Monday, 19 October 2009

20 SNP MPs? Don't think so

A few days ago - prior to the SNP conference starting - Jeff made a list of potential gains for the SNP in the coming Westminster election. No doubt over the course of the weekend he drank in more optimism from the gathered masses in Inverness and feels pretty good about his prediction. Makes sense - conferences are meant to recharge the batteries, invigorate the activists to campaign and deliver some seats. Even so, I still think his list may be somewhat... optimistic. Saying that, I'd love to have some of what he is drinking!

Jeff's list of potential SNP gains (in order of ascending swing required to win):

Ochil & South Perthshire (0.75%)
Livingston (4.55% - from by-election)
Dundee West (7.3%)
Kilmarnock & Loudoun (9.8%)
Argyll & Bute (10.55%)
Aberdeen North (10.6%)
Edinburgh East (11.5%)
Stirling (11.7%)
Edinburgh North & Leith (12%)
Linlithgow & Falkirk East (12.1%)
East Lothian (14.2%)
Gordon (14.5%)
Falkirk (14.75%)
East Kilbride, Strathaven & Lesmahagow (15.4%)

Plus an extra shopping list of:

North Ayrshire & Arran (12.95%)
Paisley & Renfrewshire North (13.45%)
Midlothian (14.25%)
Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East (14.8%)
Inverclyde (15.55%)
Glasgow Central (16.7%)

Anyway, I'm not sure what kind of national swing Jeff's predictions are based on, but by my reckoning only something in the range of a massive 14% LAB-SNP national swing would see some of the higher ones on the list go. And given the UK level is a straight fight between Labour and the Tories, I'd expect the latter to muscle in a wee bit on the fight in Scotland, grabbing a wee bit of the swing from Labour. In short, I can only see something like a 7 or 8% national swing at absolute best to the SNP from Labour. That isn't to say they won't win a couple of other seats which require a larger swing (as happened in 2007 - they failed to win Cumbernauld on a minor swing but grabbed Gordon & Stirling on massive swings) but I don't expect the "extra list" to come into play... or indeed much of the first list beyond Argyll & Bute. Saying that, there may be a couple of surprises (Gordon?).

Now the main criticism of my analysis here is that the swings are based on an election which will be five years old by the time the election comes round. And that is fair - we've had a Holyrood (2007) and European (2009) election since then, in both of which the SNP have polled remarkably well. Indeed, if the we transpose the European Parliament vote onto the Westminster constituencies, the SNP would end up winning more seats than Labour - from memory, everything north of Stirling, most of Edinburgh and some surprising bits of Glasgow (potentially goodbye to Glasgow South's blogging MP). So yes, there is potential for some shocks - and some big SNP gains.

But I'll return to the reason I'm suggesting some of them are not going to fall to the SNP, and that is that it is a Westminster election. While the party appear to be winning round people in Scotland - at least for Holyrood elections - this is their first real test of popularity as a Government. And I think they'll do fine - just perhaps not quite as well as some people think they will.

Coming off the fence, I'd give them 6 of 7 the seats they currently hold (minus Glasgow East) plus 6 or 7 more... but no more than 13 SNP MPs after the election. And here's a tip - the constituency where they need less than a 1% swing from Labour may be more difficult than you'd think. If Ochil and South Perthshire slips from Labour control, it might just be a Tory Gain rather than a Nat MP for the constituency.



Anonymous,  19 October 2009 at 09:24  

"Given the UK level is a straight fight between Labour and the Tories, I'd expect the latter to muscle in a wee bit on the fight in Scotland, grabbing a wee bit of the swing from Labour."

Doubt it. It'll be a long time before anyone decontaminates the Tory brand in Scotland. I think we'll see a real hollowing of the Labour vote in Scotland, whether it's a UK or Scottish election.

Malc 19 October 2009 at 09:36  

I disagree Bucket.

Look at the Tory vote in the last European election - as well as the last three Holyrood elections:

16% at Holyrood, well over 300,000 votes at each election. 16% at EU election, 185,000 votes.

They have a core in Scotland that they can maintain. Obviously they lost out badly to Labour in 1997, but that was predominantly folks old enough to remember Thatcher. There's a whole new generation of voters (myself included) who have no real first hand experience of how bad things were under them in the 1980s.

I reckon they can grab a couple of % back from Labour. If they hit 20% in Scotland that'll be a massive night for them.

