What would Scotland’s political landscape look like under STV?

Last night, my dear friend James MacKenzie suggested that the next Scottish Parliament elections will be fought using Single Transferable Vote (STV), because the SNP, Greens, and Lib Dems all (apparently) support it and the Scottish Parliament now has the power to change it. While I think that is absolute rubbish (why would a politician as risk-averse as Nicola Sturgeon pursue electoral reform that wasn’t in anyone’s manifesto?)  I began to speculate as to what that would look like. So I set about putting together multi-member STV constituencies for the Scottish Parliament.

My first assumption is that, as local government in Scotland uses wards of either three or four seats that these would also be the predominant model used for Parliament seats too. However, any reform effort would doubtless come under significant pressure to include the possibility of five seat constituencies too, in order to prevent a systematic bias in favour of large parties. I’m also assuming that there will be 129 seats, on the basis that electoral reform would be an almost impossible sell if it simultaneously includes creating more politicians. It seems obvious to exclude three seats for the islands, though I’m avoiding the question of how you’d represent these three disparate areas under STV. That leaves 126 seats to be made up on the mainland. I have sought to follow the rules set out in the Scotland Act 1998, which are summarised as follows:

  1. So far as is practicable, regard must be had to the boundaries of the local government areas.
  2. The electorate of a constituency must be as near the electoral quota as is practicable, having regard to Rule 1.
  3. Rules 1 and 2 may be departed from where special geographical considerations (including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency) render it desirable to do so.
  4. Regard must be had for the inconveniences attendant on alterations of constituencies and of any local ties which would be broken by such alterations.

I also commenced the way the Boundary Commission for Scotland usually does, which is to start at the top and work my way down. The electorate data is from the last review of UK Parliament constituencies (which was not completed), so it’s a little dated. Nonetheless, it provides a relatively good indication of how it can be done.

The total electorate for the mainland is 3,873,387, making the quota for three, four, and five seat constituencies 92,224, 122,965, and 153,706, respectively. The proposed constituencies are as follows.

As the electorate data is broken down into wards, some of the divisions are a little clunky. This is particularly the case where the cities are concerned and wards have electorates in excess of 20,000 voters.

A handful of constituencies were particularly difficult to make up. One such example is Argyll and Bute – a seat that is not in the Highlands, but neither is it suburban Glasgow. It was difficult to put together a seat for Argyll that wasn’t vastly under the quota or vastly over the quota, and there appears to be very little that can be done at the fringes to avoid this (i.e. you either include Dumbarton, or you don’t). East and Mid Lothian is also considerably over quota, which could be more easily resolved by transferring some electors from Millerhill, Craighall, or Musselburgh into Edinburgh.

Geographically, the seats would look as follows:

How would #sp16 have panned out under this system?

It’s obviously impossible to accurately translate results from one electoral system into another. What this simply amounts to is educated guesswork – the factors involved are the constituency votes in the relevant existing constituencies, the strength of the parties’ list vote in the broader region, and guesstimates as to how transfers might pan out. In a good chunk of the seats this is a relatively easy task (for example, in Dumfries and Galloway, the vote share across the two equivalent constituencies amounted to two quotas for the Tories, one for the SNP, and one for Labour, while the Greens performed poorly in the south list relative to the rest of Scotland). However, in many others, I’m simply going on instinct. In those instances, the results are a good deal less than scientific. Finally, I’m assuming that, whatever way they were elected, the three island seats would have produced the same three MSPs.

Therefore, if the Scottish Parliament election had been held using STV on the above boundaries, my guess is…

SNP: 64, Conservatives: 28, Labour: 27, Lib Dems: 6, Greens: 4.

If you want to give it a go yourself, the full breakdown of my guesswork is available here.

Did Richard Lochhead cost the SNP their majority?

417851-richard-lochhead-rural-affairs-secretaryThe SNP have spent decades slowly winning the support of Scotland’s farming communities. Though historically a solidly Tory demographic, the SNP first started making serious inroads in Scotland’s most agrarian areas in the 1980s, in particular in the North East. In the decades that followed their dominance in rural Scotland became increasingly apparent: they won Angus East, Banff and Buchan, and Moray in 1987; the Perth and Kinross by-election in 1995; and padded their numbers still by winning Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, and Tayside North in 1997. That dominance wasn’t just reflected in election results, either. The SNP’s support in rural communities, and their relationship with farmers, was visible in their ever-present stalls at agricultural shows, as well as the increasing number of giant “Vote SNP” hoardings on the roadsides, where once they would have said “Conservative and Unionist.” However, that relationship has severely soured in the past few months.

