- There are 59 Scottish constituencies in Parliament. Until dissolution the SNP held 54, ex-SNP MPs under police investigation held two, and the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and Labour one apiece.
- Whilst there are those in the ‘Scottish bubble’ who think the Nationalists are playing for a clean sweep, most commentators accept that this will be a defensive election for the SNP as they try to fend of challenges by the Lib Dems and a resurgent Conservative Party. We’ve still listed their three remaining targets below.
- For the Scottish Conservatives this could be a breakthrough – the first contest since 1992 in which they were real contenders in a range of seats. According to some quite extraordinary polling over the weekend they could be in line to end up with eight seats or even twelve. That’s very likely optimistic – local sources tip seven as a realistic estimate – but they’ve a broad range of possible targets.
- The Lib Dems could also have a good election here. Their range of targets is narrower than the Tories’, but they’re well-placed to be the unionist challenger in several seats and are very likely to end up with more MPs than Labour north of the border.
- At present, there’s little sign that Labour have any plausible attack targets in Scotland at all. Their focus will be on holding on in Edinburgh South, where Ian Murray, the Shadow Scottish Secretary, will likely benefit from unionist tactical voting. Only in East Lothian, where they held on in 2016’s Holyrood elections, are they seen as having any hope of a gain.
Welcome back to our series on the election battlegrounds! As in 2015, we’ll be taking a region-by-region look at the seats which could change hands and offering our suggested lists of target seats for each party.
These lists aren’t predictions of gains: rather, they’re just seats which we think could be competitive. They might be official party targets, have a small majority, or be subject to other factors which could leave them open to change.
Amongst the resources we’ll be using to steer us through these murky waters are Electoral Calculus, UK Polling Report, Number Cruncher Politics, and Election Polling, whilst all Leave vote share estimations are from Chris Hanretty’s very helpful constituency-by-constituency charts. We’re also keeping an eye on the work of many other pollsters, psephologists, and analysts, some of whom our assistant editor has collated onto a Twitter list.
For Scotland in particular, we’ll also be looking at last year’s elections to the Scottish Parliament and how each seat’s area voted in the independence referendum in 2014. A possible Conservative revival is the big story here and according to John Curtis they’re basically wooing No/Leave voters (as this site predicted they might), so it’s a key variable.
Battleground Rating: 7/10
Targets by party:
(NB These are our own suggestions of potential attack seats for each party – including those officially designated as targets and others where the incumbent has a relatively small majority, or local factors are at play which may open the seat to change.)
Aberdeen South: This seat previously gave John Major a fillip when the Conservatives unexpectedly gained it in 1992, and now Ross Thomson MSP will be hoping to follow in Raymond Robinson’s footsteps. He has some reasons for optimism: Aberdeen City voted heavily No in 2014 and one voter in three is estimated to have voted Leave – and whilst the Conservatives were third-placed here in 2015 Thomson himself put on an eye-popping 19.4 points to run the Nationalists close in the 2016 Scottish elections. Electoral Calculus predicts a Conservative gain with just under 50 per cent probability.
Angus: Up until 2015 this was one of the Tories’ better Scottish prospects: in 2005 they cut the SNP majority to just 1,601 and 2010 Alberto Costa, now MP for South Leicestershire, held it to a respectable 3,282. Yet now it’s a long shot, with Nationalist incumbent Mike Weir enjoying a majority of over 11,000. However, the area went 56 per cent No, 48 per cent Leave (est.), and both the Holyrood constituencies recorded double-digit rises in the Tory vote. There aren’t enough 2015 unionist party votes to unseat the SNP, however, to the Conservatives will need to woo pro-Leave and anti-independence SNP voters. Electoral Calculus gives them only a one-in-three chance of pulling it off. (So crucial is Brexit to some of these North Eastern seats that SNP MPs are signing a fishing pledge that would prevent Scotland re-entering the EU.)
Banff & Buchan: Formerly home to Sir Albert McQuarrie, the Tory known as the ‘Buchan Bulldog’, this was another seat where the Conservatives were running close until 2015, when Nationalist incumbent Dr Eilidh Whiteford raised her majority from just over 4,000 to more than 14,300. Yet Hanretty’s estimates put this seat as having gone very heavily Leave (61 per cent!), although it apparently voted for independence in 2014. Both Scottish Parliament seats overlapping Banff & Buchan saw rises in the Conservative share of 14 and 15 points, but Electoral Calculus put their odds this time at just one-in-four.
Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk: So important is this seat to the Conservative plan of attack in Scotland that the candidate, John Lamont MSP, has announced that he’ll stand down from the Scottish Parliament after the local elections to fight it full-time. He’ll be feeling optimistic, for he fell short of Nationalist incumbent Calum Kerr by just 328 votes in 2015. The constituency is also estimated to have gone 43 per cent Leave (relatively high for Scotland) and the Borders area went 67 per cent No in 2014. Electoral Calculus were predicting a Conservative gain here even before the weekend’s eye-popping polling, and now put Lamont’s odds at 77 per cent.
