The State of Scottish Parties

Scotland’s decision to vote No in the independence referendum will have fundamental consequences regarding it’s relationship with the rest of the UK, but it will also prove to have far-reaching implications for politics at home.  Here are some of my predictions for how Scotland’s five major represented parties, significant  but largely unrepresented (the SSP) and others (UKIP) will fare over the next couple of years:

The Scottish National Party
In pure electoral terms, the SNP may end up becoming one of the big winners in the post-referendum fallout.  This may seem surprising given that they lost the referendum, however it’s important to remember how close the result ended up being.  Including nonvoters, around 38% of Scots voted for independence, far more than the 22.7% who voted for the SNP in 2011.  This extra 15% of Scottish voters who support independence must have come from somewhere.  Granted many will have been members of the other pro-independence parties, the Greens and Scottish Socialists.  However others will have come from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who saw perhaps as many as a third of their former voters support independence.  I’m not suggesting these people will convert en-masse to the SNP but if they’re willing to go against their parties on such an important issue as this, it’s very likely they may be swayed to go against them again in 2016 and vote for the SNP.  Meanwhile a substantial portion of these Yes voters most likely came from people who don’t normally vote, but who may be likely to SNP in future.   I also believe the SNP could get significant support from the 46.8% of Scots who voted ‘No’.  Now independence is off the table, many No voters who support more devolution may end up backing the SNP as a guarantee for extra powers, especially if the Westminster parties are seen to be reneging on their promises.

This isn’t just idle speculation; in the last 48 hours the SNP have reportedly gained almost 5,000 new members, an increase of approximately 20% bringing them up to 30,000 – far and away the largest political party in Scotland (Scottish Labour refuse to publish their membership numbers but they’ve been in decline since 1997 and probably number no more than 13,000 people – though they still somehow claim to be ‘Scotland’s Biggest Party’).  Such a surge in membership in so short a time is virtually unprecedented.  For these reasons, and in this context, I’ll be very surprised if the SNP don’t remain the largest party in the Scottish Parliament after the 2016 election.  Another downright majority may even be within their grasp if the situation south of the border is perceived to be particularly dire.

I could be wrong, but I think Scottish Labour is in trouble.  The party has been in decline throughout the last decade, losing seats in every election for the Scottish Parliament to date.  As mentioned earlier a third of Labour voters may have backed independence, who could end up drifting away from the party if the devolution settlement doesn’t go far enough.  The Yes vote was particularly high in Glasgow, Labour’s stronghold in the country – I’ve heard rumours that it touched 60% in Pollok, Johann Lamont’s own constituency (indeed, there have been opinion polls suggesting she might lose her own seat at the next election).  The poor performance of the No campaign will also undoubtedly have harmed Labour due to its overwhelmingly negative tone, while firmly creating the image of Labour as a party of the establishment.  If Labour wins the 2015 general election, manages to avoid any major controversy and is able to bring forth a truly inspiring programme of reform under Ed Miliband the party may earn a reprieve – though probably not enough to actually win the 2016 Scottish election.  Otherwise, if the party fails to deliver on its promises or if a potential Labour government at Westminster has a very bad year, then they’re finished in Scotland.

I don’t think the Conservatives’ electoral fortunes will change much following the referendum.  They’ve consistently won within 12-17% of the vote throughout the last decade, not moving greatly in either direction.  Given that an overwhelming majority of Conservative voters are thought to have voted No, there aren’t many grounds for defection in the immediate future, except perhaps to UKIP – though they’re unlikely to do well enough in Scotland for this to make a major difference.  The Conservatives will probably remain the third largest party in Scotland for some time, unless the Greens begin to do particularly well or the Liberal Democrats see a reprieve.

Green Party
The Greens could emerge from the referendum in a comparatively better state than even of the SNP.  Within the last 48 hours the party has gained an extra 2,000 members, more than doubling its membership count.  Even before this surge the party has consistently been polling at between 7-9%, up from 4.4% in 2011.  If this extra support lasts I could imagine the party easily reaching at least 10% of the vote in 2016.  The party is no doubt also benefiting enormously from the publicity boost it gained from the referendum, giving figures such as Patrick Harvie a much greater profile.  The future looks bright for the Greens.

Liberal Democrats
Like their compatriots across the UK, the Scottish Liberal Democrats are in a state of continual meltdown in Scotland since the Westminster party entered a coalition with the Conservatives four years ago.  At the 2011 election they lost 12 seats as their vote halved, while they’re now consistently polling even lower than they did back then.  I’m not sure they could possibly lose any more support even if the referendum had made a negative impact upon them.  Though I’m not sure it will really have made much difference.  The party – as in most current issues – has largely been ignored throughout the debate.  It was also the only unionist party calling for a full federal solution across the UK, and perhaps therefore the only party to recognise that the current system is broken.  Since the party has lacked a platform to get these ideas across I don’t know how much of a difference this will have made, but it certainly won’t have done any harm.  I expect the party to continue its position at around 5% in the polls, maybe climbing back up to the 7% or so they achieved in the last election by 2012, largely unaffected by the referendum.