James Mackenzie 19 October 2009 at 10:45  

If anything I think this would be a bit optimistic for the SNP. Sure, Cashley taking North and Leith is implausible, but I'd be surprised at any swing greater than that which would deliver Dundee West.

Local circumstances will matter, though - the Lib Dems are crumbling in Gordon as well as Argyll & Bute, while Stirling Nats will benefit from the sane and personable Bruce Crawford as their MSP.

Glasgow East will be interesting. Mason is clearly a dogmatic eccentric, and I agree: he'll probably get washed away.

Montague Burton 19 October 2009 at 11:05  

I'm intrigued that you see Margaret Curran having improved to such a extent that she will take Glasgow East from John Mason, what exact qualities, or dare I say policies, has she added to herself that will turn the voters from Mason to her?

Malc 19 October 2009 at 11:10  


James. I did say AT ABSOLUTE BEST - though my "national" swing of 7-8% is about right in tune with what you think I guess. But I do think there will be a few beyond that threshold which will be gained too - Gordon, Argyll & Bute and potentially Stirling as you name.

Interesting point to note though: if the SNP top the poll, it still does not guarantee a raft of gains. They'd need to beat Labour by around 3 or 4% (and thereby get a swing of around 12%) before seats start turning yellow.

Malc 19 October 2009 at 11:13  


I don't necessarily think Margaret Curran has improved dramatically. But I think the circumstances are different. As a by-election, Glasgow East stood alone. As part of a General Election, it is one seat of 59 that the SNP have to fight - and that means there is not the same level of commitment to the constituency that there was when John Mason won it previously. Thereby I reckon Labour take it back, probably fairly comfortably (2,000-3,000 majority) with their vote actually coming out this time.

Interesting point too: If Margaret Curran did win the seat, would she step down at Holyrood? If so, John Mason would almost certainly stand for the seat there... and that'd be interesting.

Montague Burton 19 October 2009 at 12:13  

Curran being in charge of policy on the Grey front bench from September 08 until oh at least March, this year suggests she has nothing to offer voters anything different from when she last contested the seat. Mason as MP has made substantial inroads into the soft Labour vote. I think you're predictions are widely off the mark. I'm predicting an SNP hold and increased majority.

I honestly believe the big mistake everyone is making is in looking at this coming general election as the same as every other. The major differences this time around are an SNP government in Holyrood and the absolute slaughtering Labour took at the Europeans. The SNP's Aileen McLeod came within 700 votes of being the 3rd SNP MEP. There has been a shift. The 20 seats are achievable.

Malc 19 October 2009 at 12:19  


I guess we'll see come May next year. One thing I will say is that Labour might have taken a "slaughtering" at the Europeans, but the SNP share of the vote was down (31% to 29%) on their regional vote at the Scottish Parliament, and from their European election high of 1994 (34%).

I also don't think its a "soft" Labour vote, rather that the SNP high of 2007 was perhaps soft - more people "lent" them their vote then to eject Labour from government, just as they did in the Glasgow East by-election.

Don't get me wrong. I think the SNP will do well - and perhaps better than 1974. But still, when push comes to shove, this is a Westminster election - and people still (perhaps wrongly) see this as a contest beyond the influence of the SNP.

Jeff 19 October 2009 at 20:48  

Yep, pretty much all fair comment Malc.

I was merely saying the SNP 'can' win 20 MPs, not stating categorically that they 'will'. Just being in the hunt in 25 constituencies is damn good going given they only have 7 MPs at the moment.

But yeah, maybe I overplayed one or two of them. N&L is becoming anyone's guess. I couldn't even rule out the Tories with a strong degree of conviction.

I do find it interesting that you dismiss the results of the European election so quickly though. Why was that not "a real test of their popularity as a Government"?

The SNP got thumped just about as badly in 2004 as they did in the GE in 2005....

Malc 19 October 2009 at 21:46  

EU elections have a quality about them which is seen as a second-order election - thereby people are either more likely to give their vote to someone they wouldn't trust their Westminster vote with... or simply don't bother voting (hence the low turnout).

The other thing about the 2009 election was that it could be seen as an anti-Labour rather than pro-SNP vote, given the mess Labour were in at Westminster at the time.

That being said, I don't think I dismissed it. I recognise that it was a good result for the SNP. But, historically, they do well in EU elections. Look at 1994 - I think they got something like 34% of the vote then. 29% is good, but it is less than they got in 2007. Its a useful barometer of how people wanted to vote in a European election, perhaps less useful in trying to predict Westminster elections. Though maybe it will be relevant - I don't know.

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