Since December 2015, farmers across Scotland have faced considerable delays in receiving their Common Agricultural policy payments from the Scottish Government.These payments are usually made in December, when many farmers settle their accounts, though by the end of February, only 1,000 out of almost 8,000 farms had received the payments they were due.. Though these delays are seemingly attributable to the shift to a new computer system and the shift to the new Basic Payments System, it has been alleged that Ministers were alerted to potential problems as early as 2014, while they were out campaigning in the independence referendum.

This led hundreds of farmers to descend upon Holyrood to protest the SNP Government’s handling of the issue. The previously-SNP supporting former head of the NFU in Scotland, Jim Walker, described assurances by Environment and Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead as “at best worthless and at worst plain lies” in what amounted to “a vain attempt to save his own skin.”

I spent a couple of weeks of the Scottish Parliament election campaign at home in the Highlands, and that the farming community had turned its back on the SNP was palpable. Gone were the scores of yellow Richard Lochhead and Fergus Ewing boards, and in their place were shiny hoardings bearing the names of Douglas Ross and Edward Mountain. That hostility was reflected too in the NFU hustings in Dingwall a couple of weeks ago.

Digesting the results of Thursday night, it is clear that the SNP paid a price at the ballot box for the Scottish Government’s failings over farm payments.

Below are the results of ten of Scotland’s most agrarian constituencies, and just look at those swings to the Tories. In addition to taking Aberdeenshire West, there’s a 15% swing from the SNP to the Tories in Moray, whopping 17% swing in Alex Salmond’s old constituency of Aberdeenshire East, and Roseanna Cunningham’s majority was slashed from 7,166 to 1,422.

The regional list results were just as bad. While in 2011 the SNP managed to win all ten seats in the North East and win a seat on the list, this time around not only did they lose Aberdeenshire West, but they weren’t even close to winning a seat on the list. There was an 11% swing from the SNP to the Tories in the North East. And while the constituencies panned out the same in the Highlands and Islands, the SNP dropped another two seats here, with a 9% swing to the Tories here.

So while the SNP remained static in Central and West of Scotland regions, and gained two more seats in Glasgow, the SNP lost two seats in the North East and Highlands and Islands, and another one each in Mid Scotland and Fife and the South of Scotland. Overall, six out of eight of the SNP’s losses came from Scotland’s rural regions (the Lothians providing the other two). If Scotland’s farming communities sought to punish the SNP for the farm payments fiasco, they’ve well and truly succeeded.

Back home in Moray, those who aren’t fans of the local MSP have been known to refer to him as Blockhead. Having potentially cost the SNP their majority, Richard Lochhead’s head might well be on the ministerial block.

Projection: SNP majority of 21, some relief for Labour, Tories stall

BMG 18 April-01

BMG 18 April 2016

This week we see a new entrant to Scottish Parliament polling, BMG Research. With two weeks still to go, BMG show the SNP on 51% of constituency voting intention, to Labour’s 21% and the Tories’ 16%. On the regional lists, the SNP slip to 45%, Labour to 20%, and the Tories stick on 16%.

On BMG’s’ figures, the SNP look set to win 70 out of 73 constituency seats. While the Tories lose Galloway and West Dumfries, and Ayr, hang onto Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, and gain Eastwood from Labour. The Lib Dems lose Liam McArthur in Orkney, but retain Tavish Scott in Shetland.

The regional list throws up a few results that look somewhat anomalous: it seems inconceivable that Labour wins three seats in the Highlands and only two in Central Scotland. Labour likely wouldn’t regard a tally of 23 seats as being too bad, though certainly on the lower end of that party’s hopes. The Tories’ hopes of becoming the Scottish Parliament’s main opposition would be dashed according to BMG, modestly padding their seat total by three. On BMG’s numbers, the 6th of May will be a disappointing one for Labour’s Ken Macintosh, Elaine Smith, and Cara Hilton.
The Greens pick up two in Glasgow, as well as one each in a further five regions, bringing their total to seven. The Lib Dems lose their seat in the North East and gain one in Lothians, bringing their total to four. In common with most other pollsters, BMG shows UKIP picking up a seat in the Highlands and Islands, as well as a seat in Central Scotland. It’s difficult to gauge RISE support on the back of BMG’s polling, as they’re not included in the prompt – however support for “others” appears to be negligible.

On these numbers, Labour only loses Dumfriesshire by a whisker (0.14%) – with their next most promising hopes being Cowdenbeath, East Lothian, and Dunfermline.