Monday, 6 October 2014

The Lie Of The Land - Where Now For "The 45"

You know, one of the best things written about the so called “45” (crap name and technically incorrect, though the “44 point 7” is less catchy so…) was by the Scottish Green activist Sarah Beattie Smith.  So much so, I’ll not bother.

There still a lot of energy around the referendum two weeks on from it’s conclusion as various groups that sprung up around “Yes Scotland” starts to look for roles in the post referendum landscape.  The “yes” twibbons have gradually been replaced with “I voted yes” or “45” twibbons, while the “Women for Independence” group held a conference in Perth at the weekend that put the gathering Liberal Democrats in Glasgow in the shade – not that you could tell by the media coverage.  Soon though another set of choices will present themselves in front of the Scottish electorate as our politicians gird their loins for, and lets be honest here, what many Westminster politicians believe to be the main event.  You can have your pretendy referendum, but nothing will beat the battle of a Westminster election.

Many within the yes supporting constituency though believe that this is finally the opportunity to sever the Scottish electorate’s love affair with Labour.  Since the mid 1960’s and the name change from The Unionist Party to the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party, Labour have made inroads & have held on to their status as the national party of Scotland.  Buoyed by the surge in memberships of pro Independence parties and some polls showing that 37% of Labour voters voted for Independence, this has lead pro-independence supporters to predict the beginning of the downfall of Scottish Labour.  There’s just one small problem with this rational.

The SNP’s election campaign 4 years ago wasn’t quite a disaster, but wasn’t exactly a roaring success either.  Salmond’s slogan of “More Nat’s, Less Cut’s” sank without trace while the abiding memory of that campaign was Salmond & Sturgeon’s whinging at being excluded from the “Leaders Debates”.  Their share of the vote (20% of the Scottish electorate) translated into them keeping the 6 seats won in 2005, with the failure to retain their by-election win in Glasgow East the first loss for the SNP since Scotland’s MP’s were cut from 71 to 59.

The impact of this on next years Westminster elections is that it will be more difficult for the SNP to make inroads in Labour’s block of MP’s.  Of Scottish Labour’s MP’s, a swing of 10% will only bring the grand total of three Labour seats.  Most vulnerable will be Gordon Bank’s Ochil & South Perthshire seat, a swing of 5.2% will see this seat change hands.  To put that into context, nationwide there has only been three elections where there has been a swing of over 5% between parties (Thatcher’s win in 1979 was based on a swing of 5.29%, Blair in 1997 achieved a swing of over 10% while Cameron’s win was based on a swing of 5.17% from Labour).  Mind you, the SNP’s win at Holyrood three and a half years ago was built on a swing from the Lib Dem’s of 4.1% and a total swing to the SNP of 6.25%.

So, as a yardstick, what would that swing get the SNP were it to be replicated.  Well, they’d certainly unseat Mr Bank’s and…  well that’s it really.  Among the Lib Dem seats, Malcolm Bruce’s (soon to be) old seat of Gordon and the Argyll & Bute constituency are the most vulnerable, but the SNP would be projected to fall short (by 0.25% in the case of Gordon) of taking these seats.  What the SNP need would be a sea change, something like the energy harnessed by the unsuccessful “Yes” campaign.  Something like that hinted at with the latest Panelbase poll.

SNP – 5 Target Labour Seats

Labour Vote
Labour Share (%)
SNP Vote
SNP Share (%)
SNP Swing required (%)
Ochil & South Perthshire
Dundee West
Ayrshire North & Arran
Aberdeen North
Vote & share as at Westminster Election – 6 May 2010

Panelbase’s poll puts the SNP at 34% in terms of Westminster voting intentions with a swing of 12%.  That would see the SNP make real inroads into Labour’s seats, taking 6 Labour seats.  Not only would Bank’s Ochil seat fall, but also the controversial seat of Falkirk – Eric Joyce’s seat and Dundee West.  With that swing though, the SNP would fall 0.2% short of taking Michael Connarty’s Linlithgow & Falkirk East seat.

Not that this sort of swing would only damage Scottish Labour – though the loss of 6 seats would not help Milliband’s push for Number 10.  On this sort of swing, the SNP would take half of the Lib Dem’s Scottish representation.  Of the six Lib Dem seats, obviously I’ve mentioned Malcolm Bruce’s Gordon seat as a faller, but third on the list would be the seat of  Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey.  That of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.  A swing of 11.0% would see his removal as MP.  On top of the 6 existing MP’s – on this swing SNP representation would go up to a record 18 seats.

A swing like that would also bring into play future SNP targets – many of them in Labour central belt.  There are currently 20 Labour seats that would require a swing between 12-18% for them to change hands.  If the SNP managed the swing hinted at by Panelbase, these seats would become Labour marginal’s & would shake up Scottish politics.

SNP – 5 Target Lib Dem seats

Lib Dem Vote
Lib Dem Share (%)
SNP Vote
SNP Share (%)
Argyll & Bute
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross
Aberdeenshire West & Kinkardine
Vote & share as at Westminster Election – 6 May 2010

Of course all of this is subjective.  For one thing, as I’ve said previously, the SNP have never really gotten to grips with how to play Westminster Elections in the devolution era.  Hence while they’ve formed a successful government at Holyrood, they only polled 20% in the Westminster election half way through their first term.  Secondly, they’ve never really come close to replicating their result from the General Election 40 years ago this Sunday – when the SNP upped their representation to 11 MP’s from the 7 elected in the February election.

The third reason is, of course that those area’s that voted for Independence are safe Labour areas.  While Glasgow got a lot of the headlines for voting for Independence lets not forget that 2 of the 10 safest Labour seats in Glasgow are Labour seats (Iain Davidson’s Glasgow South West seat Willie Bain’s and Glasgow North East).  Indeed the “easiest” seat for the SNP would be Tom Harris’ Glasgow South seat – “winnable” on a swing of 15.8%.

If the energy amassed is not to be for nought for the SNP, the hard work and the planning starts here for next May for the ousting of those “Red Tories”.  The SNP’s performance in 2010 has given them a mountain to climb if they wish to target serious amounts of Labour seats.  Whether the predicted meltdown in the Lib Dem vote will help the SNP remains to be seen, though that in itself won’t be enough to make the advances desired by elements within “the 45”.  What is certain is that this referendum will impact on next years Westminster election, we just don’t know how.

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