Monday, 8 May 2017

My analysis of 2017 United Kingdom local elections, part 3: Scotland, Wales, and the overall picture

Scottish and Welsh local elections proved to be a very interesting story for local elections this year, and this is the first time in many years that Scottish, Welsh, and English local elections have been held on the same day-4 May 2017.

The SNP underperformed despite still being the dominant force in Scotland-they lost control of both Angus and Dundee councils and failed to gain overall control of any council, even Glasgow. In fact, despite a pro-unionist Conservative surge, not a single Scottish council is under single-party control anywhere. The SNP overall lost 7 seats, as their gains from Labour were counteracted by losses to the Conservatives and Independents (and sometimes the Greens), especially in rural areas where effectively only the SNP and the Conservatives are in play. However, the SNP gained largest party status in Glasgow, Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire, Fife, Falkirk, West Dunbartonshire, West Lothian, Aberdeen, and by just one seat, Edinburgh (which I initially predicted would have the Conservatives as the largest party). The Conservatives managed to push Labour into third place in terms of overall seats, and decisively relegate them to being the third party in Scotland. However, the only councils they managed to gain largest party status on were Aberdeenshire, Dumfries & Galloway, East Renfrewshire, and Perth & Kinross (where ironically they had previously given the SNP support on the council); this will nevertheless be enough to put them in striking distance of key SNP seats, as will their hold of the Scottish Borders Council.

Labour meanwhile continued their poor run and long decline in Scotland. Only three Scottish councils now have Labour as the largest party: East Lothian, Inverclyde, and Midlothian, and in several councils they fell from first to third place in seat numbers (e.g. Edinburgh). Single Transferable Vote, which all Scottish councils use, generally punishes bad performances severely, but for Labour this was mainly confined to councils where they had an outright majority; their heaviest losses were in Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, and South Lanarkshire, which are strictly SNP v Labour contests in practice despite the proportional element of the STV system. The Liberal Democrats' recovery was limited, but occurred in wards covering the few constituencies they have a chance of recapturing in June, notably Edinburgh West and East Dunbartonshire. The Scottish Greens had a very good night overall, winning 5 extra seats nationally, and winning their first seats in Highland, Orkney, and two extra seats apiece in the cities of Edinburgh & Glasgow, concentrated in the central areas mainly of these two cities. However, they lost their only seat in Midlothian at the same time. Outside of the main parties, only Independents achieved any representation and all minor parties (e.g. the Libertarian Party and TUSC) came nowhere near achieving any council seats. These Scottish elections saw the first uncontested ward under STV-South Kintyre in Argyll & Bute where all 3 candidates were elected unopposed.

Wales did not fare as badly for Labour as many predicted. Labour lost control of  Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil to Independents but crucially lost Bridgend to no overall control (they lost 13 seats, the Conservatives gained 10) and over half their seats in Wrexham. However, they retained control of Cardiff council, countering losses to the Conservatives with gains from the Liberal Democrats, which effectively erases any chance of the Lib Dems recapturing Cardiff Central this year. They also managed to make a net gain of three seats in Flintshire, a key battleground for this year's general election. The Conservatives only gained overall control of Monmouthshire, where they were already the largest party, and failed to gain overall control of the tightly contested Vale of Glamorgan council, but they did gain largest party status in Denbighshire, also a key battleground between the Conservatives and Labour in Wales. Plaid Cymru also did not gain any councils directly from Labour (but certainly gained many seats from them in key Lab vs. PC contests such as Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf), made no further headway in Ceredigion, and fell two seats short of winning overall control of Carmarthenshire; only Gwynedd is under Plaid's control but they did achieve largest party status in Ynys Mon. Plaid Cymru did however gain their first two seats in Powys, despite its poor levels of support for Plaid generally (they have never even saved their deposit in Brecon & Radnorshire and have not done much better in Montgomeryshire either), and overtook the Liberal Democrats in Bridgend and Wrexham. It bodes well for making gains from Labour in Ynys Mon, and possibly Llanelli as well. The Liberal Democrats generally fared worse than in 2012, except in Powys and Ceredigion. The Green Party made their first gain in a council in Wales in years, gaining Llangor in Powys and only narrowly missing out on extra seats in Llandridod within the same council. Powys was also the only area where Independent councillors and candidates, who generally made substantial gains in Wales overall, fared badly-the number of Independent councillors in Powys fell from 48 to 30.

The overall picture of these elections must be seen from the fact that the Conservatives made considerable gains despite being in government with a small majority, and only lost a few seats, mainly to the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. UKIP's collapse also aided many Conservative gains from Labour even though the Labour vote share remained reasonably stable in many counties. With only one month to go before the general election, a landslide Conservative majority of 100 or more seats reminiscent of the Thatcher era is now a foregone conclusion, and no 'progressive alliance' can prevent this in the current circumstances, especially when UKIP is fielding fewer candidates and endorsing some Conservative MPs.

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