What kind of elections nerd would I be if I didn’t have a list of “seats to watch” in this election prepared? I’ve distilled a 650 seat election down to the 29 I reckon will be most interesting – of course, that’s just in my opinion. There will be plenty of interesting results outside of these ones, and your “interesting milage” may vary depending on where you live. Obviously, I’m most interested in the Scottish seats, of which there are loads that may throw up incredible results – I’m also keen to see how smaller parties do outside of Scotland, so I’ll touch on a few seats from Wales, England and Northern Ireland.
Where possible, I’ll be referencing constituency polling (generally by Ashcroft) which you can find on Wikipedia. I’ve got full commentary on each of the seats below, but that’s a lot of reading, so for quick reference, a nice shiny set of tables – blue seats are in Scotland, dark Green is Wales, pink is England (the reds in Open Office are kinda sore on the eyes) and light Green is Northern Ireland.
Scotland is obviously the place to be in this election. The referendum has turned everything here upside down – in defeat, the SNP have become by far the dominant force going into this elections, whilst the leaders of the winning side Labour look set for their worst Scottish result since 1931. This was not, I’m sure, what either party expected to happen following the No vote. The scale and pattern of changes in Scottish voting intention is such that traditional methods of seat prediction (known as “universal swing”) have been rendered almost entirely useless. That means seat predictions range from between around 35 to all 59 seats in Scotland. No one can say for certain just how things are likely to turn out here, but it’s almost guaranteed that the government of the UK as a whole will hang on Scotland.
West Dunbartonshire is a good example of a seemingly rock-solid Labour seat that will likely go SNP this time around – plus, it’s where I grew up, which makes it interesting to me. In 2010, Labour’s Gemma Doyle had an enormous majority of 41% over the SNP, and in 2011 the Dumbarton constituency of the Scottish Parliament (covering the Dumbarton and Vale of Leven areas of West Dunbartonshire, plus Helensburgh from Argyll and Bute) was one of the few seats to buck the national trend, incumbent Labour MSP Jackie Baillie actually increasing (very slightly) her lead over the SNP. However, it was one of the only areas to vote Yes (much to my surprise – evidently, I’ve been away from home for far too long) and polling by Ashcroft in the constituency gives the SNP a solid enough 9% lead.
Going next door to East Dunbartonshire, there’s a very interesting battle on the go. This was one of the Lib Dems only two seats in the Central Belt in 2010, and with Jo Swinson being a sitting government minister, they’re pulling out all the stops to hold this one. Looking at the 2010 result, with the collapse of the Lib Dem vote nationally, this seat should have been easy pickings for Labour – especially given the SNP came a rather distant fourth with around 10%. Ashcroft polling has shown that not only is Jo Swinson likely to lose the seat, but the SNP could leap from fourth place to victory, whilst Labour slump to 16%.
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk is looking like the most interesting seat in Scotland. The Borders is generally one of the least SNP inclined parts of Scotland, winning only 9% last time – and you can see that in 2010 the Coalition parties hoovered up nearly 80% of the vote between them. Again, with the expected collapse in Lib Dem votes and neither of the other two parties typically being in contention here, the Tories might have expected an easy win. Instead, Ashcroft is predicting an extremely tight three way competition – the differences here are, in polling terms, statistically insignificant, so this seat really could go any way. Should the SNP just snatch it, expect some bitter fighting between the Coalition parties over which of them was to blame – and a lot of celebration from the SNP over unseating Michael Moore, the former Secretary of State for Scotland that negotiated the referendum.
Another distinctly interesting southern seat, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweedale is the only sea the Tories have held in Scotland in the past two elections. Depending on the results in the two seats to either side of it, David Mundell could either find himself with a couple of new allies at Westminster or bear the indignity of seeing Scotland return two Tories to Westminster this time round – neither of which are he. Ashcroft has this as a tight race, with the SNP just ahead – up from only 11% last time around. The result may come down to whether Labour voters decide to vote tactically, and what they value more – do they want an SNP MP, who will help prop up a Labour government, or do they want a pro-Union MP, even if that happens to be a Tory?
The last of our southern seats, Dumfries and Galloway has the distinction of actually having been held by the SNP at some point – or rather, they won an earlier version of it in 1997, fading to 12% by 2010. The Tories then won it in 2001, only to lose the current version of it to Labour in 2005. (Personal aside; I get the feeling this is a distinctly Galwegian muddle, if my grandfather is anything to go by – a staunch Tory and pro-Union chap from the Isle of Whithorn, who counted amongst his friends a folk duo he would always request to play a very pro-indy song!) As you might expect, that means all three parties are in with a shout this election – though it’s nowhere near as close as Berwickshire, with Labour bringing up the rear on 28%. Although the SNP have a relatively comfortable lead of 4%, the Tories are making a big deal of being the only party that can stop the SNP.
