Earlier today I voted for the first time in my life, for the European Parliament election. It’s an event I’ve been looking ahead to for several years now. In a strange way, it was like some rite of passage that finally confirmed me as an adult in the view of society. I felt very powerful emerging from the voting booth with the ballot paper, as though I held the political future of the country in my hand. I knew that my vote only counted for 0.0000066% of the overall result (add an extra 0 if you include Europe) but for a political geek this is one of the highpoints of political engagement. Waiting until Sunday for the results is going to be painful indeed.
Until then, I will have to satisfy myself by making predictions for the result. Or rather, as accurately predicting the election is nearly impossible, most of the time I can only say what won’t happen. So please don’t hold me to this if I get anything spectacularly wrong!
I’ll start with Scotland, as it’s the part of the EU I know in most depth. The general trend of opinion polls has had the Scottish National Party in the lead by varying margins but typically passing the 30% threshold, tailed fairly closely by Labour though I find it hard to envisage Labour actually taking a lead. If it did that would certainly be an interesting moment for the independence campaign, proving to be the first non-Westminster defeat for the SNP in twelve years. The Conservatives have been wavering at the 12-15% margin, with UKIP, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats each rolling beneath 10% competing for fourth place – though recent polls have shown it being a tighter race between the Greens and UKIP, as Scottish voters seem poised to continue punishing the Liberal Democrats for their record in government.
In terms of seats, it gets rather interesting. Right now the SNP and Labour have two seats while the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have one each. Votes are distributed proportionally using the D’Hondt method, a practice that in theory should produce proportional seat results. Scotland, however, only has six seats to distribute, too small a number to divide in an exactly proportional away. Going by the polls, the SNP and Labour will easily keep hold of their two seats and the Liberal Democrats will almost certainly lose theirs. That leaves two seats up for grabs. There’s a strong possibility, though by no means a given, that the SNP might pick up a third seat. I would be surprised if the Conservatives lose theirs, but there is the slight chance of a UKIP surge taking their votes and grabbing the seat by a narrow margin. Alternatively, if the SNP don’t pick up a third seat and the Conservatives manage to keep theirs, the final seat could be a direct competition between UKIP and the Greens. I really can’t say which way this would go – the Greens have a deeper level of support in Scotland, but if turnout is as low as predicted then things could be tight indeed, given the tendency of UKIP supporters to be more likely to vote (not entirely sure how what works, but it seems to be widely accepted).
I’m not knowledgeable enough about the local workings of each region so I can’t offer much comment on seat predictions, but this will be an interesting election to watch for national shares. UKIP have form for performing well in European Elections, coming second in the last election of 2009 with 16.5% of the vote. The main source of discussion for this election (bar Scotland) is on how well UKIP will do; they’ve been consistently reaching the high twenties, even frequently passing 30% in opinion polls. Considering the Conservatives ‘won’ the 2009 election with just 27.7% of the vote, this is nothing short of staggering. With Europe being UKIP’s main source of policy it’s not surprising that their vote will be inflated above their performance in other elections and in comparison to other parties, but even with that in mind this is an impressive level to reach. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t reach this result in the actual election. Whether they will actually surpass Labour’s vote, also predicted to rise dramatically, and reach first place is more uncertain. More polls have shown UKIP ahead than Labour. I think the turnout could prove to be vital – Labour tend to benefit from high turnouts, UKIP low turnouts. Could the thunderstorms across the south of England be in UKIP’s favour? Time will tell. If Labour are robbed of first place by UKIP, expect some severe discontent within the party as it prepares to fight next year’s general election.
Although the Conservatives have undoubtedly been relegated to third place, which must be quite a humiliation, their vote share hasn’t actually fallen that much in polls, consistently reaching around 20%. That’s only a fall of about seven percentage points, and is still above what both Labour and UKIP achieved in 2009. Despite this fact, I don’t envisage Sunday being a happy day in Tory HQ when the results come in. They can rest assured, however, that the tone in LibDem HQ will be considerably worse. The Liberal Democrats have never performed well in European elections, gaining only 13.8% in 2009, but polls now suggest they will struggle to even reach 10%. There’s a real risk to the party that it could be beaten by the Greens into fifth place. I reckon the Greens may, in fact, be the dark horse of this election. The party has been experiencing a bit of an unreported surge recently, over doubling its polling share for the next general election and frequently surprassing the Liberal Democrats in Europe. I’ve heard suggestions that the Greens might struggle to keep their two seats even with a rise in their vote – it depends where their votes are distributed. It’s also possible they could pick up a seat or two elsewhere. As with Labour, expect much discontent within the Liberal Democrats over the question of nothing less than if they’ll ever be electable again.
I know even less than politics across Europe as a whole than I do the UK so this will be a very short section. Polls have suggested the European People’s Party and the European Socialists and Democrats (which includes Labour) will by vying for both places, though the EPP appears to have a slight advantage, though its plurality would be largely reduced. In the wider picture of the European Union’s existential doubt this probably won’t have significant repercussions considering both groupings broadly support the European project. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the Greens-European Free Alliance have both shown small reductions in support but nothing catastrophic. The European Conservatives and Reformists may well suffer the most of all European groupings, predicted by polls to lose a quarter of their seats. This will be a result of the poor performance of the British Conservatives, the main party in this grouping. The European United Left-Nordic Green Alliance group will probably do quite well, as will the Europe of Freedom and Democracy grouping, supported by UKIP, though polls have shown conflicting results regarding the extent of this improvement. The biggest shock to the European Parliament could be the growth of the number of MEPs not represented by any grouping, known as ‘non-inscrits’. Worryingly, far-right parties verging on neo-Nazism, such as the National Front in France and Golden Dawn in Greece, are likely to do very well as a result of continuing poor economic conditions across Europe and a perceived lack of legitimacy of the EU. As many as 1/7 seats could go to these non-inscrit parties. They are unlikely to hold a balance of power and the other groupings will most likely be able to work around them, but it will pose significant implications for the future of the European project.
All in all, I await the results on Sunday with great interest. I could be completely wrong with these predictions, or perhaps I shall be vindicated. I look forward to finding out. Exciting times lie ahead!