The first debate is over – where will the votes go?


by Hazel Lewry

The first Holyrood leaders’ debate is over.  All in all it was well managed, choreographed and provided the spectacle that politically involved Scots have grown used to.  Popular opinion is that Salmond and Goldie split the honours on the night.  Scott was his usual self, notwithstanding being hamstrung by Nick Clegg.   And Gray surprised many by not actually descending into some form of total meltdown.

What the event has most likely managed is to start focusing opinions among that 35% or so of the electorate who are not strongly politically involved, and who often make up the swing vote which truly decides elections.

Based on last night’s showing, likely to be repeated as an overall trend, it’s reasonable to assume that Salmond and Goldie will pick up about 4/10 swing voters each, with Scott and Gray getting 1 apiece.

Then we have that weighting thing.  Too many won’t vote either Tory or SNP, for the remembrance of the “Maggie” years on one side and the “MSM fear tactics” on the other.  They’ll probably just stay home, that could be as many as 40% of the electorate.  The undecideds then are now looking at SNP +2, Tory +2, Labour +1 and Lib-Dem +1 for every 10 voters.

When that is expanded to the electorate at large, working on an approximate mean of the last month’s or so polls, and looking only at the four primary parties, we get a before rating of SNP 35%, Labour 40%, Lib-Dem 10% and Tory 15%, as against an after rating approximating SNP 37.1%, Labour 36.9%, Lib-Dem 12.5% and Tory 20.8%.  The SNP may just narrowly edge the 2011 election.

Now we’ve also got to factor in the recent trending towards the incumbent government that polls were demonstrating, which is offset by the mainstream Scottish media spin efforts.  A likely result is that the nation is now looking at a nominal 3% to 5% SNP win in May.

Where does that put the seat count for direct elections – who’s vulnerable [the incumbent in square brackets] just based on the numbers?  The SNP might reasonably anticipate gains in:

Aberdeen Central, [LAB]

Aberdeen South (additional Lib-Dem collapse through oil levy), [Lib-Dem]

Caithness, [Lib-Dem]

Cumbernauld, [LAB]

Dumbarton, [LAB]

East Kilbride, [LAB]

East Lothian, [LAB]

Falkirk East, [LAB]

Glasgow Kelvin, [LAB]

Linlithgow, [LAB]

Midlothian, [LAB]

Ross/Skye, [Lib-Dem]

Strathkelvin, [LAB]

Tweeddale, [Lib-Dem]

The following could reasonably be described as knife edge seats for the incumbent with the main challenger in brackets () –

Airdrie & Shots [LAB] (SNP),

Eastwood [LAB] (Con),

Edinburgh South [Lib-Dem] (Con/SNP),

Edinburgh West [Lib-Dem] (Con/SNP),

Renfrewshire West [LAB] (Con).

Thirteen of 20 seats above are Labour, the loss of which would severely marginalise the party at Holyrood, reducing its constituency seat count alone to 24, losing over 1/3 of its sitting constituency MSPs.  A loss of such proportions would make its 2010 UK GE failure seem like a tap with a feather duster.  Should the departure of these constituency MSPs be compounded by a failure to significantly increase the List MSPs, the situation would be dire indeed.

A loss of this magnitude would in all probability create issues for the main party in London, and might potentially spark a leadership crisis there.   The big question is if Labour cannot “control its own heartland”, then where can it hope to succeed?

A bigger question is that if you are a party determined to get back into power, and may be within a reasonable margin of attaining that goal, which seats do you focus on?  Where do you bring all your available resources to bear so that you’ll see the maximum return on your investment?

It will be of great interest to see the voting intentions displayed on May 6th for these 20 constituency seats, the vast majority of which should become Labour losses at the time of writing.   Which will swing to another party because of postal voting, which will be saved for the incumbent by this voting method?  Will voter participation suddenly increase in any of these aforementioned seats, with the voting percentage suddenly bursting through that often elusive 60%.  Will the postal vote be reasonably consistent within each constituency with the non-postal vote?

The interesting feature recently is that significantly increased postal vote requests have been noted in the comments sections of Newsnet from certain constituencies during recent weeks. Without exception those named constituencies/areas are listed above.

With the SNP slowly and steadily giving at least the appearance of developing as hard a core vote as Labour, under present trends this would allow the assertion that their incumbent seats are currently reasonably safe.  However a postal vote ‘swing’ of around 5%, or in all cases far less than the 6,000 filed in Glenrothes, would also put at least the following SNP seats in jeopardy from a strong Labour challenge: Cunningham North, Dundee West, Falkirk West, Glasgow Govan, Kilmarnock & Loudon, Livingston, Stirling, Western Isles.

May 5th will bring to us the government we either vote for, or deserve through lack of electoral vigilance.  Let us profoundly hope that it’s the first, for based upon suspicions developing from recent historical events surrounding the postal voting issues in Scotland, not only is everything still to play for in this election, everything is still to be watched for.