Results of the Scottish Council Elections

The Council Elections were held last Thursday 4th May, and the results in terms of seats were announced on Friday. It was only today that the Elections Scotland have published the summary details, including the First Preference votes. I have complied three brief summaries. The 2012 data used for comparisons is from the Lincoln Report on Report on Scottish Council Elections 2012.

Figure 1 shows the SNP were way ahead in terms of total seats won, the Conservatives second and Labour in third. In terms of change from 2012, it is the Conservatives that performed best, increasing the number of seats by 161. Labour lost a third of their seats, and the Independents were collectively down by a sixth on the seats won in 2012.

Figure 2 shows the SNP getting again ahead in terms of First Preference Votes, and on the same share as five years ago. The Conservatives are second on 25.3% and Labour third on 20.2%. For comparison, the latest YouGov opinion poll for Scotland of Westminster voting intentions, (of 24-27 April) gave SNP 41, Conservative 28 & Labour 18. People often vote differently in local elections to General Elections, and in Scotland, Independents are quite strong. But the difference is striking, and may indicate where the vote is moving. Compared to the last opinion poll, SNP -9, Conservative -3 and Labour +2. On that basis the Local Elections were bad news for the SNP. The Labour Party appear to have bottomed out, and the Conservatives are doing extremely well.

Figure 3 is the most interesting in terms of indications of voting intentions going into the General Election. I have shown the percentage of first preference votes by Party in each of the 34 councils.

I have highlighted the Party that gained the highest shared of First Preference Votes in each Council. They are SNP 16, Con 10, Ind 5, Lab 1.

A quick comparison with the Electoral Calculus General Election seat predictions. The Westminster constituencies are not necessarily the same as the councils.

Labour was only ahead in East Lothian. Electoral Calculus only gives Labour a 14% chance of winning, as against 45% for the SNP and 40% for Conservatives.

At a quick glance the Conservatives are ahead in all their target constituencies.

In the Scottish Borders, the number one target they achieved nearly double the FPV of the SNP. Although there is a strong vote for Independents, the 76% chance of Conservatives winning seems more than justified.

The better news for the Conservatives is in the long shots. Stirling has a 43% chance of winning, against 49% for the SNP, yet were 2.4% ahead in the FPVs. Angus has a 36% chance of winning, against 63% for the SNP, yet were 1.7% ahead in the FPVs. Ayr Carrick and Cumnock has a 32% chance of winning, against 59% for the SNP, yet were 13.2% ahead in the FPVs.

Kevin Marshall

My Welsh Local Elections Forecast proves to be pretty accurate

When the ITV / University of Cardiff (YouGov) Opinion Poll was published on April 24th showing Conservatives well ahead of Labour for the first time, I was tempted to revise my forecast for the Welsh Council Elections. After all, I was assuming that the Conservatives would gain about 80 extra seats, and Labour lose about 155 seats. This was based on vote shares of 16% and 29% from 13% and 36% shares in 2012 (which did exclude Anglesey, one of the smallest of the 22 councils). In 2012 GE voting intentions were over 50% for Labour and below 25% for the Conservatives. So the switch in fortunes from the opinion poll was dramatic, as shown by the YouGov graph below.

I stuck to my forecast, as can be seen from Figure 1 of my summary of the three forecasts for England, Wales and Scotland on 25th April.

Comparing with the BBC scoreboard after 22 of 22 councils gives the following:-

Although quite accurate for overall, the party where I was most inaccurate in the forecast was with the Liberal Democrats. I expected them to make some sort of recovery from the poor showing in the 2012 election, but still be behind 2008. Given that they also had a small loss of 28 seats in England when then were expected to make gains, this might dent hopes of their regaining some the Westminster seats lost in 2015.

I over-estimated the Labour Party seat losses in Wales, like I did in Scotland and England as well. In Wales the 472 seats compares to the 340 seats gained in 2008. It seems that in Wales Jeremy Corbyn is turning out to be less of an electoral liability than Gordon Brown. Although the financial situation was worsening by May 2008, the real start of the credit crunch was the collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 15th 2008.

The Other & Independents (mostly the latter) are fairly easy to forecast.  As I noted in my forecast, the number of seats has been fairly stable since 1999, though this time there was less change than from other elections.

