The upcoming General Election will be the least predictable in recent memory. The two main UK parties are currently polling neck and neck and face a battle against historic trends. For the Conservatives, no ruling party has increased its share of the popular vote following a full term in office since the 1950s. On the Labour side, no opposition has ever won while trailing in the polls on both leadership and economic management. All this is also before you consider the rise in popularity of the SNP in Scotland, and UKIP more widely.
If the most recent polling is taken at face value, it suggests that the SNP maintain a 20+ point lead over Labour. According to Ipsos Mori, the SNP are polling at 52% with Labour at 24%. For comparison, in 2010, Labour recorded 42% of the vote, while the SNP were on 20%. If Ipsos Mori’s results were repeated on May 7th and a universal swing was applied, then the SNP would have 55 seats in Scotland, while Labour would be reduced to just 4 MPs.
However, the notion of a universal swing of this magnitude should be discounted given each seat has its own idiosyncrasies. Nevertheless there is a real possibility that the outcome of the General Election being decided in Scotland. A large increase in SNP MPs could cost Labour an overall majority, thus increasing the possibility of a weak minority government and a second election.
For the past couple of decades Scottish voting patterns at General Elections were a foregone conclusion. Current polling suggests that this is no longer the case. Therefore, what should the parties realistically expect in terms of Scottish seats come May 8th?
The SNP are undoubtedly riding a wave of popularity. However, the question is whether this wave is large enough to realistically deliver anywhere near the 52 seats projected in the media. To achieve that level of representation, the SNP would require too overturn a whole host of majorities sitting in the +10,000s and overcome some entrenched and popular sitting MPs. Undoubtedly, the SNP will significantly reduce a number of these sitting majorities, particularly in the West, but it is highly unlikely that it will be enough to dislodge the majority of sitting MPs.
It is also worth remembering that the SNPs 2011 Holyrood majority was largely built upon the collapse of the Lib Dem vote in Scotland. One of the unknowns is whether this block of former Liberal Democrat voters will continue to benefit the SNP, as per 2011, or break for Labour and even the Tories.
To be fair, despite the election talk of gaining a majority of MPs in May, the SNP themselves will be targeting somewhere closer to a final total of 20, including current seats. Likely wins include Gordon, Dundee West and Argyll and Bute.
Despite recent polling, Labour is quietly confident that they will retain the majority of their seats. To an extent this is because they are cushioned from the current surge in support for the SNP by the electoral system and also the size of some of their sitting majorities. Where Labour is most at risk in May, the second largest party tends to be the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats.
May’s General Election is also not all about a holding exercise for the Party. Labour is likely to win East Dunbartonshire from the Lib Dems and will be looking at retaking Falkirk following Erik Joyce leaving parliament.
With the SNP and Labour moving Leftwards, the Tories are sensing an opportunity to build upon their sole seat north of the border. Having been wiped out in 1997 and struggling to make inroads ever since, the Tories are hoping that Scots, particularly in rural communities, are sufficiently spooked by the leftward march of the SNP to “come home” and vote Tory. With this in mind, the Tories have their eyes on the current Lib Dem seats of West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine and North East Fife. More likely, however, the party will increase their representation by one, by taking Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk from Michael Moore MP and the Lib Dems.
The Party continue to struggle to recover from the electoral blow delivered as a result of entering into a Coalition with the Tories. Since 2010 the Party has haemorrhaged support to a level that saw them lose all their mainland constituency seats in 2011. In reality, the majority of Lib Dem seats are under threat from one side or the other. Whereas in previous elections the party has been able to focus on potentially increasing their representation, this time around it will be very much a defensive exercise.