Featured, Features | 22nd April 2015

Election 2015: These are the 13 Scottish seats the SNP could struggle to win

The SNP aren’t going to win every seat in Scotland. Will they win more than 50? We return to a perennial question.

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On Friday we suggested the SNP could win every seat in Scotland. Michael Ashcroft’s third round of Scottish polls showed the SNP far ahead in the seats of Labour leader Jim Murphy and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, and outperforming Lib Dems like Jo Swinson and Charles Kennedy, despite the local popularity of these MPs.

It’s true that there is almost no seat in Scotland where the SNP are not competitive (apart from perhaps Orkney and Shetland, whatever national polls imply). Yet it is improbable that they will win all 59 of Scotland’s seats.

Our forecast – based on both Ashcroft’s polls and many Scotland-wide surveys – has projected 54-56 SNP wins since early February. But there are as many as thirteen seats the SNP could fail to win; it’s still plausible the party wins fewer than 50 seats.

50 seats is now the benchmark for the SNP.

50 is now the benchmark (the SNP won 6 in 2010). That’s the mean and median estimate of the five forecasts we track on May2015. And the bookies now expect 50-51 SNP victories, eight more than they were predicting this time last week (for money market apostles, the bookies have spent recent months catching up to polling-based projections like ours on the SNP, not the other way around).

To work out which dozen or so seats are still in play, we have cross-referenced the bookies’ odds with Ashcroft’s polls, Scotland-wide polls and Election Forecast’s probabilities of an SNP victory for each seat. We have split them into four groups.

The first 40 SNP gains

This analysis starts by giving the SNP 40 seats, on top of the 6 they won in 2010. So we start with 46. This seems reasonable: Election Forecast, despite discounting the SNP’s current poll standing, give the SNP at least a 75 per cent chance of winning in 44 seats; the bookies give them at least a 70 per chance of winning in 45 seats.

This analysis starts by giving the SNP 40 new seats.

There are a few notable seats that haven’t quite made our list of thirteen – places like Ayshire Central, East Lothian and Edinburgh West. EF and the bookies think these seats have something like a one-in-three chance of these sticking with Labour (the first two) or Lib Dems (Edinburgh West, a four-way marginal), but we feel fairly confident handing them to the SNP.

Two other newsworthy seats haven’t even made our list of possible Labour holds: Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath and Paisley & Renfrewshire South. Ashcroft’s polls have put the SNP fairly far ahead in both, and Forecast and Ladbrokes both give each at least a two-in-three chance of turning SNP.

They could both be being misled by errant polls, but Ashcroft’s results fit with what national polls suggest, and Election Forecast’s model is also powered by private polling data that drills down into specific seats.

Two fairly likely SNP gains

  • Dunbartonshire East (Lib Dem-held)
  • Glenrothes (Labour)

Ashcroft put the SNP ahead by 11 in Dunbartonshire East this month, although the Lib Dems’ private poll – which names candidates rather than just alluding to them, and appears to help locally popular Lib Dem MPs – put them ahead by 2.

Glenrothes will be one of the first Scottish seats to report, at 2am.

EF and the bookies, who are largely reliant on public data, give the SNP a more than 70 per cent chance of winning the seat, and give Labour less than a 40 per cent shot in Glenrothes, which Ashcroft hasn’t polled. Neither the Lib Dems or Labour are fielding complacent campaigns in these seats; both are clearly in play. If these seats resist separatism the SNP could fall short of 50 seats.

Glenrothes will be one of the first Scottish seats to report, at 2am. Scottish seats will shape the first important hour of election night, from 2-3 (aside from the exit poll at 10pm). Kirkcaldy, Fife North East, East Kilbride and Lanark & Hamilton East will declare along with Glenrothes (and Rutherglen, see below). They will be the early test of whether the exit poll is right, and guide us as to whether the SNP are going to have a great night.

Four Labour seats where the SNP are slight favourites

  • Renfrewshire East (all Labour-held)
  • Edinburgh South
  • Paisley and Renfrewshire North
  • Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Election Forecast thinks Labour will lose all these seats by 1-2 points, or, in the case of Coatbridge, will tie but still probably fall short (they are forecasting a 44-44 result but give the SNP a 54 per cent chance of winning).