It is with the Conservatives forecast that I was most accurate. Across Wales, Scotland and England I forecast 530 seats gained, against 563 actual. I was fortunate in ignoring the YouGov poll, which may turn out to be a rogue one. Even though the poll showed for the Local Elections the Conservatives still behind Labour, they were only 2% behind. By my rough reckoning from seat numbers Labour gained 31% of the vote (down 5% on 2012) and Conservatives 16% (up 3% on 2012), thus 15% behind. The changes are far short of the poll (ITV’s graph reproduced below), so indicates that the headline forecast that the Conservatives will get more Westminster seats than Labour in Wales (21 to 15) is incorrect.

Kevin Marshall

John Curtice on Scottish Local Elections

I have made some quite bold statements about the Scottish Local Elections. It might be worth comparing these with the comments made by Britain’s leading psephologist, Prof John Curtice who is behind the What Scotland Thinks website and was the BBCs leading expert on the 2015 General Election and on EU Referendum. Comments quote in a BBC article on 30th April.

Meanwhile, analysis by politics professor John Curtice has suggested that the SNP and the Conservatives are likely to make gains in the local council elections.

I agree, forecasting about 100 seat gains for the SNP, and 150 seats for the Conservatives.

He said Labour looks set to fall back heavily.

I agree, forecasting about 250 seat loses for Labour.

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) multi-member ward system means that parties try to avoid standing more candidates than they think can win as they can affect each other’s chances of securing a seat.

Labour is standing 44 fewer candidates in this election than it did in 2012.

Prof Curtice said: “The changes in the number of candidates being nominated by the parties give us a strong clue as to how they see their chances.

The Greens above all are evidently hoping to make a significant breakthrough, while the Tories and the SNP would seem to anticipate doing better than they did five years ago.

Labour, in contrast, would appear to be expecting a setback.

As a result of the sharp reduction in the number of candidates it is fielding, the party can only retain control of Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire if every single one of the party’s candidates there secures election.

And that will only happen if the party actually manages to outperform expectations.

I agree on the points, but Prof Curtice being somewhat circumspect and polite to all sides. The Greens are not looking to make a major breakthrough, they are just fielding more candidates. The Tories have underplayed their hand, having a few extra candidates, but are not fully reflecting their recent surge in the opinion polls. If they had done, they would have fielded two or more candidates in more than 41 wards they have done.  But even with the surge evident early in the year. they probably thought better to play safe, than guess where the vote surge would be concentrated and come unstuck. At least then Ruth Davidson can now give an apology for underestimating support, and use that as a springboard for greater success at the General Election.

However, it is the Labour Party that have failed to game the system the most. They have pared back the number of candidates, making it certain that they will lose most of the majorities on the councils which they currently hold. But 44 less candidates is still far too many to maximize the seats won considering that their share of first preference votes is likely to be around half what it was in 2012. Figure 1 shows that in 145 wards Labour have more than one candidate. Most of these candidates will end up competing against each other, maybe resulting in no Labour councillors in many wards where they are traditionally strongest, where one candidate could have got elected. There is a very good reason for this strategy, figure 3 (from this post) shows why.

The candidates generally match the number of current Councillors. However, I make it seven councils that Labour can retain control of if every candidate is elected, not three. The official candidate list from Elections Scotland is here.

Prof John Curtice makes the more general comments, whilst I make specific predictions. I can be more easily wrong, but in making the basis of the forecasts known, then comparing my forecasts to actual outturn can give a greater understanding of the changes from 2012 than more coded comments. But then my more partial statements would never be allowed on the BBC.

Kevin Marshall

 

Revised Scottish Local Elections 2017 Forecast

A previous forecast for the Scottish Local Elections was made before the General Election announcement on April 18th. Upon reviewing the forecast, I found that I had not allowed in the forecast of changes in numbers of council seats, for the impact of different average population per council seat. Allowing for this factor roughly offsets the movement in opinion since that announcement. In particular the fact that a Labour Councillor represents on average a large population than a councillor from other parties offsets the impact of a small increase in support for Labour since the General Election announcement. I see no reason to revise significantly my previous forecast of Labour to lose 250 seats, with the Conservatives to gain 150 and the SNP 100.

After the General Election was announced at least two Scottish opinion polls of Westminster voting intentions have been produced – one by Panelbase for The Sunday Times, the other by Survation for the Sunday Post. Both polls show the SNP down and both the Conservatives and Labour up slightly. One problem with using this opinion data is that people might vote differently in the local elections. For instance, in Scotland as a whole, Independent candidates in 2012 received 12% of the First-Preference votes and won 16% of the seats. I would expect that that the SNP would lose out the most to Independents, followed by maybe the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. This hypothesis can be validated against the data. The University of Strathclyde’s “WhatScotlandThinks.org” has the opinion poll data going back to 2007. For 2007 and 2012 I compare to percentage shares of seats votes with the opinion polls nearest to the local elections in Figure 1.

