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

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

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

The Democratic Deficit in the Referendum Result

During the EU Referendum campaign all the main political parties backed the Remain campaign. The opinion polls predicted a final 52/48 split for the Remain vote. The final vote was 52/48 win for leaving the EU, sending shock waves around the world. This seems quite a narrow win. However, Chris Hanretty, a Reader in Politics at the University of East Anglia, has estimated the referendum vote split for the 574 parliamentary constituencies in England and Wales. The actual vote also covered the 76 constituencies in Scotland and Northern Island, along with Gibraltar. This was not a simple task, as the vote was counted by local Government areas, which rarely coincide with the constituencies. He estimated that 421 of these 574 constituencies likely voted for Leave.
However, there was no geographical split of the figures. I therefore classified the constituencies by region, along with putting the estimated vote into bands, with shades of green for a majority to Leave the EU and shades of pink/red for a majority to Remain in the EU.

There is a huge divergence between the regions. London was the only region to vote Remain in England and Wales, with 71% of constituencies in favour. The next nearest pro-EU region was the South East, with 39% of constituencies in favour. Furthermore London accounted for 22 of the 26 constituencies with greater than 70% of the vote in favour of Remain. What is quite worrying for future political consensus is that in 39% of constituencies the vote was at least 60% for a position for the majority vote.

The split by political party is also revealing. Of the 574 constituencies, 330 have Conservative MPs, 231 have Labour MPs and the remaining 12 seats are split between four other parties.
The Conservative constituency split is as follows.

The Conservative support is mostly in the South of England and the Midlands. The divergence is slightly less extreme than for the total, with 94 of the 330 constituencies having at least 60% for the majority vote.
The Labour Party constituency split is as follows.

The Labour Party support is mostly in the North of England, the West Midlands, London and Wales. The divergence in vote is more extreme than for the total, with 123 of the 231 constituencies having at least 60% for the majority vote. Over half of the constituencies with a greater than 60% Remain vote in England and Wales (34 of 54) are Labour. Also over half of the constituencies with a greater than 60% Leave vote in England and Wales (89 of 168) are Labour. Yet Labour have just 40% of the Parliamentary seats. What is worse for the Party, the divergence is regional. The Remain constituencies are concentrated in London. All the other core regions have a strong Leave vote. Even worse, the Party activists are strongly Remain supporters and are behind efforts to annul the Referendum result.

In summary the results show two things.
First is that there is a huge divergence in Referendum vote across the English and Welsh constituencies.
Second is that a disproportionate number of the constituencies with strong votes either for remaining in the EU or leaving the EU have a Labour Party MP.

Kevin Marshall