Heading right up to the other end of the country, Orkney and Shetland has long been a bastion of the Lib Dems – since 1830 (when Wikipedia records start showing party affiliation), the Lib Dems or one of their predecessor parties have held this seat for all but 17 years. In 2010, the other three main parties lagged far behind and clustered about each other – Labour actually won 10.7% to the SNP’s 10.6% and the Tories 10.5%. If the SNP were to win this seat, it would truly be the death knell for the Lib Dems in Scotland. Although no polling has been done in the seat, I think it’s pretty likely that Alistair Carmichael, the current Secretary of State for Scotland, will hold on – though he may find himself being the David Mundell figure of this parliament, the sole Scottish representative of his party. Nonetheless, keep an eye on it – if the Northern Isles go yellow, I’m pretty sure that the apocalypse won’t be far behind.
Another one of the Lib Dems long-time bastions, held by former (and quite popular) leader Charles Kennedy. I’ve been saying for months that the Lib Dems would hold two seats in Scotland, this being the other one – but Ashcroft polling suggests I may have been somewhat optimistic. The SNP (who were only two votes behind Labour in 2010 – my table doesn’t quite capture how close run latter places can be) look set to do something almost unheard of in recent years – unseat a former leader of a major political party. Generally speaking, former party leaders either gracefully resign before the next general election, or serve out a few more terms as a backbencher – they certainly don’t get unceremoniously turfed out by the electorate! If they don’t hold this seat, then they are likely to be driven from mainland Scotland just like they were in 2011 – a truly dire result for a party once so popular in large parts of the country.Glasgow has long been a Labour stronghold – they easily won all 7 seats in 2010, with a city-wide vote share of around 55%. In only one constituency, Glasgow North, did they not win more than 50% of the vote, thanks to a strong challenge by the Lib Dems. In the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections, the SNP took 5 of the 8 seats within the Glasgow City Council area, a possibility almost no one had countenanced beforehand. Likewise, Glasgow was another one of the Yes areas in the referendum. Polling by Ashcroft suggests the SNP are on track to win 6 seats this time round, leaving Labour with only Willie Bain in Glasgow North East. Glasgow is definitely a city to watch – the loss of much of their strength in the city would be nothing short of a catastrophe for Labour, but they may yet hold on to a couple more seats than expected. Keep an eye on the Greens, too – we won’t win any seats, but we’re standing in every seat here for the first time.
Edinburgh is likely to be even more interesting than Glasgow. Although Labour had a significantly smaller share of the city-wide vote here, and won only 4 of the 5 seats (the Lib Dems won the other), the SNP were a distant fourth in 2010, managing a rather poor 12% – behind the Tories 20%. Edinburgh also voted quite emphatically No in September. In 2011 though, the SNP took 5 of the 6 Edinburgh seats in the Scottish Parliament. In this election, the rather finer political balance in Edinburgh is likely to work in the SNP’s favour – with the Lib Dems collapsing, the Tories stagnating and Labour struggling to hold on, the SNP could well expect to win all the seats in Edinburgh on slightly less of the vote than they are likely to achieve elsewhere in the country. Only 3 of the seats here have been polled, and all have the SNP ahead – one by a slender margin indeed. Again, the Greens are worth a watch here – our national target seat is Edinburgh East, where realistically we’ll be wanting to see a vote share above 10%.
It’s easy to look at Wales and assume parallels with Scotland, due to the presence of a nationalist party and a devolved legislature. The two are very different, however, with Plaid Cymru never coming anywhere near the heights of the SNP, though they certainly can’t be ignored – although coming a somewhat distant fourth in votes in 2010, they were joint third with the Lib Dems, each winning 3 seats. Wales is looking set to see a minimal amount of change this time – Plaid and the Tories are polling roughly where they were in 2010 and Labour are up only marginally. The Lib Dems have, of course, seen their support evaporate – but the big beneficiaries of the churn in voting intention in Wales have been UKIP and the Greens, though that’s not going to translate into seats for either.
Although the other two Lib Dem seats in Wales are almost dead-certs to go to the Tories and Labour, Ceredigion is looking like a bigger ask. Although Lib Dem support has dropped dramatically nationally, with Plaid stuck roughly where they were last time, it seems likely that the Lib Dems could hold this one – and the absence of a constituency poll doesn’t help predictions. However, national voting intention figures always disguise more dramatic local results. If Plaid have been running a good local ground campaign, bolstered by the assured performance of their leader Leanne Wood on the leaders debates (Leanne ranked low on UK wide polls of the debates, sure, but she only needs Welsh support) they could well just take this seat, which may bring them back to their former total of 4. I’ll fully admit to a bit of optimism in assigning this one directly to Plaid in the above graphic – I’m pretty much 50:50 on which way it will go.
The results in England are set to be somewhat messy in this election – UKIP and the Greens are far more potent forces than in Scotland and even though the electoral system means they are unlikely to win many seats themselves, they could have an indirect result on who wins in a number of seats. Movement between Labour and the Tories is likely to be minimal this time around, as both parties stagnate in the polls – both will be seeking a share of Lib Dem seats, whilst the Lib Dems will be hoping that incumbency will preserve more of those seats than national polling would suggest.