There is a result that I did expect. That is the Conservatives did comparatively worse in terms of seat percentage to opinion poll percentage. This was worse in 2012 than in 2007, as their share of First Preference votes fell in many wards below the threshold required to win seats. What I did not expect was that the SNP’s seat share was about the same as the opinion poll percentage in 2007 and slightly above that level in 2012, despite Independents winning 16% of the seats. Most unexpected is the Labour Party, which has the biggest deficit between opinion polls and seat share. There are three vague factors, that might be valid. That is different voting behaviour in local elections and general elections; lower voter turnout in Labour-voting wards and inaccuracies in the opinion polls. In the first it could be that some people were voting SNP in the local elections and voting Labour in General Elections. But this does not gel with what happened in the 2011 Scottish Assembly elections and the 2015 General Election. There is another factor. Local Councils represent different populations, which only partly reflected in the size of the council chamber. The most populous is Glasgow, with an estimated mid-2015 population of 606,300 and 79 Council seats.  The least populous is Orkney Islands, with an estimated mid-2015 population of 21,500 and 21 Council seats. So a Councillor in Glasgow will represent nearly nine times the number of people as in Orkney. There are good reasons for this differential. If the Councillors per head of population were made roughly equal (4390), then Glasgow council chamber would increase to 138, and Orkney would reduce to 5. But this does impact overall. Using the 2012 seats and within each council, dividing the population by the seats, gives figure 2.

About half of  the difference between the Labour Party’s differential between First-Preference vote share and seat share can be explained by the fact that their support is concentrated in the larger council areas where the average seat population is larger. The SNP were also impacted by larger than average seat population , but not by nearly as much.

This does not matter for seats won on councils, but it does impact on the net change in council seats. In particular, like others, I believe that the SNP will make large gains from Labour in the cities and larger towns, with Glasgow being the key area. But I also believe that the SNP will lose council seats to the Conservatives and the Independents. For this reason, I estimate that the average SNP seat population will increase by about 5%. With it they should gain control of 5 to 10 councils. However, if the drop in General Election support is from around 47% to 41% the net seat gain could be around 50, instead of the 100 previously predicted.

Labour are hit with three combined impacts of the likely fall in the first prefence votes. First is the failure to reach the threshold first preference votes to win seats. Second is that this threshold will be a higher percentage of the vote than for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats, as Labour have fielded more than one candidate in nearly 150 wards.  With such a low share of the vote, under the STV system Labour Party candidates will be competing against each other for votes. Third is that Labour have larger than average population per seat, so the percentage of the seats won will be lower than the opinion polls suggest. For these three reasons combined, even if the General Election show a slight recovery from 15% to 18% of the popular vote, their share of the Scottish council seats won, could be still be less than 13% of the total, the point where total number of seat losses exceeds 250.

Kevin Marshall

Two Ways to Forecast English Local Elections

On the 25th Mike Smithson of Political Betting went to London for the annual local elections briefing organised by the Political Studies Association. Profs Colin Rawlings and Michael Thrasher concentrated on their by-election prediction model. Smithson showed these two slides.

This is an increase on their forecasts in the Times earlier in the month, which gave Conservative +50, Labour -50, Lib Dem +100, UKIP -100. However, the seat change are is still well below my own, much more basic, forecasts. I have summarized how the seat changes stack up against both the 2013 and the previous 2009 round.

I should note that my seat changes make no allowance for boundary changes, or even changes in the councils. On this basis, there is no real difference between the forecasts for the Liberal Democrats or UKIP. The difference lies with the two main parties, where I predict nearly three times the gain for the Conservatives and four times the loses for Labour. In so doing I am basically saying that the seats will roughly revert back to the seat numbers of 2009. Figure 2 (from my post on the earlier Rawlings and Thrasher forecasts) shows this very volatility.

Note the 2013 figures included Ynys Môn council in Wales, along with 33 English Councils.