Dumfries & Galloway: This actually had the honour of being ‘the Tory seat’ in 2001, and although the Party lost it in 2005 it’s remained a Conservative target. Last year the SNP capitalised on Labour’s collapse to secure a majority of more than 6,500, but with a very substantial third-placed Labour vote to squeeze the Tories must be optimistic in an area that went 66 per cent ‘No’ and 45 per cent Leave (est.). This was the other seat tipped to go Tory even before their recent polling position was known, and Electual Calculus gives them a 59 per cent chance of picking it up.
East Renfrewshire: Once, when this was Eastwood, they weighed the Conservative vote in this constituency. Jim Murphy picked it up in 1997 and held it by winning over ex-Tory voters, until he in turn was swept away in the Nationalist tsunami in 2015. Jackson Carlaw won the Scottish Parliament constituency back for the Tories in one of the shock results of the 2016 Holyrood elections, which must put wind in his party’s sails, and the area voted heavily against independence (although even more heavily, by estimate, against Brexit). Electoral Calculus tips this as a Conservative gain with a 44 per cent probability of victory, against 40 per cent for the SNP.
Edinburgh South West: This seat was created from two previous seats: Edinburgh Pentlands, which was Tory until 1997 and whose Holyrood equivalent is almost Tory now; and Edinburgh Central, which was Tory until 1987 and whose Holyrood shadow is now home to none other than Ruth Davidson herself. Combined with the Scottish Conservatives’ rise in the polls and Edinburgh’s strong No vote in 2014 and the SNP’s Joanna Cherry should have a fight on her hands, although with only an estimated 28 per cent Leave vote the Tories may have only a limited pool of potential switchers. Another where Electoral Calculus tip a Conservative gain with their headline but narrowly prefer the SNP with their odds.
Moray: Angus Robertson, the Scottish Nationalist leader in the House of Commons, would be a very high-profile scalp for the Tories. In a seat that went 58 per cent No and 50 per cent Leave (est.) it’s not out of the question, especially given that in 2016 they cut the SNP majority in the Holyrood seat from almost 11,000 to less than 3,000. Electoral Calculus headlines this as a Tory gain, although their odds still marginally favour an SNP hold.
Perth & North Perthshire: Another perenniel Conservative target, this seat is currently held by Pete Wishart, another high-profile SNP MP. There are some good signs for the Tories here: in 2016 they slashed the SNP majority in the heavily-overlapping Holyrood constituency of Perthshire North from over 10,000 to just 3,336, despite it being held by John Swinney, the Scottish Government’s Finance Minister. The area also voted 60 per cent No in 2014 and 40 per cent Leave (est.) last year. Electoral Calculus narrowly tips an SNP hold, but on Uniform National Swing (UNS) either of the weekend’s Scottish polls would put the Tories over the top. A further boon to the Conservative campaign will be the candidate: Ian Duncan is the sitting Scottish Conservative MEP and enjoys both strong local roots and a high profile.
Ochil & South Perthshire: This is another long shot: the Tory vote has been slowly growing here over the last few electinons, but it would take an heroic effort to take them from third place to first even with Labour’s vote collapsing. It does sit on a strongly anti-independence area and, like neighbouring North Perthshire, is estimated to have a 40 per cent Leave vote – and in the Holyrood elections the overlapping Perthshire South and Kinross-shire constituency saw the SNP majority slashed from over 7,000 to under 1,400. However, Electoral Calculus predicts an SNP hold with only a four-in-ten chance of the Tories ousting Tasmina Ahmed-Shiekh.
West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine: This is another one of that handful of seats which have been Conservative targets for a long time without ever quite getting over the line. Until 2015 the party was chasing the Lib Dems, but now they need to overcome a Nationalist majority of over 7,000. The area was strongly No in 2014 and is estimated to have gone 39 per cent Leave; moreover the Tories advanced strongly in all three Holyrood seats that overlap with it and actually won West Aberdeenshire, which nobody expected before the night. This seat goes blue on either of the swings suggested by the weekend’s polling and Electoral Calculus tips a six-in-ten chance of a Tory gain.
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross: Lib Dem or SDP since the mid-1980s, John Thurso lost this in 2015 by the relatively narrow margin of less than 4,000 votes. They rebounded somewhat in the 2016 Scottish elections, putting on 8.8 points and bringing the SNP’s majority down from over 7,500 to under 4,000. Unfortunately for the Lib Dems the latest Scottish polling doesn’t see them gaining it this time, and although they’ll almost certainly hold second place Electoral Calculus thinks the Conservatives will improve their position the most – and with the area only have gone 53 per cent No in 2014, there’s limited scope for a gain with the pro-Union vote thus divided. One further boon however will be that the Nationalist incumbent, Paul Monaghan, is apparently not a popular figure on the constituency.
East Dunbartonshire: Although we can’t find much evidence of life in the Scottish Parliament results, this is tipped as one of the Lib Dems most likely gains north of the border. Jo Swinson, former minister in the Coalition, is standing to recapture her seat from the SNP’s John Nicolson (who, along with Pete Wishart, was one of the MPs accused of pressuring STV to drop Stephen Daisley). This is the sixth-most marginal Lib Dem target in the country, and both Electoral Calculus and one of the weekend’s polls suggest it is within their reach – especially as Nicolson is apparently an unpopular incumbent.
