Friday, 26 May 2017

My analysis of recent local by-elections

'A week is a long time in politics.' -Harold Wilson, UK Prime Minister (Labour) from 1964-70 and again from 1974-76.

The results of what will be the last local by-elections in the UK until the 2017 general election (some by-elections will take place on the same day) were as follows:

King's Lynn & West Norfolk DC, Fairstead: Labour 254 (44.0%, +4.4%), Conservative 189 (32.8%, +4.4%), UKIP 68 (11.6%, -20.2%), Liberal Democrats 66 (11.4%).

South Derbyshire, Woodville: Con 613 (46.3%, +11.9%), Lab 510 (38.5%, +5.4%), UKIP 118 (8.9%, -14.8%), Lib Dem 82 (6.2%, -2.5%).

Enfield LBC, Enfield Lock: Lab 2155 (63.8%, +12.7%), Con 973 (28.8%, +13.3%), Green 104 (3.1%, -6.4%), UKIP 91 (2.7%, -15.0%), Lib Dem 54 (1.6%).

Stockton-On-Tees UA, Newtown: Lab 483 (52.5%, -2.4%), Con 201 (21.8%, +6.3%), No Description 193 (21.0%), Lib Dem 43 (4.7%).

Southend-on-Sea UA, Shoeburyness: Independent 886 (37.1%, +16.2%), Con 830 (34.8%, +10.7%), Lab 381 (16.0%, +6.6%), UKIP 121 (5.1%, -7.2%), Lib Dem 119 (5.0%, +3.0%), Green 48 (2.0%, -0.3%).

(The Conservatives also won a by-election from an Independent in Richmondshire, where they were unopposed.)

As expected, UKIP is fast collapsing locally as it is nationally. What is also occurring is a major squeeze by Labour and the Conservatives against all other parties, including the Greens and Liberal Democrats. Although opinion polls are often unreliable (except for exit polls, and even those are not exactly right), there is no doubt that a strong trend favouring both the Conservatives and Labour, with a squeeze of other parties, is continuing and is unlikely to stop before the polling day, which we are now only 13 days away from.

The Liberal Democrats are failing to make a real recovery and the Greens are struggling to make further headway nationally, which does not bode well for any capture of Bristol West (let alone Sheffield Central, Oxford East etc.) this year. These Labour 'surges' are more likely to attract Remain voters than Leave voters, even though most Labour MPs accepted the triggering of Article 50; however, it is clear that a significant minority of UKIP voters are heading towards Labour again. This will not however be enough to prevent substantial Conservative gains; it is well worth noting that in 1979, the Labour vote share did not drop significantly, and sometimes increased slightly, in some of the seats they lost to the Conservatives due to tactical voting from the Liberals (not to mention a few ex-National Front voters swayed by Margaret Thatcher's stances).

A lot can change in 13 days, though-keep watching, and remember to vote on the day.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

On constituencies with 'added flavourings'

Mostly within British elections, independents and minor parties (those without enough candidates to get a Party Political Broadcast and which do not feature in national opinion polls anywhere in the UK) are not in contention at all and are lucky if they can get the 5% of the votes cast needed to get their £500 deposit returned. This includes MPs who have left their party and try to hold their seats as Independents (they almost always fail):

These constituencies provide notable exceptions to this rule, though:

Bradford East: David Ward, whose own campaigning in the predecessor seat, Bradford North, was responsible for his (i.e. the Liberal Democrats') gain of Bradford East in 2010 in the first place (he lost it in 2015 but his vote shared only decreased by 4.2%, far less than the Conservatives' vote share did). He was sacked for anti-Semitic comments shortly after reselection and is now an Independent candidate, which will in any event cause the Liberal Democrat vote to plummet in this constituency, given his personal vote: Prediction: Labour will almost certainly hold; David Ward might save his deposit but he is unlikely to be able to have enough of an impact.

Bradford West: Bradford West is notable for not conforming to national trends in general elections. Bradford West has many fascinating psephological markers: recording a pro-Labour swing in 1979; one of only 2 constituencies to record a pro-Conservative swing in 1997 (the other being Bethnal Green & Bow), the first constituency where the Green Party beat the Liberal Democrats (they did so in 2001, and except for of course Brighton Pavilion they did not manage this until the 2015 general election; in 2005 it was one of only a handful of constituencies where the Green vote fell noticeably), one of only a few constituencies with a pro-Labour swing away from the Conservatives in 2010, and the only one where Conservative voters may have tactically voted for Labour (to oust George Galloway) in 2015 after he spectacularly returned to Parliament via the 2012 by-election. This time, Salma Yaqoob, formerly George Galloway's right-hand woman in the now defunct Respect Party, is standing as an Independent even though her previous contests have only been in Birmingham, where she was a councillor for some years. Prediction: The odds are in Labour's favour but Salma is not without chances given that she will be the most likely recipient of George Galloway's old votes, and the Conservatives will bounce back significantly in this seat. Her personal vote and profile is comparatively high as well, although despite having a better reputation than 'Gorgeous George' she is not quite as good a campaigner.

Bethnal Green & Bow/Poplar & Limehouse: Both prominent Independent candidates (Ajmal Masroor is ex-Liberal Democrat and Oliur Rahman is ex-Respect) standing in the two constituencies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets belong to the controversial 'Rahmanite' faction of Independent councillors (formerly Tower Hamlets First until this party was deregistered by the Electoral Commission following former Mayor Lutfur Rahman being convicted of electoral fraud and malpractice). Recent local by-election results in Tower Hamlets show that they still attract significant support within Tower Hamlets, and both can cause considerable damage to Labour's vote. Prediction: Labour will likely hold both but both these Independents are likely to come a strong second, if they can rally round their supporters, mainly located in the Bangladeshi communities of these two seats. The majority of ex-Respect votes went to Labour in 2015 but both Independent candidates will divert those votes to their tally.

