Election forecasts

The SNP’s advance: how big is it really likely to be?

The breathless and rather hysterical coverage of the SNP’s opinion poll ratings continues.

A few days ago the party was predicted to win as many as 53 seats at the election. It’s pretty much in line with most of the headlines since last autumn, when the polls first showed the SNP moving ahead of Labour. I’m sure we’ll see many more similar headlines and predictions between now and 7 May.

As I’ve argued before, this kind of speculation is wildly miscalculated. It assumes there will be a uniform swing across Scotland, which there won’t, and assumes every constituency will behave in the same way, which they won’t.

In a few days Lord Ashcroft will be publishing his latest batch of constituency polls, which this time are focusing on Scotland. It’ll be fascinating to get a first glimpse of opinion in individual seats, rather than make do with broad and somewhat unhelpful snapshots of the whole nation.

Ahead of Ashcroft’s polls, I’ve created the following list of all the seats in Scotland currently held by parties other than the SNP. I’ve then grouped the seats into five categories based on how much of a struggle I think it will be for the SNP to win.

1: Easiest gains

Labour
Ochil & South Perthshire (5.2% swing)
Falkirk (7.7)
Dundee West (9.8)
Inverclyde (10.4)
North Ayrshire & Arran (10.8)
Aberdeen North (11.1)

Lib Dems
Argyll & Bute (6.4)
Gordon (6.9)

I suspect all of these will change hands at the election. They are the SNP’s best chance of gains and the ones I think Labour and the Lib Dems are most likely to lose.

2: Likely gains

Labour
Livingston (11.3)
Edinburgh East (11.5)
Linlithgow & East Falkirk (12.2)
Midlothian (13.2)
Kilmarnock & Loudoun (13.3)
East Kilbride, Strathaven & Lesmahagow (14.3)
Lanark & Hamilton East (14.5)
Glasgow South (15.8)

Lib Dems
Edinburgh West (11.4)
West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine (11.4)
Dunbartonshire East (14.1)

The SNP will have a good chance in these seats and both Labour and the Lib Dems will struggle to hold them all. If Labour loses everything in categories one and two, it’ll be down 14 Scottish seats. The Lib Dems will be down five. The SNP’s overall total, including the seats it currently holds, would be 25.

3: Tricky but not impossible gains

Labour
Aberdeen South (12.3)
Stirling (12.3)
Edinburgh South (13.5)
Edinburgh North & Leith (14)
East Lothian (14.3)
Central Ayrshire (14.4)
Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock (14.6)
Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East (16.7)
Airdrie & Shotts (17.3)

Lib Dems
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey (11)
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross (11.1)

The SNP is third or fourth in most of these seats, and together with the bigger swings this makes them more of a challenge. There might be some gains here, but they certainly won’t all fall on a uniform swing.

4: Unlikely gains

Labour
Edinburgh South West (15.3)
Glasgow North (16.3)
Dumfries & Galloway (16.8)
Glasgow Central (17.3)
Paisley & Renfrewshire North (17.5)
Dunfermline & West Fife (17.9)
Glasgow East (18.4)
Glasgow North West (19.4)
Glenrothes (20.3)
Dunbartonshire West (20.6)

Lib Dems
Fife North East (15.1)

Conservatives
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (13.6)

For these seats to change hands would be remarkable, though not impossible. The combination of incumbent MPs and very large swings makes SNP gains in this category very unlikely.

5: Hardest gains

Labour
East Renfrewshire (20.5)
Paisley & Renfrewshire South (20.8)
Motherwell & Wishaw (21.5)
Rutherglen & Hamilton West (22.4)
Glasgow South West (23.1)
Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill (24.9)
Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath (25.1)
Glasgow North East (27.1)

Lib Dems
Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk (18.1)
Ross, Skye & Lochaber (18.8)
Orkney & Shetland (26)

I think these are all beyond the SNP’s grasp, though the party may end up in a strong enough position to make a real challenge at the 2020 general election.

In conclusion, I think the SNP will make its way easily through categories one and two, but will struggle to move with consistency any further down the list. I’m not ruling out gains in categories three and even four, but they will be the exception rather than the rule.

I’ll return to this prediction after Lord Ashcroft has published his Scotland polls.

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