Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Rural Battleground Seats in North and East Scotland

Scotland 2010: The 31 seats that matter Part 3: Rural Battleground seats in the North and East of Scotland

At the General Election, now expected to be held in May 2010, out of Scotland’s 59 seats, as many as 31 could change hands.

Since 2005, Scotland has voted 3 times, at the Holyrood and Council elections in 2007 and at the European elections in 2009. Every 4 years all Scottish councils elect all councillors simultaneously using the STV multi-member ward system and Holyrood a mixture of “first past the post” for 73 constituency MSP and 8 regional lists each electing 7 additional regional MSPs from party lists.

As polls have varied since 2007 but few Scotland only polls have been taken I have predicted outcomes on the basis of the SNP polling 30-35%, Labour 30-35%, Tories 20-25% and LibDems 10-15%. The problem predicting Westminster results is that few Holyrood seats resemble the 2005 created Westminster ones and the Council boundaries rarely match the Westminster seats either.

Here are the 5 rural “battleground seats” in the North and East of Scotland

Gordon: (LibDem) a seat in which the Tories used to weigh their vote, LibDem since 1987 when taken by Malcolm Bruce, his personal vote may just hold back the SNP tide. Alex Salmond took the Holyrood seat in 2007 on a 10% swing. The LibDems continue to face problems in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Councils where the Group leader has been deposed and another leading councillor under investigation for alleged improper dealings in the former and 3 councillors have left the group and the ongoing repercussions of the “Donald Trump affair” in the latter. Malcolm Bruce will be hard to shift but give the Daily Telegraph expenses claims about Mr and Mrs Bruce; this could be an SNP gain.

Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine: (LibDem) a LibDem seat since taken from the Tories in 1997, a top target with a popular local Tory MSP standing again so the best Tory prospect in the north of Scotland. The 2007 Aberdeenshire Council results covering all 3 seats showed SNP up from 15 to 22 seats, Tories up from 11 to 14 seats, LibDems down from 28 to 24 seats and Others down from 14 to 8 seats. Aberdeenshire is Labour free. Malcolm Bruce’s wife recently gained a Tory seat in a council by-election which is partly in Gordon and partly in Aberdeenshire West but that was before she featured in the Telegraph expenses claims. This will only be a Tory gain if there is a general move back to the Tories in rural Scotland.

Angus: (SNP) was the most marginal SNP-Tory seat in 2005 and went solidly SNP so Mike Weir should increase his majority. However locally people are saying that as the SNP has already squeezed as much as it can from the other parties, any Tory recovery could see the SNP vote increase and them still lose this seat at a time when it takes other seats all over Scotland.

Dunfermline and West Fife: (Lab) provided a sensational by-election victory in 2006 for the LibDem’s Willie Rennie on the death of Rachel Squire, considered by many to be Labour’s most able Fife MP. This will be a Lab-LibDem gladiatorial contest of enormous proportions, especially since Gordon Brown is the neighbouring MP. In 2007 at Holyrood the LibDems just took the Dunfermline West seat which forms a large part of the Westminster seat on a huge swing so who would bet against Willie Rennie holding this seat, which technically makes it a LibDem gain from 2005.

Perth and North Perthshire: (SNP) another see-saw SNP-Tory seat which in England would have a 15-20% Tory majority. Pete Wishart, the sitting MP was a member of Runrig, one of Scotland’s top bands but the Tories consider they have only lent this seat to the SNP so in the same way Galloway bucked the trend at Holyrood in 2007, this will either be a big increase in the SNP majority in line with the rest of Scotland or a narrow Tory gain. It will come down to whether the SNP has already fully squeezed the non-Tory vote or whether enough former Tory voters return. It could see the SNP vote increase and still lose.


Anonymous said...

The Lib Dems look to be in DEEP DEEP DEEP TROUBLE!

Stuart Dickson said...

Mark, you and I have been over this before, but just for the record, here are the non-SNP/Con voters in Angus and in P&NP at UK GE 2005:

Angus: approx 14,000 (Lab + LD + SSP)

P&NP: approx 16,000 (Lab + LD + SSP)

That is an awful lot "non-big-two" votes!!

Now, clearly all 3 of those political parties are going to get badly, badly squeezed in these two seats at UK GE 2010 (esp. Lab), but do you really, really think that the Tories will gain more of the switchers than the SNP will manage to attract?

