At the next election, will kicking out the Lib Dems stay in fashion in Scotland?

The 2011 elections in Scotland were poor for Labour, there is no escaping that, as the SNP swept to an overall majority with many sensational gains. However, the party that suffered most were undoubtedly the Lib Dems. Clearly being punished by Scotland for their alliance with the Tories, they lost all 9 of their mainland constituency seats, holding on to just Orkney and Shetland (two separate constituencies in the Scottish elections, unlike the UK election where they are combined). Their vote share fell by 8.25% in the constituency vote, and by 6.1% in the region vote.

One would imagine that the Scottish electorate are not going to be inclined to feel any more charitable towards the Lib Dems in 2015. So which seats are they defending? Here they are, in order of vulnerability by majority.

Seat Name CON2010 LAB2010 LD2010 SNP2010 MAJ
Dunbartonshire East 7431 16367 18551 5054 2184
Argyll & Bute 10861 10274 14292 8563 3431
Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine 13678 6159 17362 7086 3684
Edinburgh West 10767 12881 16684 6115 3803
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross 3744 7081 11907 5516 4826
Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk 16555 5003 22230 4497 5675
Gordon 9111 9811 17575 10827 6748
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey 6728 10407 19172 8803 8765
North East Fife 8715 6869 17763 5685 9048
Orkney & Shetland 2032 2061 11989 2042 9928
Ross, Skye & Lochaber 4260 5265 18535 5263 13270

Let’s start with the obvious – the Lib Dems will hold the Orkney & Shetland constituency, which seems destined to vote Lib Dem for all eternity. They have held the seat since 1950 and the minor inconvenience of being in a Coalition government is not going to cause any big swings here. Charles Kennedy is also very safe in Ross, Skye & Lochaber – he has hardly been the most vocal Coalition fan, and remains popular. Michael Moore also looks safe in Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk – his only real challengers are the Conservatives  – it seems unlikely that voters will kick out one Coalition party to bring in another that they deemed less popular in 2010. North East Fife is most likely also safe – Menzies’ Campbell’s seat is only really in danger if his vote completely falls apart and goes disproportionately to either Labour or the SNP – if he loses votes to both roughly equally and still maintains the Lib Dem core, then he should be OK – they’ve held the seat since 1987.

East Dunbartonshire is Jo Swinson’s seat – she gained the seat in 2005 from Labour, before seeing her majority halved last time around. She has virtually no chance of holding this seat – if there is even a minor Lib Dem collapse and the Labour vote just holds up, she will lose. Swinson is only 33 and I am sure she will be back – but even now, she must almost be resigned to losing in 2015. Barring a bizarre shift back to the Lib Dems in Scotland in the next two years, this is a Labour gain.

Edinburgh West is another interesting seat – Labour actually slipped into 3rd place behind the Tories here in 2005 – but then produced a huge swing of 11.4% against the Lib Dems in 2010 to take them within just 3,803 votes behind. In theory this should also be a Labour gain with a swing away from the Lib Dems – but with the bizarre result from 2010, it is possible that Labour may have maxed out their vote here. Labour didn’t come close to winning the seat even in 1997 – this is one of the most interesting seats I’ve seen so far.

West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine is a seat that the SNP will surely be eyeing with interest – the two coalition parties won almost 70% of the vote between them in this seat last time – you have to feel that a proportion of that vote is begging to be taken. Labour would seem to have no hope here at all, and if the SNP manage to take votes away from the Lib Dems as successfully as in the 2011 Scottish elections, then an albeit distant third place certainly gives them a platform to have a real go at this seat.

Argyll & Bute is a four-way marginal – something not seen too often. Labour and the SNP are 3rd and 4th – but it’s very close, and I would expect one of these two parties to take the seat. It may again come down to who can most effectively pick up the Liberal Democrat vote.

The constituency of Gordon will be a big target for the SNP – they are the closest party to the Lib Dems here, and I would expect them to gain this one – they only need a swing of about 7% – the SNP were easily exceeding this kind of swings in the 2011 Scottish elections. Both the SNP and Labour will also be trying to take Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross – a Lib Dem held seat with the two opposition parties not lurking too far behind.

One of the seats that many will be looking out for is that of unpopular Cabinet minister Danny Alexander – he currently holds the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey constituency. He managed a positive swing last time, no doubt due to his role as a prominent Lib Dem – but that could well count against him this time. Both Labour and the SNP will be looking at this seat with interest – he certainly seems like the most likely high-profile Cabinet member to lose his seat. Alexander will be hoping that Labour and the SNP split the opposition vote – but it all depends on the severity of his own lost vote.

Overall, it seems clear that from a vote share point of view, the Liberal Democrats will have an awful night in Scotland – in seats they do not hold, their share is going to plummet – I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them behind the Conservatives in 4th place, as in 2011.  The battle is going to be between Labour and the SNP – who can most effectively pick up these votes? I would lean towards Labour doing slightly better – simply because Scottish floating voters have a tendency of splitting their vote at Westminster elections and Scottish Parliament elections – as they usually look at the bigger picture of the prospect of a Conservative government. Nevertheless, I will not be surprised at all to see the SNP make at least a couple of very surprising gains – especially in seats where they are perched behind one (or two) of the coalition parties.

However, if the Lib Dem collapse is not quite as bad as feared, they certainly have winnable seats to hold onto here. Three or four of their seats look safe (barring a total meltdown), and if they can cling onto a couple more, then saving half of their seats in Scotland would not be the end of the world for the party. Their real problem is going to be that voters don’t just have one main non-coalition alternative as in England – in Scotland, the SNP are now a major force to be reckoned with. The question is, will we see some of the wild swings to the SNP that we saw in 2011, or will, as I suspect, Labour play a more important role, limiting the SNP impact.

One final point – I certainly don’t claim to be any kind of Scottish election expert – I am simply looking at the numbers, and some detail from the 2011 Scottish elections. If anyone has more nuanced information on specific local factors in individual constituencies, I’d be more than happy to hear feedback/opinions.

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