At the moment we are living in turbulent times in terms of shift in opinion. I think it is not unreasonable to expect similar swings in seat numbers to those that occurred in these two previous elections, especially

Using local by-elections as a means of predicting local elections seems intuitively appealing. Every Friday is published the data on the previous days by-elections at both Politicalbetting and ConservativeHome blogs. The availability of this data is in no small part due to work done over many years by Rawlings and Thrasher. Yet these results are for the whole of England, whilst these elections are for only a seventh of the total. So local issues may be different, especially when these elections are in predominantly Conservative areas. The divergence is shown in the unchanged modeled National Equivalent Vote share from 2013 to 2017 for the Labour Party. It seems to me unlikely that this 29% share, (compared to actual 2013 English vote share of 21.1%) should be unchanged when the UK General Election opinion polls have dropped around 12% from around 38% to 26%. The current relative position of the Conservatives to Labour is about the same as in 2009, with maybe the Conservatives in a slightly stronger position currently. For this reason, I think the benchmark for forecasts should be 2009 in England.

However, if Rawlings and Thrasher, by their modelling can produce something nearer to the actual results this coming Thursday then they will have greatly added to election forecasting by managing to go beyond the rough ratios of swings in proportion to movements in national opinion polls.  The key will be in the Labour party losses, where the R&T forecasts appear most divergent. That is, without evidence of a large move in the opinion polls (and I am writing this before the opinion polls for the Sunday papers are published), if Labour seat losses are less than 200, then the explanation for this divergence will be at least in part be from predictions based on by-election results. The model will have been a predictive success. Even if Labour loses 300 seats, the fact of developing a rigorous model that is falsified by the data, could develop our understanding of council by-elections as a predictor relation to the full results. This previously unavailable information could still be useful. In less than a week we shall know.

Kevin Marshall

 

Will Ruth Davidson be Apologizing to Voters After the Scottish Local Elections on May 4th?

The Conservatives in Scotland are likely to show large gains in the Scottish local elections next Thursday.  So why should Ruth Davidson end up have to make an apology?

Consider the reasons that are likely to be large gains next week.

First, is that in 2012 the Conservatives did rather badly. They lost 28 seats to 115 seats, less than 10% of the total. In first preference vote share they went down over 2% to 13.3%.

Second is that since the 2015 General Election, when they received 14.9% of the vote – worse than the 2012 local elections with no Independents – the opinion polls have shown a consistent rise in support. By May 2016, the Conservatives achieved 22% of the vote at the constituency level in the Scottish Assembly Elections. By early this year opinion polls are indicating around 25% support.

Third is that support has, if anything, risen further in the last couple of months. Polls conducted since the General election was announced show GE support at 28% (Survation/Sunday Post) and 33% (Panelbase/Sunday Times). Below is a summary from Martin Baxter’s Electoral Calculus Website

On that basis local election vote could be above the 21% of First Preference Votes I used to predict gains of 150 seats. The potential embarrassment lies in the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. Under STV – a basic alternative to proportional representation – very large council wards have three or four Councillors. If a Party wishes to maximize its seats, it must optimize the number of candidates. In a previous post, I looked at the the candidates per ward.

In only 41 wards do the Conservatives have more than one candidate. In optimizing the number of candidates they have assumed that in only a very limited number of wards will they receive more than a third of first preference votes. Much below that and two candidates would end up competing against each other for votes. This is the strategy of a party, with uneven support, who still expects to get less than 20% of the vote. The problem is that is so long since the Conservatives had this level of support they do not know where that support lies. So, retrospectively, the Conservatives will realize that in many wards they could have fielded an extra candidate. This could mean that they fail to become the largest party on a number of councils, due to the prudent approach. Given that the SNP is the strongest party with the most candidates, it is they who will gain from this prudence. Hence the reason that Ruth Davidson could end up apologizing.

If this happens, and the Labour party loses out from fielding too many candidates (through matching the number of seats held in most areas), it could lead to a campaign to abandon the STV system. The SNP will likely stoutly defend a system that seems progressive and benefits them.

Kevin Marshall

Implications of the Forecast Local Council Elections Results in England, Wales and Scotland for GE 2017

Summary

I bring together Local Election forecasts for England, Wales and Scotland made over the past few weeks, before the General Election announcement a week ago. In the three countries I forecast that the Labour Party would lose 700 seats, and the Conservatives to gain over 500 seats. The most dramatic changes I forecast are in Scotland, where the Conservatives should end up with more seats than Labour, firmly cementing their place as the second party of Scotland. The SNP I forecast to have a net gain of 100 seats, despite likely losing seats to the Conservatives.
The impact of the snap General Election is likely to reinforce the dramatic exchange of seats that I forecast, with the additional impacts of (a) confirming the collapse in UKIP support; (b) highlighting the re-emergence of the Liberal Democrats as the major alternative to the Conservatives in much of England; and (c) providing a signal that the peak SNP dominance in Scotland has passed.