In 2010, this was the only seat the Green Party of England and Wales won, giving them the first elected Green MP in the UK, Caroline Lucas (not the first elected Green Parliamentarian – the Scottish Green Party’s MSP Robin Harper, in the 1999 Scottish Parliament, was the very first to be elected to any parliament here – just saying!) They also took minority control of the council in Brighton and Hove, which has been causing the local Greens no end of grief. Fortunately, according Ashcroft it looks like Caroline herself has enough support to comfortably hold the seat – and, indeed, they’ve been throwing everything they have at holding it. Even us Scots have gotten involved, sending a bus load of Scottish Young Greens down a few weeks ago!
Norwich South is one of the Greens main targets this election – I believe that in 2010, the 15% they managed here made it their second best result. They’ll be hoping to add a second MP to join Caroline Lucas – the polling above suggests that’s unlikely, but unlike the other Ashcroft polls I’ve been referencing, this one dates all the way back to June last year. Since then, we’ve witnessed the so-called “Green Surge”, so I wouldn’t write off Lesley Grahame’s chances just yet – a seat currently held by a Lib Dem with a large student population is fertile ground for the Greens. Even if they don’t win this time, they will be in an extremely strong position to do so come 2020.
Bristol West is another Lib Dem seat with a lot of students the Greens will be seeking to take this time. Interestingly, in 2010, they barely registered – only managing 3.8% of the vote. Locally, they’ve been making a big deal out of the fact they actually won the popular vote across the council wards within the constituency at the last local elections, and it seems that plus a targeted campaign has been working wonders for them, catapulting them into a rather incredible 25%. This poll is hot off the press, being released only today, and we see the Greens in a fantastic position to make an attempt on the seat come 2020 – unfortunately, it seems it may just be out of their reach this time around, with Labour’s 13% lead likely to be too hard to close.
Last time, Thurrock was a tight race between Tory and Labour, but UKIP managed 7.4%, one of their better results. They’ve been working hard at the constituency since then, and another Ashcroft poll out today gives them a reasonably sound lead of 4% over Labour, themselves only 1% ahead of the Tories. By all accounts, if UKIP are to win seats in this election (and everyone expects they will), then this shall be one of them.
Rochester and Strood is really quite an odd one. The comparison above is with 2010 results, to keep it in line with everything else, but this is one of the two seats where the sitting Tory MP defected to UKIP, resigned and forced a by-election, which they subsequently won. Yet another Ashcroft poll out today has them slipping behind the Tories – I wouldn’t count Mark Reckless out, as UKIP are likely to throw significant amounts into keeping this one, but the voters may have decided that the poke in the eye they delivered to the Tories last year was quite enough.
This is the other seat that UKIP pinched in by-elections last year, and by all accounts this is the one they are more likely to hold. Frustratingly, there haven’t been any polls in the constituency in the run up to the General Election, so there’s not much we can use to back up the conclusion – short of the fact that Douglas Carswell held this seat in the by-election with a much greater share of the vote than Mark Reckless did in his, so it’d take a lot more people returning to the Tories to keep him out.
This is without a doubt the seat that the media will be watching this time, as it’s where Nigel Farage is standing. This one has been hit with a string of constituency polls recently, none of them by Ashcroft – what is shown above is the most recent. Another poll a month before that one by another agency had the Tories ahead on 31%, UKIP on 30% and Labour on 29%, suggesting a three way marginal then. Unfortunately, it seems since then that UKIP have dug in here, and Farage looks likely to be elected. The previous Tory MP Laura Sandys was, by my understanding, both popular and effective, but chose not to stand again this time. With Farage vowing to stand down if he doesn’t win the seat, the stakes are high – should he win, expect Labour and the Tories to be at each others throats over who let him in, since both are running “keep Farage out” campaigns.
Northern Ireland is always a slightly forgotten part of UK elections – with unique local parties and electing only 18 of the 650 MPs across the UK, it has little bearing on the politics in the rest of the UK. This election is running so close, however, that it could well offer the keys to government to either party. Of the UK parties, only UKIP (who don’t offer much the DUP don’t already) and the Conservatives (who don’t offer much the UUP don’t already) stand here, but are unlikely to have much impact on the results.
Belfast East gave us one of the big surprises of the 2010 General Election (at least, for observers outside of NI) – the Democratic Unionist Party’s Peter Robinson, First Minister of Northern Ireland, unseated by the Alliance (a “cross-community” party) candidate Naomi Long, giving them their first elected MP. At the time, Robinson was caught up in a political scandal involving his wife, which no doubt helped the Alliance along. This time, the only poll Wikipedia had for the constituency put the DUP ahead – and since then, the UUP have pulled out to give the DUP a clear run at it, so it’s looking like the Alliance’s time in the UK parliment may be brief.
In 2010, Fermanagh and South Tyrone was the closest result in the whole of the UK – a mere 4 votes between Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew and an independent Unionist candidate, Rodney Connor. Neither the DUP nor the UUP stood last time, giving him a clear run at it – with the result being so close, he challenged it in court, but with only three ballots being unaccounted for, it was dismissed and the result held. This time, it’s the UUP who are the sole Unionist candidate – last time around saw the SDLP lose a lot of votes to SF, so I would assume SF are running with a similar “you have to vote for us to keep the Unionist candidate out” plea to SDLP voters. I wouldn’t put money on this result, but I’m calling it for Sinn Fein.