How much will the Liberal Democrat meltdown and the main parties’ squeeze affect the 2011 results?


by Brian Nicholson

In the 2011 Holyrood election campaign, two emerging trends may have a significant impact on the final results. The first is the squeeze of vote as two major parties vie for support and the second is the apparent but unprecedented meltdown of the Liberal Democrat vote.

To determine the impact, we should review the 2007 results for both the Constituency and Regional Lists.

Party Constituency % Regional % Variation

% loss/gain

from Constituency

SNP 654,227 32.9 633,401 31.0 (30,826) (4.6)
Labour 648,374 32.2 595,415 29.2 (52,959) (8.2)
Conservative 334,743 16.6 284,005 13.9 (50,738) (15.2)
Liberal Democrats 326,232 16.2 230, 671 11.3 (95,591) (29.3)
Scottish Green 2,971 0.2 82,584 4.0 79,613 2600.8
Others 40,431 1.9 216,033 10.3 175,602 400.3
Total 2,016,978 100.0 2,042,109 100.0 25,131 1.3








The squeeze is clearly evident in the 2007 results as the vote for both the SNP and Labour was more firm than that of either the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats.  The Regional List vote for the SNP was only 4.6% less than that received by SNP constituency candidates. Labour’s vote also was reasonably firm with their list vote holding at 8.2% less than constituency vote. Conversely, the Conservatives list vote plummeted by 15.2% and the Liberal Democrats by an astounding 29.3%.  All the recent polling data seems to indicate that squeeze is already starting on the LibDems and Conservatives, aided by the distaste for the Westminster coalition government.

One of the oddities of the squeeze is that as the vote squeezes, those not voting for Labour or SNP, are going to the smaller parties instead of the Green Party.  The Greens have been actively pushing the Second vote Green campaign, but so far no sign is apparent that this is having any affect on the voters. Contrary to popular opinion, the main beneficiaries of this movement are the smaller parties which gained over 70% of the votes lost by the main parties. This mirrors what occurred in the 2007 election results.

It is also interesting to note that in the final results, more Scots cast votes for the Regional lists than for the Constituency seats. This would seem to indicate success for the smaller parties in turning out their supporters.

As the 2011 campaign progresses, polling continues to show a migration of votes towards the two main parties in the constituency results and towards smaller parties in the list votes. The Green party vote remains static in their normal range of 5%, plus or minus 1%, depending on the poll in question.

Far more impact will be the meltdown of the Liberal Democrat vote. With the 2007 results showing a clear weakness in vote in the Regional Lists, the drop in support for Liberal Democrat constituency candidates, evident in the ICM poll  and supported by subsequent polling, shows the potential for a marked impact in the final results.

To determine that impact, let us review the numbers outlined in the recent ICM poll.

ICM reported that confirmed Liberal Democrat supports in 2007 were now breaking as follows:

1%      Liberal Democrat to Conservative

9%      Liberal Democrat to Labour

25%    Retained Liberal Democrat

16%    Liberal Democrat to SNP

2%      Liberal Democrat to Green Party

2%      Liberal Democrat to Other

ICM also reported that 45% of 2007 Liberal Democrat voters either were undecided or refused to indicate a preference.

Assuming those votes broke in the same manner as those previously indicating a preference, the final split would be as follows.

2%      Liberal Democrat to Conservative

16%    Liberal Democrat to Labour

45%    Retained Liberal Democrat

29%    Liberal Democrat to SNP

4%      Liberal Democrat to Green

4%      Liberal Democrat to Other

The ICM poll also showed a decrease in support for the Conservative constituency candidates from the 17% received in 2007 to the 13% indicated continued support in 2011. Other polls have shown the drop to be even greater with one showing support at 10%.

Assuming the average of 11% support for both the constituency and list vote for the Conservatives, we are seeing a significant drop of about a third of the Conservative vote to go along with the disappearance of over half of the Liberal Democrat vote.

So how could this change impact the final results?

For the purpose of calculation, I will assume that only the Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote undergoes migration to other parties and that the rest retain their 2007 support.

To determine the Liberal Democrat migration, I will use the ICM data listed earlier

To determine the Conservative migration, I will split the vote as follows.

66%    Retained Conservative vote

20%    Conservative to SNP

10%    Conservative to Labour

1%      Conservative to Liberal Democrat

1%      Conservative to Green Party

2%      Conservative to Other

A calculation with the following assumptions would seem to provide a strong indication of projected results.

Lib Dem migration Conservative migration
2% Liberal Democrat to Conservative 66% Retained Conservative
16% Liberal Democrat to Labour 10% Conservative to Labour
45% Retained Liberal Democrat 1% Conservative to Liberal Democrat
29% Liberal Democrat to SNP 20% Conservative to SNP
4% Liberal Democrat to Green 1% Conservative to Green
4% Liberal Democrat to Other 2% Conservative to Other







The project vote with the migration factored into the results would be as follows:


Party Constituency Vote 2007 % Lib Dem Migration Conservative Migration Total %
SNP 664,227 32.9 94,607 66,949 825,783 40.9
Labour 648,374 32.2 52,197 33,474 734,045 36.4
Conservative 334,743 16.6 6,525 (113,813) 227,455 11.3
Liberal Democrats 326,232 16.2 (179,428) 3,347 150,151 7.4
Scottish Green 2,971 0.2 13,049 3,347 19,367 1.0
Others 40,431 1.9 13,049 6,695 60,175 3.0








Party Regional List Vote 2007 % Lib Dem Migration Conservative Migration Total %
SNP 633,401 31.0 66,895 56,801 759,097 37.1
Labour 595,415 29.2 36,907 28,401 660,723 32.4
Conservative 284,005 13.9 4,613 (96,561) 192,057 9.4
Liberal Democrats 230,671 11.3 (126,869) 2,840 106,642 5.2
Scottish Green 82,584 4.0 9,227 2,840 94,651 4.6
Others 216,033 10.3 9,227 5,680 230,940 11.3







The projected percentages, after migration, result in the following seats (according to the WSPA Scotland Votes calculator).

SNP 59 seats (plus 12) 32 constituency, 27 list
Labour 51 seats (plus 5) 34 constituency, 17 list
Conservative 11 seats (minus 6) 3 constituency, 8 list
Liberal Democrats 5 seats (minus 11) 4 constituency, 1 list
Scottish Green 3 seats (plus 1) 0 constituency, 3 list






Potential Coalition partnerships resulting in majority

1.    SNP 59 +  Conservatives 11 =  70 (majority of 5)

2.    SNP 59 +  Liberal Democrat 5 + Green 3 = 67 (majority of 2)

3.    Labour 51 + Conservatives 11+ Liberal Democrat 5 =  67 (majority of 2)

4.    Labour  51 + Conservative 11 + Green 3 = 65 (majority IF SNP or LibDem provided Presiding Officer)

5.    SNP 59 + Labour 51 = 110 ( majority of 45)


If the squeeze continues and pushes more votes to the two main parties and the Liberal Democrat meltdown remains in place, the SNP appears to be in the best position to be the largest party in the next Parliament and has the easiest road to form a majority government in coalition with other parties.

The collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote, if resulting in less than 7 MSP,  would make the possibility of either a Labour-LibDem coalition or a SNP-LibDem coalition unlikely unless they could bring in the Greens as a third party.