Election forecasts

Might the Tories be wiped out in Scotland – again?

The 1959 general election was the first time the Conservative party failed to win the most seats in Scotland. The Tories have been in decline in this part of the UK ever since. The lowest possible point was reached in 1997, when they were wiped out in Scotland completely.

Four years later the Tories were back, thanks to the solitary gain by Peter Duncan of Galloway & Upper Nithsdale. The party won the constituency from the SNP: a feat that seems remarkable when placed against the political landscape of today.

When it was announced that Galloway & Upper Nithsdale was to be abolished at the 2005 election, it seemed as if the Tories were set to be wiped out in Scotland once more. But come that election David Mundell achieved a surprise win in the newly-created constituency of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale, a seat that had been 96th on the Tories’ target list. Mundell duly replaced Duncan as the Conservatives’ only Scottish MP in the House of Commons, a distinction he has held ever since.

But could that be about to come to an end?

Up until last autumn, the main threat to Mundell was thought to be from Labour, who need a swing of 4.6% to take the seat.

Now a more plausible challenger might be the SNP. Admittedly the nationalists would need a mighty swing of 13.6% to win. But last week’s polls by Lord Ashcroft suggested the SNP were already achieving those kinds of swings – and much higher ones – in some of Labour’s safest seats. Might they manage the same thing against Mundell?

It would foolish to extrapolate any sort of pattern from Ashcroft’s polls and map it right across Scotland, including on to the nation’s only Conservative seat. It’s also important to consider the particular demographic and voting habits of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale.

Within the constituency boundaries lie two of the three council areas that voted No most strongly in the independence referendum: Scottish Borders (66.56% No) and Dumfries & Galloway (65.67% No). Only Orkney (67.20%) registered a higher No vote than these two regions.

The constituency also contains part of the South Lanarkshire council region, which voted 54.67% No. South Lanarkshire council is currently ruled by a Labour majority, who have 34 of its 67 seats. The SNP is close behind, however, on 26.

By contrast, Labour has no seats at all on Scottish Borders council, where the Tories are the biggest party, but which is run by a coalition of the SNP, independents and the Liberal Democrats. Dumfries & Galloway council, meanwhile, used to be run by a Tory-SNP coalition (yes, it does happen!) until seven Tory councillors resigned and a Labour minority took control.

A very mixed picture, then. Even the three areas contained with the constituency’s name have different histories of voting. Dumfriesshire was traditionally the Tory heartland, Clydesdale performed the same function for Labour, while Tweeddale had been part of Lib Dem-supporting constituencies since the 1980s – most famously as part of David Steel’s seat of Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale.

All of this makes it very hard to predict what’s likely to happen on 7 May. If traditional Labour and Lib Dem supporters switch to the SNP, it might be enough to see the SNP’s candidate Emma Harper squeeze past Mundell into first place. But the Scottish Green party is also standing, which may splinter the anti-Tory vote and allow Mundell to cling on. And if Ukip decide to stand, as they did in 2010, things may become even more unpredictable.

My instinct at present is that Mundell will survive. Voters will fail to coalesce around a single anti-Tory candidate and in the process enable him to slip through the middle and win a third term as MP. But it will be a close result – closer than in 2010, when Mundell had a majority of 4,194.

The Conservatives may not be wiped out in Scotland at this election, but they may face just such a fate come 2020.

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Discussion

6 responses to ‘Might the Tories be wiped out in Scotland – again?

  1. The Tories are more likely to gain Scottish seats than lose them, according to the betting markets – though 0 remains a real possibility.

    The are 2/5 to hold Dumfriesshire etc., 11/8 to take Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk off the LDs, and 5/1 to take Dumfries & Galloway off Labour. They could possibly win all three border seats.

    They also have a chance in Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine (again from LD, though SNP are favs here).

    • I’m amazed the Tories are being tipped to make any gains in Scotland, to be honest. I can’t see the party winning additional seats in this part of the UK, at least not in the present climate with the SNP advancing and Labour in retreat. Were the SNP not so much of a factor, those border seats might be within the Tories’ grasp.

  2. It seems reasonable to suspect they might capitalise on the LibDems’ annihilation – they could win BR&S whilst going backwards in vote share (there’ll be more than a couple of Scottish seats won on c. 30%).

    (Result 2010: LD 45, Con 34, Lab 10, SNP 9)

    The same sort of logic applies in Aberdeenshire but as the SNP have a bigger base they have to be fancied there.

    Dumfries is a much bigger stretch but again the calculation would be Lab –> SNP whilst the Tories hold steady and hope to win on about 31/32.

    The Tories shouldn’t be losing too many votes in Scotland – in 2010 they were up against a Scottish PM; this time they are the embodiment of No to independence (and the Borders were heavily No – D&G local authority 65.7%, Scottish Borders local authority 66.6%).

    I’m not Scottish so these are all notes from afar!

    • This is exactly why the Tories campaigned for the NO side in the AV referendum – they benefited from left-wing vote splitting between Labour, the Lib Dems, and the nationalist parties, which AV would have removed. Under AV, the Tories wouldn’t have a sniff of a seat in Scotland.

      Of course, in 2015, after the collapse of the Lib Dems and the rise of UKIP, there’s probably more right-wing vote splitting going on in the UK as a whole.

    • Interesting stuff. I’ve looked again at Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk and agree there is the potential for a Tory gain, especially as the Labour vote is so small and can’t really be squeezed any further. The key will be in which direction the Lib Dem vote collapses and how well the traditional Tory support holds up.

      • The most likely result is still 1, but I think 2 is more likely than 0. It’s tough to see the SNP winning in 2/3 No areas.

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