Will the fate of Lib Dem vote hold the key to the Scottish elections?


by Brian Nicholson and G.A.Ponsonby

As we enter the second week of campaigning for the Scottish elections the trials and tribulations being experienced by the Conservatives and Lib Dems are now well documented.

The Tories have little to lose in Scotland and, as our own James Aitken pointed out yesterday, they have been stagnating north of the Border with support sitting at around 15% for the last three Holyrood elections.

The LibDems, perhaps surprisingly, have fared slightly worse over the same period but have seen their profile benefit as a result of forming an alliance with Labour in the last administrations.

Under Nicol Stephen the party didn’t set the heather on fire.  Tavish Scott faces problems with the Lib Dem brand now infected through Nick Clegg’s alliance with Cameron’s Tories.  The ‘rebellion’ by MPs in Scotland resulting from the raid on North Sea oil is something Scott could have done without.  The resignation from the party of Hugh O’Donnell in protest at the decisions taken by the UK coalition are indicative of a party in turmoil.

Opinion polls, notwithstanding the yo-yoing between Yougov and TNS regarding SNP and Labour support, seem to show that the Lib Dems have little chance of breaking through the 10% figure.  Some polls show the party as low as 6%.

It is now generally accepted that the Lib Dem vote is not holding and is likely to be far lower than in 2007.  This question now starting to be asked is where the soft Lib Dem vote will go if, as seems likely, the party loses around 30%.

Newsnet Scotland has looked at the notional results, prepared by Professor David Denver of Lancaster University, and adjusted those to reflect the dramatic change in Lib Dem fortunes.

For the sake of direct calculation, we have assumed the same turnout and same share of vote for each of the other parties in the election.  The only variable is the Lib Dem vote itself.

This vote has been apportioned according to the following two formulae which we believe is a reasonable estimation of the range of vote split from the LibDem to the other parties.

The 2007 recorded LibDem vote will be split as follows






The intention was to calculate the two extreme options wherein the Lib Dem vote not retained would migrate to the two largest parties, the SNP and Labour.

This change was then applied to the 10 constituencies where Professor Denver calculated that the Lib Dem Party would still be winners based on the results of the 2007 Holyrood election.

The results were interesting to say the least.









If the polls are correct and the Liberal Democratic vote is dropping significantly, then it appears that the party is in serious danger of losing all but its bedrock constituencies. The prime beneficiary of the drop appears to be the Scottish National Party who are poised to take the constituencies of CAITHNESS, SUTHERLAND AND ROSS; SKYE, LOCHABER AND BADENOCH; ABERDEEN SOUTH AND NORTH KINCARDINE; ABERDEENSHIRE WEST;  and depending on vote splitting also EDINBURGH WEST.

Labour is also poised to pick up EDINBURGH SOUTHERN and EDINBURGH CENTRAL.

Even the Conservative and Unionists have a chance to pick up NORTH EAST FIFE.

Without a major turnaround in the polling numbers, the Liberal Democrat constituencies will be limited to the strongholds of ORKNEY ISLANDS, SHETLAND ISLANDS and possibly NORTHEAST FIFE. A friendly vote split could see them keep EDINBURGH WESTERN.

The current polls are showing a 30 per cent drop in Lib Dem support since 2007 and any further haemorrhaging will put all but SHETLAND ISLANDS in jeopardy.  It is entirely possible that party leader Tavish Scott could be the only constituency MSP for the Lib Dems in the new Parliament.

The impact of the collapsing Lib Dem vote may also impact a great number of Labour-SNP marginals.  Depending on where that vote ends up, it could be a significant swing to one or the other.

Where goeth the Lib Dem vote may very well decide this election.

Newsnet Scotland would like to thank Brian Nicholson for providing the research for this article.