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