Did the Conservatives field too few candidates in the Scottish Council Elections?

A couple of weeks ago posted Will Ruth Davidson be Apologizing to Voters After the Scottish Local Elections on May 4th? My contention was that the Conservatives has underestimated the strength of their growing support, so had fielded too few candidates. Under the Single Transferable Vote System, if a Party fields too many candidates in a ward then they will compete against each other. So I believed that the Conservatives, unsure of where their vote might lie, played safe. This was on the basis of my forecasting, before the General Election announcement the Conservatives gaining 150 extra seats, and achieving 21% of the First Preference vote. I was then seeing signs further improvement in the opinion polls, but with no extra candidates to achieve extra seats. In the event, the Conservatives gained 161 more council seats than in 2012, with 25.3% of the FPVs. Part of the reason for this was the other major parties. The Labour Party did much better than I expected and the SNP did worse. But there is still evidence that the Conservatives fielded too few candidates.

Figure 1 shows the seven Scottish Councils where all the Conservative Candidates won seats. Given that (a) of the 337 wards with Conservative candidates 296 had only one candidate, and (b) that support for any Party tends to vary across wards, the fact that every candidate one suggests too few candidates. Aberdeenshire and Moray stand out most clearly in this respect, as the total FPV vote was well in excess of the percentage of seats won. But South Ayrshire Council was possibly the most significant, as with three more seats and the Conservatives would have had a majority on the 28 seat council. In five of these councils they were also the largest party.

It should be noted that the Conservatives were not the only Party which achieved the feat of 100% of candidates being elected. The Liberal-Democrats saw elected all 6 of their candidates in East Dunbartonshire. Here the Conservatives saw 6 of their 7 candidates elected. The only other example of a party achieving a 100% success rate for a council was the SNP in the Shetland Islands. Their sole council candidate, Robbie McGregor, won the Shetland South seat uncontested.

This theme of insufficient candidates is also suggested in the councils where more than 75% of candidates were elected.

There are three councils where the FPV share exceeded the percentage of seats won. Councils like Aberdeen City and Stirling are where the Conservative vote share varies considerably across the wards.

A particular ward that stands out where the Conservatives had too few candidates is Carse Gowrie, Ward 1 of Perth & Kinross Council Area.

After vote allocation, Angus Forbes won more votes than the two SNP candidates combined. The Courier local newspaper did a series of short articles on all the wards in this council and others in the area. For Carse Gowrie they wrote:-

 Former scout leader Mr Forbes said: “I knew we would do well, because the Conservatives always have in Carse of Gowrie.

“I was surprised to increase the vote, though.”

He said: “Sadly, what I was finding was that people were voting on national issues, rather than local ones.

“It was all about independence. When I was out canvassing, what I was hearing was: We’ve got to get rid of the SNP, we’re fed up hearing about independence.”

This comment could be highly significant in that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is trying have another Scottish Independence Referendum just four years after the previous one, despite the 2014 one supposedly being the last one for a generation. This would also explain why the Labour Party achieved 20.2% of the FPV vote, a share significantly above the Labour share of recent Scottish opinion polls. This being a a reversal of the 2012 and 2007 council elections, where the FPV share was significantly behind the FPV share. Mrs Sturgeon’s move could being viewed by a very cynical attempt to win independence on the basis of unfounded scary stories about Brexit, before they are contradicted by the real world evidence after March 2019.

What the results indicate for the General Election

Whilst the Conservatives might have been able to gain a few extra council seats if they could have better predicted the surge in support, the important issue is the indications for the General Election. If it is the case that the General Election swing might be even larger for the Conservatives in the council areas where they did well, and an maybe an improvement for Labour in their traditional Scottish Heartlands. At the Electoral Calculus website, the current Scotland GE forecasts are

CON 12 (+11), LAB 0 (-1), LIB 2 (+1), UKIP 0 (+0), Green 0 (+0), SNP 45 (-11)

For the Conservatives, the council election results are consistent, but for Labour they may win an extra seat, rather than lose their only Scottish seat in Edinburgh South.

Kevin Marshall

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