 

In the last few weeks I have made some results forecasts for the forthcoming local elections in England (here and here), Wales and Scotland occurring on May 4th. I was forecasting some big changes in numbers of seats. Since then a snap General Election has been called for June 8th. This may affect the forecasts, although given I have used mostly GE opinion polls, maybe not quite so much as local election forecasts based more upon recent local election by-election results. Rather than try to reforecast based upon widely fluctuating opinion polls (such as in last Sunday’s papers ), I will try to evaluate the impact of my forecasts being correct in the context of the narrative for the parties for the last few weeks of the General Election campaign.

In England, only a small proportion of councils are up for re-election. The 35 councils are a mixture of shire counties and unitary authorities. They are predominantly in areas with Conservative members of parliament, although there is also the Labour stronghold of Durham, along with Lancashire and Derbyshire where Labour managed to regain council majorities in 2013. In terms of councils involved, this is a very low number. There were 124 English councils with elections in 2016 and 279 in 2015. Entirely absent are any council elections in the major English cities.

In Wales and Scotland all council seats are up for re-election. Although with similar numbers of council seats in the two countries as the English councils, these are far more significant politically.

Figure 1 summarizes my forecasts of seat changes for each country both against the last elections in 2012 and 2013 and the previous round of elections in 2007 and 2008.

I believe that a major influence on the UK local election results is the state of national opinion. This is in general direction of opinion and not the percentage share of the vote. For instance, in 2007 and 2008 the Labour Government was trailing the Conservatives by quite a long way in the opinion polls – possibly as much as 15 points. By 2012 and 2013 the situation was reversed, with Labour in opposition being around 8 points ahead of the Conservatives. Proportionately, Liberal Democrats as the junior partner in a coalition government, suffered greater reversals than the Conservatives.  This is strongly seen in the English council results, with the exception of the UKIP factor. The 2013 council elections demonstrated a game-changing http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22382098 rise of UKIP outside of elections to the European Parliament.  In Wales, the National Opinion influence is less marked, but it is still there. Scotland is the least influenced by National Opinion trends, as there are strong factors unique Scottish factors, such as the replacement of the Labour Party with the SNP as the major left of centre party.

Before looking at the likely consequences for the General Election, I have shown the approximate forecast council seat numbers in figure 2.

Political Implications of the English Council Results

With hindsight my UKIP seat estimate is probably too high. But even if they retain 40 to 50 seats it will still be a major reversal on 2012. It will be very hard to convince voters in England – especially in the pro-Leave areas of the country – that they are a credible alternative political party, whether on Brexit or populist issues such as immigration.

The Liberal Democrats fell into third place behind Labour in 2013. I will be very surprised if that they do not regain second place. Expect to see a lot made of being in most of Britain the only credible alternative to Conservative pro-Brexit juggernaut.

The Labour Party will excuse the results as being in Tory areas, claiming that there is a different picture in the rest of England, particularly in London. They will try change the conversation to winning the mayoral elections in Manchester and Merseyside.

 

Political Implications of the Welsh Council Results

Plaid Cymru might only make small gains, and it will be in a limited number of areas. They will use this to persuade voters of being an anti-Brexit and pro-Welsh voice. By softening the Welsh language aspects, they might seek to extend their reach beyond the West Coast.

The Liberal Democrats will look at actual council successes to drive home their Pro-Remain message, particularly in the capital, where they will be looking to regain Cardiff Central.

For the Conservatives, coming in third place behind Plaid Cymru, despite large gains, may give confidence to other parties. If they come second (and/or regain control of the two councils lost in 2012) then this will be a landmark achievement. A YouGov opinion poll for Cardiff University and ITV on 24/04/17 of voting intentions for the Welsh local elections gave Labour 28%, Conservatives 26% and Plaid Cymru 19%, against my assumptions of 29%, 16% and 17%. The main inaccuracy of the poll I believe is that it calculates Independents plus minor parties at 12%, half the level of 2012. I assume a 1% gain. Given such varied support across the councils, along with first asking General Election opinions, it is easy to understand how this discrepancy might arise. However, it will be the actual results that will decide who has the greater accuracy.

 

Political Implications of the Scottish Council Results

It is in Scotland that the results will reverberate most strongly if my forecasts are correct. There are a couple of points to remember about the peculiar Scottish context.

First is that Scotland is embarking on the third set of council elections using the single transferable vote system (STV), with council areas divided into supersized wards of three or four seats. It means that if a party selects too many candidates in a ward, they may end up with less Councillors elected as candidates of the same party compete against each other for votes. They parties therefore try optimization of candidates based on forecasts. As I found, the Labour Party, instead of optimization based on a dramatic forecast fall in their vote, chose to largely match candidates with existing Councillors. They are therefore likely to lose proportionately more seats as a consequence of this quite rational decision.