If you do think that the local Cons are unusually attractive to former Lab/LD/SSP voters, please cite some persuasive evidence.

Richard Nabavi said...

Thanks again Easterross. It's very helpful to have these summaries collated together like this.

On Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine, it sounds as though you think a Tory win unlikely (and you are more bullish than most on the Scottish Tories' prospects). Given that, Ladbrokes 8/11 on the LibDems to retain it sounds like good value, does it not? Especially for those of us who are betting on the Conservatives doing very well elsewhere.

ChristinaD said...

Good analysis of these seats Easterross.

I have definitely got a suspicion that the biggest danger for the SNP in Angus, is that they maxed out on their share of the vote in 2005.

And they will be much more vulnerable to the Conservatives in seats where they are the main rivals to each other, or even coming from 3/4 in the North East. As with the SNP in 2007, being the main opposition likely to replace this Labour government could just be the enough to swing a seat like this to the Tories.

I have no doubt that Michael Weir is popular, and that he might have dug in, and that incumbency will be a factor too.
But in this type of marginal where a small swing to the nearest rival could see their party taking power, that has got to be factored into the equation. This GE is going to be dominated by a severe economic climate and the mood for change.

Similarly, we saw a swing to the SNP in WAK back in 2007 whereby they leapfrogged the Tories into 2nd place. Again, I believe this was on the back of the basic assumption that the SNP were the party that were the most likely to kick Labour and the Libdems out of power at Holyrood.

Its all about change, and this time it won't be the SNP that can deliver it at Westminster, they just happen to be in a position to benefit where there are seats that will not go blue under any circumstances.

ChristinaD said...

Richard, I cannot emphasis enough just what a dramatic change there has been in the Libdems fortunes in the North East of Scotland since 2007.

Seriously, this has been the equivalent of the perfect storm for their Conservative rivals in the West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine seat.
I was also closely involved in the 'local' by election under STV earlier this year, and I can tell you that it would be a mistake to try and extrapolate the GE on the back of it.

Back in 2005 I would have had my seat as a nailed on Libdem hold at the next GE. I thought that we Tories would have to plan a 2/3 GE strategy to win it back. But now, I could see a big surprise in the present political landscape. Quite simple, a real sea change up here would be to oust the the Libdems with the added bonus of getting rid of this Labour government in Westminster.

Anonymous said...

Another great analysis Easterross. Thanks.

What would make it even more useful would be a prediction for each seat with your assessment of the probability of that outcome.

e.g Abderdeenshire West and Kincardine: Lib Dem win, 60%.

stjohn said...

Anonymous @ 6 was me. stjohn.

Easterross said...

Stuart, I hear what you say but I remember Galloway in 2007 where you couldn't overturn a Tory majority of 90 when you were sweeping away huge Labour majorities. I also remember 1979 when very popular well dug-in SNP MPs like George Reid and Winnie Ewing were swept aside in the Tory recovery.

Richard, I happen to personally think we will win West Aberdeenshire for the reasons Christina narrates but before winning it we should be picking up Michael Moore's seat in the Borders and the Argyll seat (if the SNP don't beat us to it or split the vote sufficiently for the LibDems to hold on).

Easterross said...

StJohn as I will shortly finish publishing my set of predictions, this being the 4th of 7, that would bea good winter project. I may do it in collaboration with Stuart Dickson who knows far more about betting than I do.

Marcia said...

Mark, re Angus I cannot agree with your comments that the SNP maximised it's vote in 2005 in this seat. The organisation there to say the least was not geared up for the new Westminster seat having to merge a bit of East Angus and Tayside North. There was a sizable vote slippage in the Arbroath and Montrose areas to the LD's just as there was nationally. That should be recovered. Labour still polled well in Scotland in 2005 and their vote held up better than expected. The Angus SNP organisation is far better than it was in 2005 and the recent European elections results there were positive.

In Perth & E Perthshire the key to the winner will be the amount of Labour and LD voters from 2005 who switch to either the Tories of SNP. One encouraging straw for the SNP is that for the first time in the European elections the SNP came out in top in Perth. It is usually the Tories that come top there.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear - good analysis in pb.c terms now equates to McAve It's Tories gain everywhere seemingly.

In my view good analysis usually starts with facts - like getting previous election results right, lookign at the differences between boundaries at differnet levels and the effect of different voting systems. But as that sort of analysis might not predict 'Tories win everywhere' it is clearly not good enought for pb.c these days.

