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The Game Changer


Three months ago, Ipsos MORI projected a ten-point Labour lead on the Constituency Vote, and a two-point lead on the Regional. Since then, despite subsequent polls suggesting a thumping Labour lead, Ipsos MORI has seen a major shift in opinion: their most recent poll puts the SNP ahead on both votes, turning a ten-point defecit on the Constituency Vote into a one-point lead.

This is a significant poll: trends (insofar as they are possible when Scottish Parliament polls are thin on the ground) have clearly been bucked. Obviously, we all have to consider that this poll is at least an outlier, if not an actual rogue.

But even if it is, it could still prove to be a game changer. The sheer amount of coverage these numbers have received changes the tone of how the Election is to be reported. It’s no longer seen as inevitable that there’ll be a change of government. Of course, I said this last month, and this set of results isn’t too far away from the imaginary poll I envisaged while I was bored over Christmas. Nevertheless, the press had anointed Iain Gray as First Minister before the campaign had even begun. Now the reporters are not so sure – and they are communicating that uncertainty. More than the poll itself, it’s that change in tone which has seen momentum shift, very suddenly, to the SNP.

So, what are the figures?

On the Constituency Vote: SNP 37%; Labour 36%; Conservative 13%; LibDem 10%.
On the Regional Vote: SNP 35%; Labour 33%; Conservative 13%; LibDem 10%; Greens 6%.

Let’s extrapolate those results, bearing in mind that I start from a different point than David Denver, whose results are the basis for the MSM calculations. I had a different way of calculating the notional figures, and a different start means a different finish. Hear goes: SNP 49 (26 constituencies, 23 regional); Labour 47 (37+10); Conservatives 16 (4+12); LibDem 12 (6+6); Greens 4 (all regional) and Margo re-elected on the List (assuming she’s standing).

In Central Scotland, the constituencies stay the same (8 Labour, 1 SNP), so John Pentland will succeed Jack McConnell in Motherwell & Wishaw. on the List, the new SNP rankings cost John Wilson his seat, with Richard Lyle the main beneficiary, but Angus MacDonald is also elected, at LibDem Hugh O’Donnell’s expense. 6 SNP List members, one Tory.

Glasgow is as you were: 8 Labour constituencies (Margaret Curran’s move to Westminster averted a selection battle for Labour), 1 SNP (I see a Nicola Sturgeon win as an SNP hold, not a gain). The Regional figures remain 4 SNP, 1 Tory, 1 LibDem, 1 Green. Still a big change in personnel though: SNP re-rankings see Humza Yousaf and Sid Khan enter Parliament at the expense of Bill Kidd and Anne McLaughlin; while a similar change in the LibDem camp sees Katy Gordon replace Robert Brown. Bill Aitken was always retiring, and Malcolm MacAskill looks like he’ll inherit the seat.

In the Highlands & Islands, Dave Thompson will gain Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch from the LibDems (John Farquhar Munro is retiring, remember), while Mike Russell will complete his move north to succeed Jim Mather in Argyll & Bute, and Robbie Rowantree should enjoy a successful handover from Jamie Stone in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross. On the List, Peter Peacock’s retirement will clear a path for Linda Stewart (wife of David, who would also be re-elected ahead of her), while the vacancy created by Dave Thompson’s constituency win will be filled by Green Co-Convener Eleanor Scott.

As for the Lothians, Sarah Boyack would hold off the LibDems in Edinburgh Central, and Labour’s Paul Godzik can overturn the LibDem lead in Edinburgh Southern. Bernard Harkins would secure Labour’s position in Midlothian North & Musselburgh following Rhona Brankin’s retirement. On the List, George Kerevan would succeed Ian McKee for the SNP, and Alison Johnstone will receive the Green torch passed by Robin Harper. The retirement of George Foulkes and the LibDem constituency setbacks will see Alex Cole-Hamilton elected, despite his party’s inability to confirm their notional lead in Edinburgh Central.

In Mid Scotland and Fife, Labour’s Alex Rowley would unseat Jim Tolson in Dunfermline, though former LibDem MP Willie Rennie will win a Regional seat at the cost of Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister Richard Simpson. And the outgoing Tory Ted Brocklebank’s seat will be filled by Green Mark Ruskell.

In North East Scotland, the SNP’s Kevin Stewart would win Aberdeen Central, while Maureen Watt will gain Aberdeen South & North Kincardine from the LibDems, with former LibDem Leader Nicol Stephen heading for the Lords. Graeme Dey will succeed Andrew Welsh in Angus South while SNP Regional MSP Nigel Don would win the new seat of Angus North & Mearns, as the notional figures suggested. On the List, Jenny Marra would succeed Marlyn Glen, Lewis Macdonald’s defeat in Aberdeen Central would be offset by a return on the List and Labour’s Lesley McMahon would win a seat that would otherwise be expected to go to the Tories.

In the South, Labour’s Richard Leonard will succeed Cathy Jamieson in Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley, while the poll would confirm Christine Grahame’s edge over Jeremy Purvis in Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale. Alasdair Morgan’s retirement and Mike Russell’s move north allow Joan McAlpine to come in for the SNP on the List, but Aileen McLeod would also win a seat, at the expense of the LibDems. Claudia Beamish would be returned as Labour’s Regional MSP, as envisaged by the boundary changes.

