Sunday, 14 April 2013

The 2011 Scottish Election on Westminster Constituencies

One of my interests is analysing electoral statistics, and there is something I've been working on recently.

In May 2011 there was an election to the Scottish Parliament where the Scottish National Party won 53 constituencies, Labour 15, the Conservatives 3 and the Liberal Democrats 2.

Originally, the Scotland Act 1998 ensured that the constituencies for the House of Commons (Westminster) and the Scottish Parliament (Holyrood) were coterminous - with the exception of Orkney & Shetland which is one constituency at Westminster but two at Holyrood.

Hence the first two elections to Holyrood - May 1999 and May 2003 - were on the same constituencies as those used at Westminster for the May 1997 and June 2001 general elections.

From time to time, the Boundary Commission for Scotland produces recommendations for new and amended constituencies for Westminster - which under the Scotland Act 1998 automatically become those for Holyrood. The 5th review was presented to Alistair Darling, then the Transport Secretary and Scottish Secretary, in December 2004, in time for the May 2005 general election.

The Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 required that there be at least 71 Scottish constituencies in the House of Commons, but this was removed by the Scotland Act 1998.

While the review was being conducted, one issue was noticed. The number of Scottish MPs would be reduced from 72 to 59, and according to the Scotland Act 1998, the number of constituencies at Holyrood should therefore be reduced from 73 to 60. For Holyrood, Scotland is split into 8 regions, each returning 7 additional Members of the Scottish Parliament to make the result more proportional.

The Scotland Act 1998 stated that there should be 8 regions still, but the number of additional MSPs to constituency MSPs should be approximately 56:73, as per the origional division. Hence, there should be just 46 additional MSPs, with each region having 5 or 6.

This would have reduced Holyrood from 129 MSPs to 106, and so Westminster passed the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Act 2004 which "decoupled" the constituencies, so that Holyrood would remain with 73 constituencies which would be different to the Westminster ones.

This need not be the only option. Ideas I remember floating around at the time were that each Westminster constituency would return one male and one female MSP (making 118 constituency MSPs - and in the political climate of the time these would be predomninantly Labour) and then 11 additional MSPs. Or grouping Westminster constituencies together to elect Holyrood by Single Transferable Vote - a grouping of 2 constituencies would return 4 or 5 MSPs whilst a group of 3 constituencies would return 6 or 7.

Hence, the May 2007 Holyrood election took place using the constituencies used at the 1997 and 2001 Westminster elections - not the 2005.

By the time of the 2011 Holyrood election, the constituencies were pretty old - they were drawn up over 15 years earlier, and ripe for revision. Hence the Boundary Commission for Scotland drew up new constituencies.

There has been a political drift between Westminster and Holyrood. At the 1999 Holyrood election, only 3 constituencies were won by a different party to the 1997 Westminster one. These were:

  • Aberdeen South - held by Labour (who won it from the Conservatives) at Westminster, but won by the Liberal Democrats' Nicol Stephen at Holyrood. Stephen had won Kincardine & Deeside from the Conservatives at a by-election in November 1991 but lost it at the April 1992 general election. In June 2005 he became leader of the Liberal Democrat MSPs and hence Deputy First Minister - a position he held until the Labour/Liberal Democrat administration lost office at the 2007 election.

  • Falkirk West - held by Labour's Dennis Canavan at Westminster, and won by him - this time as an Independent - at Holyrood. Canavan had not been placed on Labour's approved list of Holyrood candidates, but decided to stand anyway, and was expelled from Labour in March 1999.

  • Inverness East, Nairn & Lochaber - held by Labour (who won it from the Liberal Democrats) at Westminster, but won by the Scottish National Party's Fergus Ewing - now the Scottish Minister for Energy, Enterprise & Tourism - at Holyrood.

One thing to notice about 1999 is that the regional vote is fairly close to the constitunecy one. The Scots were still finding their feet electorally, and I guess there was still a "Westminster mentality" - i.e. you vote for a party and whichever gets the most votes wins - rather than a full appreciation of how the Additional Members System works.

