Tuesday, 2 May 2017

My 2017 general election predictions: Scotland

Two years ago, the SNP almost swept the board in Scotland's Westminster constituencies, winning 56 out of 59, leaving Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats with just one seat apiece in Scotland.

Now, especially in light of the overall 2016 Scottish Parliament result, and with the SNP already having reached their high watermark in 2015, the SNP stand to lose at least a few seats. Most SNP seats will remain SNP, especially as 40 of them were gained from Labour and the 6 they had prior to their historic victory (Moray, Banff & Buchan, Perth & North Perthshire, Dundee East, Na h-Eileanan an lar, and Angus) will firmly remain in SNP hands, despite the Conservatives' best efforts under Ruth Davidson to make a credible challenge.
Labour has fallen further in Scotland in the last 2 years and has no realistic chance of winning any of their lost seats back in this election.

Could the SNP lose any of their 10 most marginal seats?

1. Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk. When I saw this gain for myself on the night of the 2015 general election, whilst waiting for my own result in Hemel Hempstead, I was amazed the SNP won this at all, especially with popular Conservative John Lamont as a candidate and the SNP starting from a poor fourth place in an area which voted heavily against Scottish independence. The same John Lamont is running again, the Liberal Democrats are no longer in contention, there are few if any more Labour votes which can be squeezed (Labour lost their deposit here in 2015!) and the SNP majority is just 328, giving John an easy win this year. Dead cert Conservative gain.

2. East Dunbartonshire. The crucial factor is that Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat who was unseated by the SNP's John Nicolson in 2015, is running again and stands to benefit well from unionist (i.e. anti-SNP) tactical voting. Although John Nicolson has worked hard on some campaigns in his two years as an MP, the Liberal Democrats will be the beneficiaries of the 'unionist vote' and almost certainly return Jo back to affluent East Dunbartonshire. Dead cert Liberal Democrat gain.

3. Edinburgh West. A similar situation politically to East Dunbartonshire (and with the SNP majority not being much larger over the Liberal Democrats either), with the added factor of its current SNP MP, Michelle Thomson, not being able to run again (she resigned the SNP whip due to fraud allegations, and the SNP NEC refused to allow her to run under the SNP banner this year). Christine Jardine held up well against Alex Salmond in Gordon, and therefore already knows how to work the tactical unionist votes, and with the closest equivalent in the Scottish Parliament having a Liberal Democrat MSP, it is plain sailing for the Liberal Democrats. Dead cert Liberal Democrat gain.

4. East Renfrewshire. Here, however, the SNP are almost certain to hold, despite the fact it was the Conservatives who narrowly won the Scottish Parliament seat of Eastwood (covering most of this constituency, which was called Eastwood from 1983 to 2005) in a close three-way contest. Conservative voters in Scotland are less willing to tactially vote for Labour and without Jim Murphy Labour is likely to fall to third place anyway, although there is no longer enough momentum to give the Conservatives any chance of reclaiming East Renfrewshire for the foreseeable future-a consequence of demographic change. Dead cert SNP hold.

5. North East Fife. The Lib Dems are in a better position here than they were in 2015, but the task for them will not be easy. Personal votes matter more in rural seats like North East Fife than in urban and (de facto) suburban seats like Edinburgh West and East Dunbartonshire, and the Lib Dems do not have this on their side in North East Fife. There are also limits to how far the Conservative and Labour vote can be depressed, but chances exist nonetheless due to Willie Rennie's win of NE Fife in the Scottish Parliament election last year. Likely SNP hold.

6. Edinburgh North & Leith. Labour has been going backwards in Edinburgh just like everywhere else in Scotland, even if at not as fast a pace, and without their former MP Mark Lazarowicz they will not be able to rely on the personal vote factor to beat the SNP, nor are there enough usable tactical votes left for Labour. The SNP therefore have an easy victory. Dead cert SNP hold.

7. Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross. The Highlands have not been experiencing a real sign of Liberal Democrat recovery and the SNP vote is more stable there in any case. The Liberal Democrats will remain competitive but will not be able to capture this seat right away as Paul Monaghan of the SNP can benefit from the incumbency bonus easily. Dead cert SNP hold.

8. Dumfries & Galloway. Like in Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk, the SNP stand to lose many rural voters due to the shift taken by Nicola Sturgeon towards a more social-democratic SNP, and the Conservatives are in good stead here. However, with potential for tactical voting not as good as Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk and without someone as well-known a figure as John Lamont for this constituency, success is by no means certain for the Conservatives although they are on balance the favourites to win.Probable Conservative gain.

9. East Lothian. The fact Labour held on in the East Lothian Scottish Parliament constituency last year with an increased majority will not make a significant difference-Scottish Parliament elections have lower turnouts and the key issues are different. An assured SNP hold thus. Dead cert SNP hold.

10. Ross, Skye & Lochaber. Charles Kennedy, who lost the seat in 2015, died a month later and he was responsible for ensuring this was a Liberal Democrat seat in the first place. A Lib Dem-SNP swing is certain and this seat could experience one of the largest SNP vote increases in Scotland this year. Dead cert SNP hold.

Special note: West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine. This is only the 12th most marginal SNP seat, but in these circumstances it is in fact very vulnerable indeed. The Conservatives have been making considerable ground in Aberdeenshire recently, and even though there is a limit to which the Liberal Democrat vote can be squeezed, the SNP could easily leak enough votes to lose. A key Scottish seat to watch. Likely Conservative gain.

As for the three unionist seats....

1. Dumfriesshire, Clyesdale & Tweeddale (Con). David Mundell did well to hold off strong SNP efforts which in 2015 reduced his majority to just 798, and this is one of the few seats where the Labour vote will not be particularly helpful to the SNP. In the borders, the Conservatives will receive a sharp anti-independence boost, although the seat will not become safe. Dead cert Conservative hold.

2. Orkney & Shetland (Lib Dem). The orominent SNP candidate who nearly levelled the otherwise impregnable Liberal Democrat majority, Danus Skene, died last year and the Lib Dems will experience a bounce back here. The election petition brought against Alistair Carmichael failed and will not be fresh in many voters' memories anyway, and the Lib Dems are in no real danger here anymore. Dead cert Liberal Democrat hold.

3. Edinburgh South (Lab). Labour held on partly due to the negative publicity the SNP candidate in 2015, Neil Hay, attracted over trolling tweets, the SNP having polled their lowest share in this constituency in 2010, and a huge Liberal Democrat vote which collapsed. The SNP have selected a different candidate this time and are in a better position than Labour, who effectively have no more tactical votes to squeeze (any Green votes will almost certainly go to the SNP, as both the Scottish Greens and the SNP support an independent Scotland) meaning Ian Murray's majority will be overturned with ease. Dead cert SNP gain.

The SNP are certain to lose at least a few seats, but nevertheless the SNP will continue to dominate Scottish politics at a Westminster level for the foreseeable future, barring a catastrophe, even with Ruth Davidson as Scottish Conservative & Unionist leader.

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