Second, is the growth in the SNP means that the change in the vote from council election to council election does not strongly reflect the swings in the UK-wide opinion polls over the same period. For instance, although the Labour share of the vote in 2012 was higher than in 2007, the rise was much smaller than the SNP rise in vote share. However, I still forecast SNP vote share to increase, resulting in a net gain in Councillors. But these net gains will include very large gains in Labour councils, such as Glasgow, alongside loses elsewhere, especially to the Conservatives. There will be a strong message for those who oppose independence that the SNP juggernaut might have peaked and could signal the turning of the tide on the Independence issue.

Lib Dems may not have a significant showing, as in many areas where they are strong in the Westminster elections, are where there is a strong representation of Independents. Indeed, the councils of Orkney and Shetland, where the Lib Dems have their only Scottish MP, are all Independents. Whether they will win over some votes as the party of double-Remainers, remains to be seen. An extensive Scottish Yougov poll  published in January, but based on sampling in late 2016, showed that the double-Remainers were 28% of voters. That includes 21% who voted in one or none of the two referendums.

From my forecast the Conservatives will easily replace Labour as the second political party represented on Scotland’s councils. Due to Labour having too many candidates, they could pick up seats in unexpected areas. Conversely, if the Conservative surge continues, then Ruth Davidson may end up apologizing for having too few candidates, as vote share in some wards might easily elect the available candidates.

 

Implications for the UK General Election

A loss of 700 seats across three countries would be a huge message that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was heading for an even worse result than in 1983. The benchmark in England and Wales would be the woeful results of 2007 and 2008, which were 530 seats lower than the last set of elections, compared to my forecast of 455 seats lost.

The Conservatives will want to downplay strong gains in England and Wales in case complacency reduces turnout on June 8th. But they will want to emphasize their confirmed position as the opposition in Scotland.

The Liberal Democrats will announce that they are back, and concentrate on gains made in particular areas where they are clearly the main opposition to the Conservatives Hard Brexit. They will emphasize any gains they might make in the council areas where they had Westminster MPs until 2015.

UKIP may lose more than the rounded 100 seats I forecast. It will show that, unlike in 2015, they are no longer the protest vote of the disaffected. Given that their main cause has been achieved, and supporting the Conservatives is the surest way to ensure Brexit is enacted in full, this may signal the end of the UKIP as a national force on June 8th.

The biggest losers could end up being the SNP, despite their likely winning control of a number of councils and destroying the Scottish Labour Party. Their demonisation of the Conservative and Unionist Party as the subjugators of the Scots will not hold as much sway when the spread of their Councillors is much broader than in living memory and the Conservative voter is more likely to be your own neighbour.

Kevin Marshall

Local Elections Forecast for Scotland May 2017 (Pre-GE Announcement)

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.

 

 

 

 

Labour in for a bigger thumping in Scottish Local Elections 2017 than polls suggest

The Labour Party are likely to suffer a bigger defeat in terms of seat losses than their drop in vote share. Under the Single Transferable Vote system if multiple candidates are on the ballot paper, then they split the vote. If there are more candidates on the ballot paper than is warranted by level of support (and number of candidates is greater than one), then too many candidates can result in less seats won. Recent opinion polls suggests Labour’s support is around half the level of 2012, yet in the councils where they are currently well represented, candidate numbers are about the same as existing Councillors, with multiple candidates in many wards. The Labour Party will suffer because they were not sufficiently ruthless in the face of cu

For local council elections Scotland adopted the Single Transferable Vote system in 2004. This May sees the third set of elections using the new system, the others being in 2007 and 2012. Under this system the local wards have a number of seats available. Just over half of wards have three council seats, with the rest having four council seats. But the majority of seats are in wards with four seats. There are up to five main parties (SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Greens) and Independents fighting for those seats. The problem with trying to win a majority on a council is that the Party must try to win at more than one seats in every ward. But each voter only gets one vote, so multiple candidates of each party are competing for first preference votes with each other as well as candidates from other parties. If a Party believes that support is low in the area then they put forward just one candidate. If support is well over half of the electorate, then the Party might put forward three candidates, knowing that at least two candidates are likely to get elected. If the Party gets this wrong, and fields too many candidates, then its vote will be split. Most commonly fielding two candidates instead of one is a gamble. If got wrong the Party could either end up with either no seats instead of one. or one instead of two. This means a realistic prediction is necessary to optimize the number of seats. Elections Scotland has now published a candidate list for the forthcoming May elections. I have summarized the candidates per ward in figure 1.