Move on to 2003 and things have changed. In addition to the three constituencies above, there are other constituencies which were represented by different parties at Westminster and Holyrood:

  • Aberdeen North - held by Labour at Westminster but gained by the Scottish National Party's Brian Adam at Holyrood
  • Ayr - held by Labour at Westminster but gained by the Conservatives' John Scott at Holyrood, who had gained the seat in a by-election in March 2000 following the resignation of Labour MSP Ian Welsh
  • Dundee East - held by Labour at Westminster but gained by the Scottish National Party's Shona Robison - now the Scottish Minister for Commonwealth Games & Sport - at Holyrood
  • Edinburgh Pentlands - held by Labour at Westminster (where former Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary Malcolm Rifkind failed to reclaim the seat he lost at the 1997 election) but gained by the Conservatives' David McLetchie - at the time the leader of the Conservative MSPs and a frequent taxi passnger - at Holyrood
  • Edinburgh South - held by Labour at Westminster but gained by the Liberal Democrats' Mike Pringle at Holyrood. At the time one of my colleagues was a Liberal Democrat activist, and we agreed that Labour would lose it. He believed the Scottish National Party would win, but my view was that if they can't win a seat with Margo MacDonald as their candidate, then it's unwinnable (8 years later I was proved wrong) and that the Liberal Democrats would gain it from third place
  • Glasgow Springburn - won by the Speaker from Labour at Westminster (in October 2000 its MP, Michael Martin, had been elected Speaker of the House of Commons), but held by Labour's sitting MSP, his son Paul, at Holyrood
  • Ochil - held by Labour at Westminster but won by the Scottish National Party's George Reid - who went on to become the Scottish Parliament's Presiding Officer - at Holyrood
  • Strathkelvin & Bearsden - held by Labour at Westminster but gained by Independent Jean Turner at Holyrood

The methodology is basically the Rallings-Thrasher method. Take the constituency results for the Scottish Parliament election and use tables of local election results (I used the ones from Electoral Calculus) to break these results down into ward results (or parts of a ward where a ward is split across two or three constituencies). The next step is to build up a Westminster result using the wards (and often parts of wards) in that constituency. Scottish local government wards can be quite large (over 20,000 electorate) and one assumption is that support for each party is evenly spread across a particular ward. Some of the hyper-marginal constituencies we get in Edinburgh and Glasgow could have gone the other way.

One quick impression is how across much of Scotland the classic two-party system is back. And those two parties are Labour and the Scottish National Party, with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats being the rag-tag-and-bobtail candidates. This is the sort of situation where 40% of the vote leads to defeat not victory.

As an overview of the shift from the May 2010 general election:

  • The Scottish National Party gains 31 seats from Labour, 9 from the Liberal Democrats and 1 from the Conservatives - a gain of 41 seats, bringing their tally from 6 to 47
  • Labour loses 31 seats to the Scottish Natonal Party and 1 to the Conservatives - a loss of 32 seats, bringing their tally from 41 to 9
  • The Conservatives gain 1 seat from Labour, 1 from the Liberal Democrats but lose 1 to the Scottish National Party - a net gain of 1 seat, bringing their tally from 1 to 2
  • The Liberal Democrats lose 9 seats to the Scottish National Party and 1 to the Conservatives - a loss of 10 seats, bringing their tally from 11 to 1

With 47 out of 59 seats, the Scottish National Party would 80% of the seats. For comparison, Labour's best was 56 out of 72 at the 1997 election - which is 78%.

Another way of looking at it is that a party would need 425 English seats to be doing that well in England.

Labour's 9 seats would be its lowest number since the October 1931 general election.

For the Conservatives, third place and 2 seats would be their best result since the 1992 election(!). And being just 7 seats behind Labour is equal to the combined Scottish Unionist and National Liberal success at the October 1959 general election. The May 1955 general election, where the Scottish Unionists and the National Liberals managed over half the vote and a majority of Scottish seats between them is another era.

For the Liberal Democrats, their sole seat is their worst result since 1959, when they were also just reduced to Orkney & Shetland. The last time they came fourth in terms of the number of seats was at the October 1974 general election.

The seats won by the Scottish National Party would be:

The seats won by Labour would be:

The seats won by the Conservatives would be:

The seat won by the Liberal Democrats would be:

  • Orkney & Shetland - majority of 14.12% over Independent or majority of 23.92% over the Scottish National Party

At the 2011 election, there were Independent candidates coming second to the Liberal Democrats in both Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands whose combined voted was greater than the Scottish National Party's.

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