Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Scottish play

Earlier in the week I posted a list of Conservative target seats by swing and by odds. In this post, I am going to have a look at the Scottish seats by each party's targets. I freely admit that I have been to Scotland the grand total of a dozen or so times in my entire life and never for longer than five days at a time. So I claim no personal inside knowledge on any seat. But sometimes an outsider can see things more clearly than locals. I hope so, because I have the feeling that this thread is going to upset a lot of people.

Let's start with the Tories. The Tories have 14 of their top 200 targets in Scotland. This is rather more than is sometimes appreciated. Here they are listed in order of their best-priced odds:

Notice something? Well, first of all, the Tories are odds on to win in only two Scottish target seats (and only just so in Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk). If the Tories are to get an overall majority, it won't be based on Scottish seats. Based on the seats in order of their odds, the Tories might do so while winning only Dumfries & Galloway.

Also, unlike the UK national equivalent of Tory targets, there is no dominance at the top of the red. The idea of swing to the Tories from Labour just doesn't seem to work in Scotland. Indeed, in an inversion of what we find in England, the Lib Dem seats with higher swings seem to be seen as easier targets than Labour seats with lower swings. Compare and contrast the best Tory prices in Aberdeenshire West & Kincardineshire and Stirling. The markets seem to think that Tory progress against the SNP is still less likely.

Who next to disappoint? Well, how about the Lib Dems? 13 of their top 100 targets are in Scotland - and I also have included Dunfermline & West Fife in my list of Scottish targets, given their excellent by-election victory there. The markets, however, are wholly unconvinced by their chances:
They are listed at less than 10/1 in only five of their targets and their best price is evens (in their by-election victory seat). As football managers would say, this looks like a season for consolidation at best. Since only tiny swings are needed in three of their targets to take the seats, this is a mark of the extent of Lib Dem failure in Scotland over the last five years.

Labour have 8 Scottish seats in their 100 targets (not that they need them to keep power, of course). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the markets don't expect them to take any of them, with no seat at shorter odds than 11/4:
It is perhaps a mark of the extent of progress that the SNP have made that Labour is a 9/2 shot in a seat that the SNP hold from them by fewer than 400 votes.

So, the SNP should be licking their lips at major gains, right? Computer says no. I've compiled my own list of the SNP target seats by swing, and here it is:

It is glossed over on too often, but the swings that are required for the SNP are heroically large in most cases. Only three seats would be taken by the SNP with a swing from the last UK general election of less than 10%. The Tories would take 190 seats with a swing of 10%. Slough, the 190th seat in that category, would be taken by the Tories from 2nd place at odds of 5/2. To compare and contrast, the SNP would take Argyll & Bute from 3rd place on a 10.5% swing at for the same price. I know which bet I'd prefer.

Let's now have a look at SNP seats ranked by odds. They are at evens or better in just three of their targets:

Frankly, I can see why, given the swings required. You will also note that the SNP are in general weak where the Lib Dems are strong - most of the Lib Dem seats are clustered at the bottom of the table. This is unfortunate in a year when the Lib Dems look like the party with the most problems in Scotland.

But could the seat markets have got this all wrong? In individual seats, doubtless, but I am very doubtful that they are far wrong. The Holyrood elections in 2007 - on which SNP hopes are so often pinned - were now three years ago and were in any case for a different legislative body by a different electoral system. There are no recent opinion polls suggesting the levels of movement in the parties that would result in major seat changes (except perhaps that the Lib Dems are going backwards, and even there recent polling has been more encouraging for them). The last two by-elections in Glenrothes and Glasgow North East seem to suggest that Labour has worked out how to handle an SNP challenge, even in those intense circumstances. We can expect this election to be a no change election in Scotland at least.

What does this mean for betting? Well, I suggest that it means that many of the best bets will be Labour holds. The adventurous might consider a bet on Labour in Dumfries & Galloway, if you take the view that Scotland is immune to Tory charms. If you want to bet on a Tory win against Labour, Stirling on the face of it looks better value than either Renfrewshire East or Edinburgh South West. It would be good to have detail on Perth & North Perthshire, since the 5/4 on a Tory win looks interesting with such a small swing required.

If you take the view that the Lib Dems are falling back, a Labour win in Dunbartonshire East at 11/4 looks interesting. I'm not enthused by the odds on any of the Lib Dem targets. The Lib Dems are going to have their hands full keeping what they already hold.

The odds on SNP wins are getting close to scandalous. 3/1 in Falkirk where a 15% swing is required? Come on. The SNP are 8/1 in Glenrothes, where even in the heat of a by-election they couldn't get close to Labour. The value has to be on the other side of the table with Labour in most such seats. A bet on Labour in Kilmarnock has to be worthwhile and even in Dundee West the red team may well be the value side to back.

One final pair of bets must be mentioned - which have been available at far better prices and touted by Peter from Putney. You can get 0-3 Scottish Conservative seats at 6/4 with Ladbrokes and 6-10 SNP seats at 2/1 with William Hill. Both of these look more like odds-on bets than odds against bets.

Should I get my tin helmet out now?



NoOffenceAlan said...

Only kidding, antifrank, good article.
One factor to take account of is opposition to the Beauly/Denny pylon route, where pylons up to 200 feet high are planned in some of Scotland's most scenic areas. The result is a non-party campaign aimed against the SNP.
This affects mostly the Inverness, Stirling and the 2 Perthshire seats. This should help make Inverness safe for the Lib Dems and help the Conservatives in the other 3 seats.
In these 3, the SNP would be expecting to eat into the Labour vote in the urban areas where it's not such an issue, but will cost them votes in the rural areas (which don't vote Labour anyway).

Richard Nabavi said...

I think you are right, antifrank: the most attractive bets in Scotland constituencies at present are on Labour. The odds do not, IMO, reflect the fact that the Labour vote is holding up relatively well in Scotland, and that the SNP have dropped back since their peak of 2007/8.

Easterross said...

antifrank a good article but pity large parts cannot be read because they show as weblinks.

I have scaled down my SNP gains expectations but still think 10 seats should change hands. The Tories on 4-6 seats was a good bet recently but I have no idea what the odds on it are now.

Alan is correct. Out with the Highlands, people do not understand the seething anger over the Beauly to Denny line. It should help the LibDems in Inverness and the Tories in Perth and North Perthshire, Ochil and South Perthshire and Stirling.

Fitalass said...

"Should I get my tin helmet out now?"

antifrank, yes, and starting running for the hills!

Seriously, a very good article for a loon that doesn't visit these parts very often, but knows his betting onions. Good idea to concentrate on some of the nailed Labour wins. I am more your grand national hoosewifey when it comes to these constituency markets. So not been bothering with some of the more obvious marginals. Just plan on having a wee punt here and there, and just using some local knowledge or local media coverage to help try and spot some bargains where there might be a surprise.

Good luck.

Alastair said...

Easterross, apologies for the layout. I'm not that adept with computers and so couldn't embed the tables. I agree that it hinders the reading experience. Thanks to both NoOffenceAlan and Easterross for their insights on the pylon route, which firms up my view that there is potentially value on the Tories in Stirling and Perth & North Perthshire.


Will said...

Interesting article and agree with much of it. I agree LD are in fairly weak position, and could end up loosing a few to the Tories, but think there is value in edinburgh south and evens on dunfermline seems a bargain.

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