The top section is a count wards where there a particular number of candidates. For instance in 27 wards the SNP have 3 candidates. The Green Party only has 1 candidate in each of 218 wards.

The middle section has the maximum council seats that a party can win, and the percentage of the 1223 council seats in Scotland. For the Independents the maximum seats is based on the assumption of only 3 seats per ward. Allowing for four or more candidates in four seats wards would make the theoretical maximum slightly higher.

The lower section gives the number of wards out of 354 with candidates and without candidates.

The results are surprising at first, particularly for the SNP who in the Scottish Parliament elections 2016 won 48.8% (63/126) of the seats, yet can win 51.3% of the seats available. Even allowing for about 14% of the vote in Local Elections going to Independents (source : Table 6  Lincoln Report on Report on Scottish Council Elections 2012) this appears to lack ambition. But comparison of the candidates to seats gained last time and position in the opinion polls in Figure 2 clarifies where the big anomalies lie.

The lower section of Figure 1 has been replaced by two more sections in Figure 2.

First is the seats won 2012 and the ratio of the maximum seats that can be won (identical to the number of candidates for the Political parties) to those seats won. In 2012 the SNP won 425 seats and in 2017 has 627 candidates. It therefore has a maximum seats to 2012 seats ratio of 1.48.

Second is the approximate value of recent opinion polls (less 14% to allow for the Independents)¹ and the ratio of maximum seat share to opinion polls share.

When comparing the figures between the parties the Liberal Democrats and the Greens do not really figure in the issue of having too many candidates. The comparison is between the three major parties.  It is here that the Labour Party clearly stands out. They have only got 15% more candidates standing in the local elections than Councillors elected in 2012. But, based on current opinion polls they have far more candidates standing as opinion poll ratings would suggest is ideal to optimize seat wins. The MSS / Polls ratio is partly exaggerated by the very low standing in the polls. But given that standing they should be adopting a similar strategy to the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. That is to only field more than one candidate in a ward where there is a reasonable expectation that the additional candidates will not compete against each other and lose seats. So why has Labour decided not defy the realities of the voting system? A strong reason is suggested in Figure 3.

In Figure 3 I have selected the 16 councils where Labour have (a) Candidates for at least a third of the seats available & (b) At least 10 Candidates. This is half the 32 councils in Scotland, but with 75% of Labour Council Candidates in 2017 and 82% of the seats Labour won in 2012. Numbers of candidates by council for the elections in May 2017 are compared with the seats won in 2012.

The number of candidates closely matches the seats won in 2012. This shows an expectation of winning significantly less seats in 2017 compared to 2012. However, it does suggest the reasons for adopting this strategy could be

  1. To promote the idea that Labour can still be the major party on the council, and be capable of a majority on 7 of these councils. This is especially important for Glasgow and North Lanarkshire, where Labour are currently in the majority.
  2. To help prevent second preferences being given to other parties.

However, if the Labour share of the vote on May 3rd is well below the 31.4% achieved in the local elections 2012, I predict the policy of aligning 2017 candidate numbers to seats held will result in a percentage of seats won will be significantly below the vote share. It is in those councils where Labour are currently strongest, the this disparity will be the widest. Top of the list of failures is likely to be North Ayrshire Council, where there are 17 candidates against 10 seats being defended. 

 Kevin Marshall

 

 

Notes

  1. I have assumed for General Election polling SNP 47%, Labour 15%, Conservatives 25%, Lib-Dem 6% and Green 4%. From the University of Strathclyde Scottish Opinion Poll Tracker the latest poll is for March 17. The figures are SNP 47%, Labour 14%, Conservatives 28%, and Lib-Dem 4%. Using these figures would make the Labour Candidate numbers even more out of line with the SNP or the Conservatives.

 

Local Elections Forecast for Wales May 2017

My forecast for the Welsh Council Elections in terms of percentage share of the vote compared to 2012 are Labour -7%, Conservative +3%, Independents +1%, Plaid Cymru +1% and Lib-Dems +1-2%. In terms of seats, Labour -150 to -160, Conservative +80, with the others gaining 70 to 80 seats.