Ashcroft has polled three of these seats. He showed Labour within 3 – within the margin of error – in Edinburgh South and Coatbridge, but down 9 in Renfrewshire East, Jim Murphy’s seat. There is hope in Labour that Murphy can ‘squeeze’ the Tory vote – which is around 25 per cent – and catch up with the SNP by May 7, but two-thirds of Tories ruled out voting Labour when asked by Ashcroft.

No story would be more damning on election night than Murphy’s defeat.

If Murphy was to squeeze the other third he would, at best, tie with the SNP (if we take Ashcroft’s poll as perfectly accurate, which we shouldn’t). But Labour are sure to pour resources into the seat. No story would be more emblematic and damning on election night than Murphy’s defeat.

Ashcroft hasn’t polled Paisley and Renfrewshire North, but national polls imply that Labour trail there by 4 points; the seat looks more competitive than Douglas Alexander’s to the south.

Both the bookies and EF give the SNP a 51-65 per cent in these four seats. They are favourites, but Labour could clearly hold onto some of these. These are the seats which might determine whether the SNP win more than 50 seats. All four are expected to declare between 3-4am.

The four most closely fought seats

  • Dumfries and Galloway (Labour-held but a Tory and SNP target)
  • Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Labour-held)
  • Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (Tory-held; their sole 2010 seat)
  • Dunfermline and West Fife (Labour-held)

These seem to be the most contested seats in Scotland. They could also be the most critical after election night. If the Tories can win Dumfries and hold Dumfriesshire, that hands Cameron two seats we currently think will help Ed Miliband into Number Ten (SNP wins only help one party after May 7).

Ashcroft showed the Tories within four of the SNP, and two ahead of Labour, in Dumfries in February. Electoral Forecast adjust this to predict Dumfries will turn blue by one point in May. Ashcroft also showed a two-point race in Dumfriesshire (SNP lead) last week, having shown a tie recently.

Dumfries and Dumfriesshire are critical seats which could affect who becomes PM.

If Labour can’t win in Dumfries they have two more chances at having more than a sole Scottish MP after May 7, in Rutherglen and in Dunfermline. National polls imply Labour will lose the latter and hold the former (which is therefore what May2015 predicts), while Election Forecast thinks the SNP’s chances are twice as good in the former.

But EF don’t actually the SNP will win in either of these seats. The bookies think both are essentially 50:50. We should get an (relatively) early idea of what’s happening at 2am, when Rutherglen declares, and find out at 4am whether the Tories have won Dumfries and Dumfriesshire.

By then we should also know whether winning these two seats will give the Tories more Scottish seats than Labour. (We took a look at whether this might happen last month.)

Three seats where the SNP are likely to fall short

  • Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Lib Dem-held; a three-way marginal between them, the Tories and SNP)
  • Glasgow North East (Labour-held)
  • Orkney and Shetland (Lib Dem-held)

These are the three seats we do not expect the SNP to win. Jo Grimond led the Liberals while representing Orkney & Shetland, which he won in 1950 and his party has held ever since.

In Berwickshire the Lib Dems are being challenged by the SNP and Tories.

In 2010 Alistair Carmichael, Scotland’s secretary of state, won over 63 per cent of the Islands’ voters. The other three main parties won 10 per cent each. (Our model gives the SNP this seat by 0.05 percentage points because that’s what national polls imply, but we’re adjusting this.)

Ashcroft put Labour ahead by 7 in Glasgow North East during his first batch of Scottish polls – the only seat out of 16 where he didn’t put the SNP ahead. Willie Bain – a fairly anonymous 42-year old who was a constitutional lawyer before becoming an MP – could be the party’s sole Scottish MP after election day.

Berwickshire is interesting. It is being defended by the Lib Dems’ Michael Moore, Carmichael’s predecessor as Scottish secretary, but he is being challenged by both the SNP and Tories. We predict the seat to turn Tory by a point; Election Forecast agree – they think there’s a 60 per cent chance this happens. Berwickshire could give the Tories a third Scottish seat. (We aren’t likely to find out until 04.30am.)