Speculation over how well the SNP will do at the election has not abated since the referendum a month ago.
Almost all of it has focused on how many seats the party may take from Labour, with some predictions talking of a total as high as 25.
I thought I’d take a different perspective and examine how well the SNP could do at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.
In my most recent forecast of the result I handed the SNP one gain from the Lib Dems. But it’s now clear several more could be up for grabs. And some of the seats feel far more likely to change hands than those currently represented by Labour.
I’ve used the excellent Election Forecast website to draw up a list of eight notional SNP targets.
Gordon has to be the SNP’s best chance of a gain. The party came second in 2010, winning 22.2% of the vote. Malcolm Bruce, who has held this seat for the Liberals and Lib Dems since 1983, won 36%. But he is standing down in 2015. We can almost move this seat into the SNP’s column right now.
In the other seven constituencies, the SNP came either third or fourth in 2010.
Argyll & Bute is a fascinating contest. It is now a four-way marginal, evidenced by the fact that although the SNP came fourth in 2010 they were only 5,729 votes behind the Lib Dems in first place. The Tories came second, Labour third. The respective shares of the vote were Lib Dem 31.6%; Tories 24%; Labour 22.7% and the SNP 18.9%. This has to be the most likely chance for the SNP of gaining a second seat at the Lib Dems’ expense.
John Thurso won Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross for the Lib Dems in 2010 with a majority over Labour of 4,826. The SNP were third, polling 19.2% of the vote compared with Thurso’s 41.4%. If both the Lib Dem and Labour vote collapses in the SNP’s direction, this could be a win for the nationalists.
Another opportunity may lie in Edinburgh West, the only seat on the list that is also a Labour target. Here the Lib Dems’ majority over Labour is 3,803, and 10,659 over the SNP. It’s tricky to predict how a rise in SNP support would affect this contest. Would it suck support away more from the Lib Dems than Labour? Might Lib Dem voters be more inclined to switch to the SNP than Labour? The SNP came a very distant fourth place in 2010, behind the Lib Dems, Labour and the Tories.
The remaining seats on the list pose more of a challenge.
In Orkney & Shetland the SNP came third in 2010, behind the Lib Dems and Labour. The seat is currently held by the Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael, and the size of his majority over the SNP doesn’t quite give a sense of how small an electorate inhabits the islands. In fact Carmichael won 62% of the vote in 2010; the SNP managed just 10.6%.
The seat of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey is currently represented by another Cabinet member: treasury secretary Danny Alexander. The SNP were third in 2010, behind second place Labour, and won 18.7% of the vote to Alexander’s 40.7%. Alexander’s high profile in the coalition and his association with many of the government’s austerity measures may produce a shock result here. His defeat would certainly be an enormous blow for both the party and, given his leadership aspirations, the man himself.
Fife North East feels like an incredibly long shot. The SNP came fourth in 2010, behind the Lib Dems’ Menzies Campbell, the Tories and Labour. They won 14.2% of the vote to Campbell’s 44.3%. Campbell is standing down, however.
Ross, Skye & Lochaber is represented by another former Lib Dem leader. Charles Kennedy won 52.6% of the vote in 2010. Labour came second and the SNP third (on 15.1%). There would have to be the most almighty upset indeed for Kennedy to lose.
All of which means the SNP has a good chance of picking up two or three seats from the Lib Dems, and an outside chance of a couple more. If the party holds its existing six constituencies (which it will), it could be up to 10 seats before factoring in potential gains from Labour.
Throw in Plaid Cymru’s three seats and, once all the votes are counted, we may see a block of nationalist MPs in the next parliament that holds the balance of power.