 

My previous two posts looked at a forecast for the forthcoming local elections in the English County and Unitary Councils. On 4th of May there will also be significant local elections in Wales and Scotland. With respect to Wales, there is good background in a briefing at Britain Elects. Of note

  • All 22 councils are up for election. In 2012 there were 21 councils elections, with Anglesey (Ynys Mon) having its last elections in 2013.
  • There are 1234 seats for election, of which Labour hold 46 per cent and Independents hold 24 per cent.
  • Plaid Cymru are next with 14 per cent of seats.
  • Labour are the biggest party in 14 of the 22 councils and control 10, all in the South.
  • Labour gained over 200 seats in 2012 and control of 8 councils.
  • Independents are the biggest grouping on 4 councils, and form majorities in Powys and Pembrokshire.

To put this in a little more context, consider Wikipedia’s summary of the 21 council results from 2012, reproduced as Figure 1.

Compared with 2008, 2012 was a very good result for Labour. Their percentage gain in seats was about twice the 9.4% increase in the share of the vote. The biggest losses were by the Lib Dems, losing over half their council seats, but the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru also lost significant numbers as well. To put this in context, from LGC Elections Centre Report  “Local Elections in Wales 2008” – Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher  I have reproduced two tables as Figure 2.

The Independents and Plaid Cymru appear to have fairly stable shares of the vote and numbers of seats. From 1999 to 2008 both Labour in Government slipped in its share of the vote, effectively regaining the 1999 in 2012. In the same period the Liberal Democrats held had the similar vote shares , but increased their number of seats. In 2012 they took a nosedive in both vote share and seats. The Conservatives made headway whilst in opposition, from a low base reached in the 1990s.

Recent Opinion polls

UK Political Info has General Election poll tracker going back to 2010. UK polls show fair stability from 2010 to 2016 when compared with the gap that has opened up after the EU Referendum. Labour were mostly ahead up to 2015, and regained the poll lead in the period around the Welsh Assembly elections in May 2016. At the time of the last elections in 2012 the Labour lead was 5-8% ahead of the Conservatives. After the Referendum Labour have trailed the Conservatives by an increasing amount. In the last couple of months that gap has been around 16-18%. It seems inconceivable that this huge should not have some impact on the Welsh local elections. ICM opinion polls for the Guardian split out the poll for Wales. This component is usually questioning less than 100 people, and shows highly variable results. However, in the six polls so far this year, the gap between Labour and Conservatives is far smaller than in the actual result in the local elections of 2012, yet there are no Independents. However, local factors may play a big role.

Forecast

In this forecast I will make some bold assumptions and give some fairly precise figures. In so doing any variances from my estimates can give a greater understanding of the underlying changes in a period of political turmoil. I will proceed in ascending order of impact.

UKIP are unlikely to gain any seats, despite grabbing 12.5% of the vote and 7 regional seats in the Welsh Assembly Elections just 12 months before. See Table 1. The party is in turmoil following the resignations of its only MP Douglas Carswell and AM Mark Reckless crossing to the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats slipped quite badly in 2012. They may gain 1-2% of the vote share and 20-30 seats. They may do quite well in Cardiff and Swansea, where they already have a few seats, and where there was quite strong support for Remain in the EU Referendum.

The Independents and Plaid Cymru  I expect to gain respectively a 23% and 17% share of the vote and 300 and 200 seats. These are small gains of about 25 seats each if Ynys Mon is included.

The leaves the two large Westminster parties to share just under half the vote, if the minor parties are included. Like in previous Welsh local elections I expect to the greatest volatility being between Labour and the Conservatives.

Based on the National opinion polls I forecast the best result for the Conservatives in over twenty years, achieving 16% of the vote and a gain of about 80 seats. This is only fractionally higher than in 2008.

By difference I forecast the Labour Party to see a reduction in their vote share of 7% to 29%, and the loss of 150-160 seats.

The Forecast in context

There are two ways to look at the forecast. First in relation to other forecasts and second in relation to opinion polls.

Conservative peer Robert Hayward has forecast across In England for Labour to lose 125 seats and Conservatives to gain about 100. I have forecast Labour to lose more and the Conservatives gain slightly less in Wales with half the number of seats being fought over. Yet in the context of the change between 2008 and 2012/3, the change is smaller. I forecast Labour to lose two-thirds of the gains they made in the previous elections. Yet the party is more unpopular than in 2008, and also quite split over policy and direction the party should take. In no other major political party would nearly 80% of elected representatives vote no confidence in the leader and then a few months down the line both those representatives and the leader still hold office, carrying on as if nothing had happened. Conversely the Conservatives are more popular than in 2008, and have a confidence, sense of purpose and party unity that is stronger than at any time in the last 30 years.

Kevin Marshall