average data. But there are still a few differences in the allocation of seats to each party. ScotlandVotes is less favourable for the SNP but close nevertheless. I have a hunch their model has not been adapted in the same way as the others (yet) and still reflects what would happen with a much larger number of Green candidates.
Below are my updated projections (seats by SLLM—Safe, Likely, Lean, Marginal—rating, and seat by seat winner’s margin) and the full seat-by-seat projected results. Again I’m taking a big risk here as some of the detailed results might be way off, but it’s worth it.
In my prediction I switched three seats from the Conservative to the SNP column: Aberdeen South, East Renfrewshire, and Moray. I already explained my reasons for these three seats in previous posts, so I will not elaborate further.
Seats to watch
Dumfries and Galloway
Dumfries and Galloway is one of the top Conservative targets in this election. This seat and its (almost) predecessor Galloway and Upper Nithsdale have been held by all three major parties (SNP, Conservatives, and Labour) at some point in the past 24 years. So it can really be called a battleground.
The decline of Labour in recent years has benefited both the SNP and the Conservatives here. But recent trends point to Conservatives having the upper hand, with the SNP coming second both in 2016 and 2017. Even if Scottish Parliament and Council elections are not predictors of the General Election, they nevertheless give some hints on which direction the electorate is moving.
The SNP candidate is sitting MP Richard Arkless. He gained the seat from Labour in 2015 on a 25% swing and with a majority of 6,500. As a hint of things to come the Conservatives finished second and Labour was already relegated to third place. I didn’t find much to say about Arkless except what you find in his profile on the SNP website and his Twitter account. He comes out as a typical low-profile backbencher, deeply involved in his job as MP and certainly respected and well-liked by his constituents. But is that enough to win in a competitive election that has already turned nasty on the national level?
The Conservatives are fielding Alister Jack (a local farmer and businessman who will campaign on the usual ‘no to independence’ and ‘best Brexit deal’) and Labour Daniel Goodare (a local A&E doctor).
Goodare doesn’t stand a chance as Labour support has gone downhill here just as much as anywhere else in Scotland. Jack will try to build on Conservative success in the area in 2016 and 2017. Apart from the classic Conservative campaign themes, he will also try to rally the farmers’ vote. It already paid off in other rural areas of Scotland in 2016, regardless of the validity of the arguments, and is probably the key to a Conservative gain here.
I rate it as a Conservative gain from SNP
Conservatives 41% (+11%), SNP 39% (-2%), Labour 18% (-7%), LibDems 2% (-)
This one will obviously be the most watched of all Scottish constituencies in this General Election, being the last Labour seat in Scotland and an unexpected Labour hold in 2015. Over the last 40 years Edinburgh South has been first a weak Conservative seat and then a weak Labour seat. It is also one of the trickiest to predict as Edinburgh politics have a life of their own and have recently been full of upsets. So whoever wins on 8 June will probably do so by just a few hundred votes.
In 2015 the SNP clearly did not choose the best candidate here. This is obviously not the case this year. SNP candidate Jim Eadie was MSP for Edinburgh Southern from 2011 to 2016. During his term he played an important part in the Scottish Parliament’s work; first as Parliamentary Liaison Officer for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and then as Convener of the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee. Eadie was unseated in 2016 by Labour’s Daniel Johnson though he gained 2,500 votes and 3% of the vote compared to 2011. His defeat was at the time widely attributed to massive Unionist tactical voting, which seems to have become quite common in Edinburgh recently. His nomination for the General Election has been interpreted as a clear sign the SNP intend to put up a real fight for this seat. The SNP can certainly count on Eadie’s high name recognition, personal status and strong campaigning skills to bring in the extra votes needed to gain the seat.
After a seemingly chaotic selection process, the Conservatives nominated Stephanie Smith, who has since been elected Councillor for the Liberton/Gilmerton ward. Previously she stood for MSP in Almond Valley in 2016 and finished a distant third. Other than this I admit I know nothing about her. I find it surprising that the Conservatives did not choose a more high-profile candidate such as Miles Briggs, who stood here in 2015. But this year Briggs is standing in the neighbouring Edinburgh South West, which I will discuss in my next update. The Conservatives probably expect that Smith will automatically benefit from their surge in Edinburgh over the last two years but they should not take it for granted. She could also benefit from UKIP fielding no candidate this year (they received 1.2% here in 2015).
And finally Ian Murray, the sitting Labour MP. Murray was first elected in 2010, taking over from retiring Labour MP Nigel Griffiths. Common wisdom at the time was that he would lose the seat (then a Labour-LibDems marginal) to the Liberal Democrats. But he won by 316 votes. Again in 2015 Edinburgh South was generally considered highly likely to switch to the SNP. But Murray held the seat by 2,637 votes, with some help from the SNP themselves. There’s definitely something of the ‘come-back kid’ in him.
Murray is a member of the Blairite (or ‘progressive center-ground’ as they call themselves) Progress group and it shows in his voting record. He has been the target of harsh criticism from within Labour after his highly publicised resignation from the Shadow Cabinet and also because of his perceived undermining of Jeremy Corbyn. Murray has won an award as ‘most responsive Scottish MP’, whatever that actually means. But he is certainly not as popular as he claims or would like to be, even within his own party. What was once dubbed ‘The Socialist Republic of Morningside’ may well not be as kind to him as it was two years ago.
This seat is technically a three-way marginal bordering on a three-way tie. Common wisdom is that Conservatives will gain it but I strongly doubt it. The Greens’ decision to stand down in this constituency will probably be less of a game-changer here than in other seats. They received 4.2% of the vote in 2015 and it’s likely to switch to both SNP and Labour.
So I will go out on a limb again and…
I rate it as a SNP gain from Labour
SNP 35% (+1%), Labour 33% (-6%), Conservatives 29% (+12%), LibDems 3% (-1%)
A little extra: the three constituencies where the Scottish Green Party stands…
Edinburgh North and Leith
I expected Greens to stand down in this one too, because it’s a marginal and the only one of the three where a Green candidacy could actually hurt the SNP’s prospects of holding the seat. Greens received 5.4% of the vote here in 2015 and can be expected to reach 8-10% this year under favourable circumstances. Such a result would reduce the SNP margin to probably 2 or 3% down from almost 10% in 2015. I don’t expect Greens to do much better than that. They do well in the eastern part of the constituency but significantly less in its western part; and their results here in the 2017 Council elections were not much different from 2012. But I think the SNP here would still welcome a fair share of tactical voting within the pro-Independence camp.
Greens intend to campaign here on ‘ban fracking’. The SNP have already explained at length why the current moratorium is the best choice; and how an outright ban would backfire as it would be challenged in court and would be overturned. Greens did not stand here in 2015 so there is little basis for comparison; only that they received 4.7% of the list vote for the Central region (which includes Falkirk) in 2016; and 3.6% in Falkirk Council elections this month. I expect their share of the vote in this GE to be fairly close to that.
Patrick Harvie received 24% of the vote last year in the Glasgow Kelvin Scottish Parliament constituency. But it doesn’t say much about what might happen in this General Election. Greens did well in the Hillhead ward two weeks ago (26%; one councillor elected on first count) but not so well in other areas of the constituency. Greens received 6.2% of the vote here in 2015. So I don’t expect Harvie to do much better than 15% this time. That would have him competing with the Conservatives for third place, not with the SNP for first.
Next week: Edinburgh West, Edinburgh South West
Saor Alba gu bràth.
Jeremy Blackwell, 17 May 2017
Jeremy Blackwell is an analyst and statistician living and working in Edinburgh. You can follow him on Twitter at @WeAreThe59.