During the election this column put a spotlight on what the pollsters, commentators, and activists were predicting about the state of the election in Scotland and Wales.
On polling day itself, I highlighted the divisions between YouGov’s MRP model, which was playing an enormous role in shaping coverage of the election (mine included), and alternative sources.
A week on, we’re now in a position to take a look at the actual results and consider what it means for the Party – and the nation.
Welsh Conservatives pull it off
Let’s start with the good news. The Welsh Tories had a great night, picking up six seats – which is exactly the number we reported from local sources back at the start of the campaign.
The party picked up Bridgend, Delyn, Clwyd South, Vale of Clwyd, Wrexham, and Ynys Môn (Anglesey), as well as regaining Brecon & Radnorshire, which the Party lost to the Liberal Democrats in a by-election earlier this year. That last is significant because it opens up the possibility of wiping out the Lib Dems’ last Assembly seat in the near future.
Boris Johnson has thus matched Margaret Thatcher’s haul of 14 Welsh seats – and with room for growth. The Tories came within 1,000 votes of winning in both Alyn & Deeside and Newport West, and within 2,000 in Gower, Newport East, and Plaid-held Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.
The results also highlight how, as in England, the nature of the Conservative coalition is changing. The Party is now second-placed in a a huge swath of Labour-held valleys seats and Plaid-held western seats, and is actually competitive somewhere like Torfaen, which in the Eighties returned Labour majorities of almost 20,000. If they can successfully woo those voters who went to the Brexit Party this time – and that is not guaranteed – there is a chance that the Conservatives could actually be competitive in parts of Welsh Labour’s remaining heartlands.
Meanwhile the Iron Lady’s 1983 landslide saw three Tories returned for Cardiff, whereas Johnson’s party went backwards in Cardiff North, the only seat in the city it has won in recent times. A weakness in urban seats is another thing the Welsh Party now shares with its English counterpart.
Overall the results were a vindication of the optimistic portrait painted by Professor Roger Awan-Scully’s ‘Welsh Political Barometer’ survey, who has written that a “quiet Tory revolution” is underway in the Principality.
Scottish Tories overtaken
Now the bad news. It was obviously an disappointing night for the Scottish Conservatives, who ended up losing seven of their 13 seats to fall to just six.
These confirm that the Party’s modern heartlands are much the same as in their previous period of strength. They retained all three Borders seats (Dumfries & Galloway; Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale; and Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk), thus sparing the blushes of Alister Jack, the current Scottish Secretary, and his predecessor, David Mundell.
Otherwise the remaining retentions were all in the North East of Scotland, with the Party holding on to Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine, Banff & Buchan; and Moray, although it lost Gordon and Aberdeen South.
Unlike Wales, this is a vindication of YouGov’s MRP model, which ended up forecasting the Tories to hold eight seats in Scotland.
The question I posed in last week’s column is whether, or how, this could be right despite the overwhelming impression on the ground that the Scottish Conservatives had the wind in their sails. In the event the results squared the circle: there were actually swings to the Tories in almost every seat. Looking at a national map of Con-Lab swings one might expect a strong Conservative result north of the border.
What happened is the the SNP took in even more overs, overtaking the Conservatives even where the latter improved their performance. This was abetted by the collapse of Scottish Labour (YouGov actually forecast something like a recovery in its final model), who retained only a single seat.
I noted after YouGov’s first MRP poll that it appeared to be showing a lack of unionist tactical voting in Scotland, and so it proved. Perhaps because of Brexit, Labour and Lib Dem voters did not prove willing to transfer to the Conservatives in sufficient numbers – and it may be that they actually backed the SNP on the basis of their pro-Remain campaign.
Meanwhile even Tory voters, surely the most likely to vote tactically against the Nationalists, largely refused to do so. Whilst they rowed in behind the Lib Dems in North East Fife, helping to take it off the SNP, they refused to back Jo Swinson, who lost East Dunbartonshire by a couple of hundred votes whilst the Conservative candidate took more than 7,000.
Debate has already started on what this means for the Union. With a majority government its important not to overstate things – people expected the SNP to dominate the 2015 Parliament, but prior to the Brexit referendum they were a bit of a non-factor as the Government had the votes it needed to govern. Likewise, there is little evidence that the Nationalists’ Westminster showing signals a breakthrough for the cause of independence cause.
Strategically the Prime Minister does hvae some decisions to make – as our editor pointed out this morning when he called for a ‘Department for the Union‘. He will also come under pressure to abandon the Conservatives’ hard-line stance against granting another independence referendum, although as I have written previously there is a very strong practical and moral case for such a moratorium.
But there are also a couple of positive notes. First, the fact the Tories held their ground even in the absence of tactical voting suggests their voters might be well on the way to becoming actual Conservative voters, as opposed to borrowed pro-UK voters. Second, with Johnson harking back to a pre-Thatcherite approach to public spending his Government could end up closing the alleged “values gap” which has for so long served as one of the justifications for devolution and independence.