My forecast for the Scottish Local Elections in terms of change in share of the First Preference Votes from 2012 is SNP +9%, Labour -16%, Conservatives +8%, Lib Dems -1% and Independents NC. In terms of change in seats, out of 1223 being contested, I forecast SNP +100, Labour -250, Conservatives +150, Lib Dems -20 and Independents NC. The reasons are given below. This was compiled prior to Theresa May announcing a snap General Election to be held on June 8th. However, given that my forecast was largely based upon movements in Scottish GE opinion polls, the fact that the local elections will be held during a GE campaign might reinforce the influence on the local vote,
There are a number of factors that make forecasting the the outcome of the local elections just three weeks from now quite difficult.
- In 2007 was the first election change to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, along with ward numbers being reduced, with three or four councillors per ward.
- In 2007 the Labour Party did badly in the share of the of First Preference votes due to unpopularity of the Westminster Labour Government and also lost out due to STV. Compared to 2003, Labour’s share of the vote dropped 4.5% to 28.1%, but their share of council seats dropped 13.2% to 28.5%. The SNP were the big winners. From 2003 the SNP’s share of the vote rose 3.8% to 27.9% and their share of council seats rose 14.9% to 29.7% (source : tables 6 & 7 of Scottish Council Elections 2007 Results and Statistics).
- In 2012 the Westminster Labour Party in Opposition were riding high in the polls. But in the Scottish Local Elections only improved their vote share on 2007 by 3.3% to 31.4% and their seat share by 3.7% to 32.2%. The SNP also improved on their 2007 results. The SNP vote share increased 4.4% to 32.3% and their seat share 5.1% to 34.7%. The Lib Dems suffered the biggest setback, with vote share almost halving to 6.6% and seat share reducing 7.8% to 5.8% (source : tables 6 & 7 of Lincoln Report on Report on Scottish Council Elections 2012).
- Following the Independence Referendum of October 2014, the SNP, despite losing the referendum, increased their share of the Scottish Westminster voting intention opinion polls from around 30% to 47-48%.
- Since the General Election (with SNP winning 50% of the vote and 56 of 59 seats) the SNP’s share of the Westminster voting intention has remained near 50%. The Conservatives have improved from 15% to around 25%, whilst Labour have declined from 24% to 15%. See Figure 1 below, lifted from the Electoral Calculus website.
- The is a big gap in the polls between September 2015 and September 2016. But in May 2016 there was the Elections to the Scottish Parliament, with the constituency (and regional) vote shares of Con 22.0% (22.9%) , Lab 22.6% (19.1%), Lib Dem 7.8% (5.2%), UKIP 2.0%, Green 0.6% (6.6%) and SNP 46.5% (41.9%). This bridges the gap in quite nicely, and is consistent with the polls.
- In June 2016, the UK voted to leave the European Union by 51.9% to 48.1%. But in Scotland the vote was 38.0% to 62.0%. The SNP maintains a paradoxical position of wanting Independence from the UK, but to remain a part of the more opaque European Union. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was hoping that Brexit would cause those Scots who voted to remain in both the UK and the European Union would come over to the Scottish Independence side. According to a large YouGov poll conducted last year and published in January, this switch has happened. But it has made no impact on the polls as there has also been a switch between those who voted for Independence from both the UK and the EU to support for remaining a part of the UK.
- The STV system forces parties, if they wish to maximize the number of candidates elected, to optimize the number of candidates. My previous post was a long digression, based on the published candidate lists, on how of the three main parties, SNP and Conservatives appear to have adopted these optimization strategies. Conversely the Labour Party appears to have fielded candidates in line with the number of council seats held, failing to recognize that their support has about halved. As a result I would expect the Labour Party to experience a greater fall in share of seats than in share of the vote.
Forecast for Scottish Local Elections (pre-GE announcement)
Based on the above, I offer up quite a radical forecast for the Local Elections.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) look to have peaked in terms in popularity. Their vote share in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections was slightly below the Westminster Elections of 2015. Estimation of the vote share in the Local Elections is a matter of allowing for how much the Independents will eat into the SNP share of the Scottish Vote. I think that a 41% share is a reasonable estimate. Share of seats I expect to rise by slightly less than vote share, which gives a rise of 100 seats. Note that with only 627 candidates, such a rise in seat numbers implies less than 1 in 6 of the SNP candidates would fail to get elected.
For the Labour Party, 2012 was an improvement on the 2007 result, but increase in the share of the vote was much smaller than the improvement in England or in Wales. That was due to the SNP taking up much of the fall in vote share of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Labour have been reducing in the opinion polls since the 2015 General Election and further since the Scottish Parliament election of last year. Given that Labour in the UK has been falling in the opinion polls to below 25% (see new lows with You Gov this last weekend), the share could be lower than 15% that I have assumed. Another factor is that due to the Independents, the vote share could also be lower. the forecast loss of 150 seats I believe to be quite cautious for two reasons. First, is that once a Party with wide spread coverage goes beyond a certain level of support, they fail to win as many seats as vote share, even with a proportional system like STV. The second reason is that Labour have too many candidates. There is an outside chance of seat share falling below 10%.
The Conservative Party are have increased their share in the Scottish opinion polls since last year. That resurgence is partly as a result of Brexit, with the party being the clear choice who support an Independent United Kingdom. But they are overcoming decades of increasing unpopularity. Whilst the opinion polls show the Conservatives at 25% or more, I believe that 21% is a more reasonable forecast. However, in terms of seats, that increase of 8% in first preference votes will be sufficient to mean a much larger increase in seats numbers. So this this time the share of seats will be similar to the share of the vote, whilst in 2012 there was a four point gap.
The Liberal Democrats, if anything, I believe will see another slight decline in their vote share. The Independents are the big unknown. But most of the seats held are in a small number of Councils. 125 out of 200 current Independent Councillors are in 7 out of 32 Council areas. In Orkney and Shetland all the council seats are held by Independents; in Na h‐Eileanan an (Outer Hebrides) it is 21 out of 31; and in Highland 35 out of 80. I think the vote share will be fairly stable in May as well.