The Scottish Socialist Party
As with the Greens, the referendum has proved to largely boost the profile of the SSP as one of the few parties to support independence.  Also like the Greens and SNP, the party is reporting a rise in members by around 600.  During the last year the SSP has risen to around 3% in the opinion polls – not a great position, for sure, but enough to potentially win a seat in Parliament.  The party lacks the base that the Greens and the SNP have – it’s only elected representative is one councillor in West Dunbartonshire – so there’s perhaps a risk that this boost could fizzle out, though the fact it’s had 600 members in the last couple of days suggest it is perceived as a genuine option for voters.  Winning a seat or two is definitely a possibility for 2016.

I don’t expect UKIP to see its electoral fortunes changed much except to have become even more unelectable among the 45% of Scots who voted for independence (though I can’t imagine such an English/British nationalist party ever gaining any traction to anyone who’d consider independence in the first place).  It’ll continue gaining votes from the small section of Scottish society it appeals to, which may be enough to win a few seats in Parliament, while remaining incredibly toxic to the 90+% of the rest of the population.  UKIP is currently polling between 4% and 7% but it wouldn’t surprise me if this decreased by 2016 as the Greens and SSP become more attractive protest options.

For updates on polling in Scotland, which may or may not shift dramatically after the election, keep an eye on my election blog, The Election Stalker!

Update on Australian Polling

After the surprise turnaround last month that resulted in Kevin Rudd replacing Julia Gillard as leader of the Australian Labor Party, and thus Prime Minister, I’ve been keeping a close eye on opinion polls.  It’s been widely assumed that Rudd is a far more popular politician than Gillard, perhaps because his as Prime Minister between 2007 – 2010 is being seen in a positive light or due to Gillard’s unpopular leadership, and it was hoped that he could save the party from the wipe-out it seemed to be spiraling towards.  Labor had only barely clung on to power in the 2010 election, winning the same number of seats as the Liberal-National coalition (and actually having one seat less now, keeping afloat only through cross-bench support), and their subsequent loss of support has not looked positive.

Yet, Rudd has improved the party’s prospects significantly.  While a month ago Labor was polling at least 10% behind the Coalition, 12 polls since have shown a distinct change.  Granted, Labor have only had a lead in 3 of these polls (4 if you’re counting two-party-preferred vote) and all from the same company, but every poll has shown a narrowing of voting intention.  The Coalition only has an average lead of 3% in the last couple of weeks of polls, which constitutes a major reduction.  Polling shows that, although it’s an uphill struggle, Australian Labor still has everything to play for.

Using this nice page to calculate seats, we can get an idea of what these votes will actually mean on election day.  If we take an average of every poll since Rudd became Prime Minister, we get a result something like:

Labor – 71 seats
Coalition – 76 seats
Other – 3 seats
(150 seats in total)

This would give the coalition the narrowest of majorities.  Using this data, we can predict the probability of various results:

Labor majority: 36% likely.
Coalition majority: 45% likely.
Hung parliament: 18% likely.

This election, the date of which has not yet been decided but must be held before the 30th November, is not predictable by any means.

(I often find maths boring, but when calculating election things I’m incredibly thankful for that Higher maths course!  I could think of many worse jobs than this…)

The Many Colours of Eastleigh

The Eastleigh by-election, set to be a fierce contest between both coalition parties, is being contested by 14 candidates.  I won’t go into the analytical ins and outs of this election – I’m sure other commentators have already exhausted everything which can be said – but there’s one detail I’d like to pick up upon.

Take a look at the list of candidates:

COLIN BEX – Wessex regionalists
DAVID BISHOP – Elvis Loves Pets Party
JIM DUGGAN – Peace Party
RAY HALL – Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party
HOWLING LAUD HOPE – Monster Raving Loony William Hill Party
MARIA HUTCHINGS – Conservative
DIANE JAMES – UK Independence Party
DR IAIN MACLENNAN – National Health Action Party
KEVIN MILBURN – Christian Party “Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship”
DARREN PROCTER – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
DANNY STUPPLE – Independent
MIKE THORNTON – Liberal Democrats
MICHAEL WALTERS – The English Democrats – “Putting England First!”

Perhaps it’s only because I’m fond of the party, but the lack of any Green politicians is interesting.  The Green Party is, at best, a fringe party with few backers, so I’m not necessarily surprised that they can’t field candidates at every election.  However considering the Green Party, who have one MP, aren’t on the list, it is perhaps bizarre to see  parties such as the ‘Monster Raving Loony Party’, ‘Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party’ and the ‘Elvis Loves Pets Party’ standing.  The ballot paper must almost look like a satirical piece.  There’s also no Respect candidates, despite their MP also.  Yet UKIP are being widely commented upon, which currently goes unrepresented in the House of Commons.

If I was a voter in Eastleigh, I really don’t know who I would vote for in party terms.  It would probably come down to the individual candidates.  I certainly don’t want either of the coalition parties to win this seat.  Labour might even be the best option, and in most circumstances I would be very reluctant to go near Labour!  Would ‘Peace’ be too wishy-washy…?  Hm.

Prediction: I don’t know very much about Eastleigh at all, but I can see the Conservatives winning this seat, unfortunately.  I don’t envisage redemption for the Lib Dems anytime soon, and Labour does not have enough support in this constituency.  But time will tell.  By-elections are so exciting, aren’t they?!

In other, unrelated news, today is the 3 month anniversary of my vegetarianism, and I’m more determined to stick with it than ever.