Finally, going West, Ken McIntosh would, against the odds, retain his position as MSP for Eastwood despite the boundary changes pushing the seat from the red column to the blue, while Stuart Clark would successfully complete the handover from Trish Godman in Renfrewshire North & West. Jackson Carlaw would have to be content to remain a Regional MSP assuming he did not win Eastwood, while Stuart McMillan’s low SNP List ranking and Bill Wilson’s failed move to Lothian would clear the way for Derek MacKay and Fiona McLeod.

But with all that, who would actually end up in charge? Assuming that an SNP-Labour coalition is absurd, then the only viable two-party link-up is between the SNP (49) and the Tories (16), who would have 65 seats between them so would be hoping for a Labour MSP to become Presiding Officer. If that were unpalatable, the SNP could always try to form a pact with the LibDems (12 seats) and the four Greens, and again hope that a Labour MSP took the Chair. Labour (47) could not take office with majority support without the backing of the Tories, and even then, they’d need to form either a Grand Unionist Coalition with the LibDems, or try and get the Greens on board.

That said, these numbers do provide for one very obvious Coalition. You need a group of five MSPs to be eligible for a seat on the Parliamentary Bureau. The four Greens could coalesce with Margo MacDonald to form a technical group, not unlike the Independent Group of which Margo was at the centre between before the last election when the expulsion of Campbell Martin from the SNP allowed the four independents – MacDonald, Martin, Dennis Canavan and Jean Turner – to combine with the SSCUP’s John Swinburne. This would mean that the Bureau would represent all MSPs for the first time since the Tommy Sheridan and Rosemary Byrne left the SSP.

So, this poll has lobbed a hand grenade into the campaign. Hallelujah!


From → Politics

  1. Andrea permalink

    Thanks, interesting analysis.

    So the 4 Green seats would be:
    Highlands & Islands
    MidScotland and Fife

    When will we likely hear something official from Margo? No journalists is asking her intentions?

    Highlands & Islands..on these figures, how distant is Labour from a 4th regional list?

  2. Hi Andrea, yes, those are the four likely Green seats,. In H&I, Labour would need an extra 1.64% to get a 4th seat (at the expense of the Tories). Not much, but on the calculations I ran, the “eighth seat” would go to the SNP.

    I’m sure I read somewhere that Margo would stand again, but I may have dreamed it.

    Still, what about Wendy? Any early chat on when Labour will find a replacement candidate in Paisley?

    • Andrea permalink

      Will, thanks about the Margo info.

      Wendy left it till the very end. I wonder if things would have gone differently for other MSPs if she had decided earlier. Henry could have taken Paisley leaving Renfrewshire South to McIntosh.
      In the end I think it’s better for Labour to have McIntosh fighting Eastwood than a new candidate but it’s not necesserly the best option for him.

      • Andrea permalink

        The Herald have some gossip on the new selection. It’s in the article about the local party’s irritation to have printed all materials with Wendy just to throw it away now.
        Selection in 3 weeks, all genders allowed (I don’t think they can impose AWS at Holyrood anyway).
        Names suggested: Ian Smart, Paul Sinclair (Dougie’s adviser), Mike Holmes (Wendy’s agent and councillor) and some other Renfrewshire councillors like Iain McMillan (group leader), Mark Macmillan and Neil Bibby (2 on regional list IIRC). head of communications at Glasgow City Council Colin Edgar was approched but he isn’t interested.

  3. In regards to Margo MacDonald, the last I heard, she fully intended to stand this year again, if only to try and get her assisted suicide bill on the table again. Still, it’s strange that it’s so difficult to find out if she’s standing or not – you’d think that with just two and a half months to go until polling day, we would already know who is and isn’t standing in the elections. Surely there’s a limit on how late you can announce your intention to stand?

  4. Andrea, I can see why so many people (especially Henry and McIntosh, and the agents who bulk ordered campaign literature with Wendy Alexander featuring) are so hacked off with this sudden decision. Interesting though that with the rumour mill in gear, all of the names tipped for selection are male: on the most recent poll figures, the Labour group would fall back from gender parity and this change would reinforce that.

    Doug, the only deadline is March 29 – that’s when papers have to be lodged with the Returning Officers. Up until then, Margo need do or say nothing, especially as she doesn’t have a party machine to fit into. And even then. as we’ve just seen with Labour, there was nothing stopping Wendy Alexander going through the whole re-selection process, only to stand down as the candidate eleven weeks before polling day, and less than six weeks before nominations had to be in…

    • Andrea permalink

      ” Interesting though that with the rumour mill in gear, all of the names tipped for selection are male: on the most recent poll figures, the Labour group would fall back from gender parity and this change would reinforce that.”

      Will, that’s an interesting point. In 1999 with the creation of Scottish Parliament the “paired” system used for their selection guaranteed many female MSPs. However now that we are seeing some retirements, they seem to find some troubles in getting new female candidates in Lab held constituencies . The reason seems to be lack of women applicants.
      The same pattern is happening in Wales: 8 Labour constituency AMs are retiring in May; 5 of them are women; new selections: 7 men and 1 woman.

    • Andrea permalink

      If you’re interested, the shortlist to replace Wendy is (according to Tom Gordon of Sunday Herald):

      Mike Dailly: Solicitor

      Edwina Phillips: stood for East Renfrewshire Council in 2007

      Marie Rooney: list candiate in South Scotland (is she the same?); 2007 list candidate in West of Scotland

      Manjinder Shergill: list candidate for West of Scotland; works for Dave Whitton MSP

      Ian Smart: Solicitor, former president of the Law Society of Scotland, son of a former Paisley provost

      Evan Williams: son-in-law of former Labour councillor Olga Clayton, agent in the upcoming Paisley South ward by-election

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