General Election 2019 UK Politics

General Election 2019: Regional Analysis Scotland

Written by Isaac Browning

At the 2017 General Election, the results for Scotland were:

The seats to watch on election night 2019 are: North East Fife, Stirling, Perth and North Perthshire, Gordon, Lanark and Hamilton East, Glasgow South West, Glasgow East, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

Analysis

The election in Scotland is made all the more interesting by the fact that last time round many of the seats were extremely close. In 2017, 46 out of its 59 constituencies had majority of less than 10%, the usual definition for a marginal constituency. Of these, 14 were decided by fewer than 1,000 votes. This gives us a fascinating background, with virtually no seat being safe, almost everyone in Scotland can expect a dogged and determined campaign from all parties concerned in an attempt to win them over.

Firstly, let’s focus on the SNP. They have been totally dominant in Scotland since 2015 when they won by a huge landslide in the aftermath of the Independence referendum, though this was rolled back to some extent in 2017, when they won 35 seats, a loss of 21. Their dream scenario will be a return to 2015, but, being realistic, they will have to be happy with relatively modest gains. Their main problem is that they have to fight the election on several fronts. One noticeable example is Stirling, formerly a Labour stronghold but won by the Conservatives from the SNP in 2017 by a tiny margin of 148 votes. This result is, to a large extent, attributable to the then-incumbent MP Steven Paterson being marred by an expenses scandal. The party stand a great chance of gaining the seat back, it voted 67% to remain in the EU and they have put up MEP Alyn Smith, a sign of their confidence. One, admittedly small, stumbling block is that the constituency voted to remain in the UK in 2014 by 59.8%, slightly above the average of 55.3%. In addition, the Scottish Greens have elected to field a candidate this time, as opposed to 2017, so this will bite into the nationalist vote somewhat. Despite these two factors, the seat is, in theory, an fairly straightforward win. This type of seat, though, is far from typical. Most Conservative victories in Scotland were in areas where the Leave vote was stronger in comparison with the rest of Scotland. A particularly good example of this is Banff and Buchan, where the Conservatives overturned a majority of over 14,000 to win in 2017. It recorded the highest leave vote in Scotland, the only seat with a majority in favour of Brexit. Seats where the Leave vote was higher are likely to be less happy hunting grounds for the SNP, especially so because the Brexit party won’t be standing in those seats, though their impact in those seats would have been minimal at best. Another issue for the SNP is that they have to defend several three-way marginals, where three parties were in contention last time. Among these are seats like Lanark and Hamilton East, Linlithgow and East Falkirk, Paisley and Renfrewshire North and Central Ayrshire. This presents a challenge as Unionist voters may vote tactically to try and keep the SNP out. However, there has been scarce evidence of any coordinated campaign by Unionist to make this happen, with Brexit seeming to be the more important factor for them.

This election has the potential to cement the Conservatives as the main opposition to the SNP in Scotland, despite them being projected to lose votes. This is due to the collapse of Labour support, with many of their Remain/No supporters moving towards the Liberal Democrats, who have made their stance on a second referendum very clear. This has resulted in a more complex picture where Labour and the Conservatives will lose out, and the SNP and Liberal Democrats should make gains. This brings us to the question of what will happen in seats like North East Fife, the most ultra of ultra-marginals, where the SNP’s Stephen Gethins scraped home by a majority of just two votes, in a poll which required two recounts, to make absolutely sure. This seat will be the focus of heavy campaigning from both parties, and is impossible to call at this stage.

How bad could things be for Labour and the Conservatives? Well, if the latest poll is to be trusted, Labour would lose all their seat with the exception of Edinburgh South, where Ian Murray has the largest majority in Scotland, at over 15,000 votes. The picture is not much better for the Conservatives, who will lose ten of their thirteen seats, only keeping West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk and Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweedale. 

The situation for the Liberal Democrats is more complicated; they are projected to gain support, but so are the SNP, so judging if their support has increased relative to the SNP is challenging. Currently, it looks as though the two parties will experience roughly similar levels of increase, meaning that SNP-Liberal Democrat marginals, such as Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, are unlikely to change hands, and vice versa. The situation in North East Fife will simply come down to which party’s campaigning is more successful.

So, in summary, the 2019 election in Scotland will take us some of the way back to where we were in 2015, but with a slightly less extreme landslide for the SNP. However, no votes have been cast yet, so everything is still to play for.

About the author

Isaac Browning

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