Incidently the Scottish Tory cheerleaders seem amazingly quiet on the most recent Scottish poll that showed a small swing from Tory to Lib Dem in Holyrood voting patterns - now why is that?

Anonymous said...

The starting point is false overestimating the Con share which is more likely to be less than 20 per cent and nowhere near 25. As the SNP had around 18 per cent in 2005 it is difficult to accept Easterross's view that the SNP will have maxed out and that the Tories will fly past the SNP when theyare onl getting plus 1_3per cent in the polls in Scotland whereas the SNP are getting plus12-17 per cent. There is no evidence to suggest that the Tories will take any seats from the SNP or come from 3rd to 1st anywhere in Scotland. His assertions re the Lib Dems may be more accurate.

ChristinaD said...

Anon @ 00:07
"Oh dear - good analysis in pb.c terms now equates to McAve It's Tories gain everywhere seemingly."

In what way? I think that Easterross's very realistic prediction of a handful of Conservative gains from a present tally of one is anything but 'Tories gain everywhere' don't you?

As for the rest of your comments, it looks like you have basically commented on a series of articles with your eyes shut and your fingers firmly stuck over your ears.
Having taken the time to read Easterross's well researched articles, I find that rather a sad and lazy response!

But when you are claiming a wee swing from the Tories to the Libdems in one poll is significant after so many showing the exact opposite, I suppose you need something desperate to cling too.

I remember a couple of subsamples putting the Tories ahead of Labour in Scotland, caused great excitement because it was so rare. But do I expect to bet my house on those figures, no friggin way!

ChristinaD said...

Anon @00:32
"There is no evidence to suggest that the Tories will take any seats from the SNP or come from 3rd to 1st anywhere in Scotland. His assertions re the Lib Dems may be more accurate."

I suggest you go back and look at the 2007 results for the Scottish elections. Then you should equate and calculate the main opposition bounce the SNP got for being the main challengers to the then incumbent Labour/Libdem coalition into a GE where the Conservatives are the main challengers to this Labour government at Westminster.

That is, unless you believe that the Scots nation are totally relaxed about the whole current economic situation or who will govern from Westminster while we try and sort it out.

Easterross said...

Anonymous (not St John) clearly you haven't read any of my predictions. I have clearly stated that the SNP should increase its majority in both Perth and Angus BUT that remembering what happened in Galloway in 2007 and in all the seats the Tories lost to the SNP in October 1974 we should not rule out a shock result in one of those two seats.

In 2007 the Scottish LibDems lost 3 FPTP constituencies, 2 to the SNP and 1 to the Tories. The LibDems have also had almost 2 years of non-stop bad publicity in the North-east over Trumpgate and Council cuts.

I would be failing if I did not flag up ALL likely outcomes in each seat. Incidentally when I first prepared my predictions in June 2008, I was told by Mike they were too long because they did analyse the 2005 and both 2007 elections in detail. If you want a copy of those 8 sets of Scotland wide predictions just send me your email address

Tom Robinson said...

I would like to make a very simple prediction about the SNP and Conservatives in Scotland at the next GE.

There will not be a single case of the Tories moving from a position where they are behind the SNP to moving ahead of them in any seat.

People I think would be likely to accept this about seats where neither, or only one of these two parties, are in contention.

It actually provides a very simple answer to whether the Tories will gain Perth etc or Angus-they won't.

ChristinaD said...

"It actually provides a very simple answer to whether the Tories will gain Perth etc or Angus-they won't."

Tom, those seats are going to be fascinating to watch on election night, especially in light of the SNP performance in both in the Euro's.
Will the fact that a Eurosceptic Conservative party replacing Labour at Westminster have any effect on fight between the Conservatives and the SNP in these seats at a GE?
Going to be fun to see how it all unfolds.

Tom robinson said...


"Going to be fun to see how it all unfolds."

Absolutely fascinating, indeed.

Naturally I may be more excited by different seats than you are.

For example, is it really possible that the SNP will come from fourth place to win any or all of Argyll & Bute, Gordon or Stirling?

Probably not quite but I would not bet against them winning one of these, particularly as I met the SNP candidate for Gordon, Richard Thomson, recently and was impressed.

ChristinaD said...

Tom, I think the Libdems are really worried about the SNP threat in Gordon this time. Amazing really, when you think that they have Malcolm Bruce insitu. And the SNP don't actually have to win this time, just get themselves into a good position to take the time after.