Edinburgh West: This is another seat that one of this weekend’s polls suggests could fall to the Lib Dems. The SNP will have no incumbency advantage because their MP, Michelle Thomson, was suspended after coming under investigation for mortgage fraud and hasn’t been reselected. Even better for the Lib Dems is that Alex Cole-Hamilton, the MSP who won the heavily-overlapping Holyrood constituency of Edinburgh Western in 2016, is chairing their general election campaign in Scotland. Electoral Calculus predicts an SNP hold, again on the back of a strong Conservative showing – persuading unionist voters to engage in tactical voting (and for the right party) looks to be key to Lib Dem chances here.
Gordon: A very long shot indeed, but Alex Salmond’s seat has been tipped as one to keep half-an-eye on by some involved in the Scottish campaign. The former First Minister’s majority may be almost 8,700, but the Lib Dems still managed to secure over 19,000 votes in an election which was both at the nadir of the party’s fortunes and when fielding an apparently less-than-stellar candidate. There are also almost 7,000 Conservative, almost 3,500 Labour, and over 1,000 UKIP votes in 2015, so there’s plenty of scope for a rallying to the pro-Union candidate in pursuit of this biggest of scalps. However, in the Scottish elections a year later the same Lib Dem candidate came third behind the Tories in the most contiguous seat, so it may be that the unionist torch has already been passed here.
North East Fife: One of the great high points of the 2016 elections for pro-Union voters was watching Willie Rennie, the rather excellent leader of the Lib Dems in Scotland, wrest this seat’s Holyrood equivalent back from the SNP with a hefty 15.4 per cent swing. At Westminster they’re facing a Nationalist majority of 4,344, but there are more than enough Conservative and Labour votes to put the Lib Dems over the top if they can once again make a successful appeal for tactical votes. Again Electoral Calculus is pessimistic, predicting that the Lib Dems will (just) beat the Tories into second but that the latter have better odds of actually winning. Cole-Hamilton will be hoping that they simply haven’t built tactical voting into their model, because this must be one of his party’s best prospects – although they’ll apparently be hindered by the fact that Stephen Gethins, the incumbent, is apparently of much higher calibre than Nicolson and Monaghan.
Scottish National Party:
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale: David Mundell held on by just under 800 votes here in 2015, and there’s excited talk in nationalist circles that the pro-separation Greens (2015 vote: 839) may stand aside to give the SNP a clear run. Yet if it comes down to the constitutional split there are almost 7,700 Labour votes, 1,500 UKIP votes, and 1,400 Lib Dem votes which could break in favour of the Scottish Secretary. The Tories also did very well here in the 2016 Scottish elections (winning all Border constituencies), the region is one of the most unionist in Scotland, and it’s estimated that the seat went 45 per cent Leave. Mundell is probably safe.
Edinburgh South: Labour’s last seat in Scotland. It still feels weird to type it, but it’s true and so this is an existential defence for the fallen giant of Scottish politics. Ian Murray has apparently been working the seat very hard, and may well benefit from tactical votes by Conservative supporters (predictors which don’t account for tactical voting sometimes suggest the Tories might win here, which seems unlikely). This is the one seat which sources suggest the Nationalists have a good chance of taking: apparently zero is a realistic prospect for Scottish Labour in June (the others being ‘one’ and ‘two’, see below). Electoral Calculus predicts a Conservative gain, but no Tory sources are talking about it and ‘unionist hold’ seems a more realistic way to read that prediction.
Orkney & Shetland: This seat has been Liberal or Liberal Democrat, and by four-figure majorities, since 1950 – until 2015 when the former Coalition Scottish Secretary held on by just 817 votes. Having been embroiled in a scandal over leaked comments allegedly made by the First Minister Alistair Carmichael then had to fend of an attempt to overturn his election in the courts. Damaging as all that was it seems unlikely that it will have turned voters more off him now than at the last election, and in the two Holyrood constituencies parallel to this the Liberal Democrats put in huge majorities in the 2016 Scottish election. Electoral Calculus (and just about everybody else) predict a Lib Dem hold.
East Lothian: There’s one reason this seat is being talked about: in the 2016 Scottish elections Iain Gray, the former Scottish Labour leader who took the party into its shock defeat at the 2011 elections, managed to fend off the SNP to make this one of just three Labour constituency seats won in that election. Their odds of unseating George Kerevan, a high-profile Nationalist, are… not great. Electoral Calculus actually tip the Tories to do it, which nobody close to the action does. Might that suggest, once tactical voting is considered, that unionist votes might put Labour over the top? It’s possible: East Lothian voted against independence by 60 per cent, the SNP majority is just over 6,800, and the third-placed Conservatives took more than 11,500 votes in 2015. Nobody seems to be talking about Labour making any gains at all in June but if they do, this could be where it happens.