South West Surrey: Dr Marie-Louise Irvine (known as Louise Irvine) did well last time (8.5%) against Jeremy Hunt, widely regarded as the worst Health Secretary in the history of the NHS, back in 2015, especially when the leader of the SW Surrey Liberal Democrats branch called on people to vote for her after the Lib Dems' candidate, Patrick Haveron, was suspended for forging signatures on nomination papers. This time, the Green Party (who saved their deposit in this seat in 2015, with 5.4%) are backing her for this election and so are many others (including notably three Labour activists who were subsequently expelled for asking the Labour Party to stand down to support Dr Irvine). Prediction: A likely Conservative hold-neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats have stood down to endorse Dr Irvine and their vote can only be squeezed so far, and as with Surrey in general the core Conservative vote is very high indeed. However, given Jeremy Hunt's bad reputation, and the fact this seat has been marginal before, a (narrow) win for Dr Irvine is not out of the question.

Preseli Pembrokeshire: Chris Overton is standing again over the uncertain future of Withybush General Hospital in Haverfordwest, located in this constituency. He achieved 9.2% of the vote in 2015, damaging both the Labour and the Conservative votes in the process. In the context of Brexit and Theresa May's agenda the NHS is under more of a threat than ever, so on this basis Chris stands to do better particularly since no Green candidate is standing in this constituency this year. Prediction: Stephen Crabb will likely hold on due to Labour's woes in Wales, although how strongly the people of Preseli Pembrokeshire care about the issue currently will have a significant impact.

Fylde: The anti-fracking Independent who stood last time, Mike Hill, is not standing again even though the fracking issue in Lancashire has gotten much worse since 2015, and nor is UKIP. This should boost the Conservatives but the anti-fracking votes will likely go en masse to the Greens, who vehemently oppose fracking for environmental reasons as well as for community rights reasons. Prediction: A Conservative hold here is a foregone conclusion, as per usual-Fylde is the safest Conservative seat in Lancashire and one of the safest in the country. However, the Greens could challenge them in future.

Rochdale: Simon Danczuk, who was suspended from the Labour Party and then resigned after Labour refused to allow him to run under their banner this year, is standing as an Independent. Rochdale's psephological history is rather interesting, particularly because it is one of the few seats that have changed hands between Labour and the Liberal Democrats more than once in recent memory, and also because it has attracted a wide variety of political 'characters' of various sorts (not just Liberals). Prediction: Labour will certainly hold-like Michael Hancock (Portsmouth South's ex-Lib Dem MP who was the subject of allegations of a similar type to those levied against Simon Danczuk) he will lose almost all personal support he once attracted, particularly with his past and present marital problems, and the Lib Dems are in no position to win this constituency back.

Shipley: Sophie Walker, Women's Equality Party leader, is standing here and is being backed by the Green Party (who have a stronger than average following in Shipley) so that paleoconservative Philip Davies can be ousted (he has a history of sexism, as well as filibustering many Private Members Bills just because he personally does not like them). However, Sophie has never lived in Shipley and Philip is a rather assiduous backbencher. Prediction: Philip will sail home-Shipley can only be lost by the Conservatives in their worst years, UKIP is not standing, and Sophie will likely not be well received.

Skipton & Ripon: The Liberal Democrats are standing down to help the Greens in return for the Greens standing down for them in Harrogate & Knaresborough, even though the Lib Dems are not in a position to win Harrogate & Knaresborough at present and Skipton & Ripon is a very safe Conservative seat by any standards. Prediction: Easy Conservative hold-the Green strength in Skipton & Ripon is rather high but the core Conservative vote in Skipton & Ripon is simply too strong, especially since UKIP are not standing in Skipton & Ripon either.

Wyre Forest: For the first time since 1997, Dr Richard Taylor, who was MP for this seat from 2001-2010, will not be a candidate, and even in his last contest he attracted as much as 14.6% of the vote (nonetheless coming a poor fourth). This leaves the question of how well it can be captured by the major parties contesting this seat. Prediction: Conservative hold as per usual-Wyre Forest fka Kidderminster is generally safely Conservative but in the long-term whoever captures the majority of votes previously acquired by Richard Taylor will be in a better position to challenge the Conservatives in future.

East Devon: One of only a handful of seats which an Independent can win, and in this case it is Claire Wright, a high-profile figure in East Devon who as an Independent achieved 24% of the vote against Conservative MP Hugo Swire, who is not well regarded by any means. She is being backed by the Greens just as she was in 2015. The impressive performance of her fellow Independents in recent East Devon local elections and by-elections will give her more momentum than before. Prediction: One to watch-UKIP has not stood down in this seat and the East Devon Alliance commands a lot of local respect.

Ashfield: The Ashfield Independents won every one of the five county council seats they contested in Nottinghamshire County Council's election earlier this month, and they have commanded considerable support before. Even though their candidate, Gail Turner, is not one of these councillors, Labour is losing its footing in seats just like Ashfield where Independent groups are fast taking root. With UKIP a busted flush, and Gloria de Piero nearly having been defeated before, can they pull it off from a standing start? Prediction: Like Ashfield this is one to keep an eye on-the considerable UKIP vote can benefit the Ashfield Independents as many UKIP voters in 2015 were protest voters against the two largest parties, and ex-UKIP voters have been shown to be favourable to independent candidates at local level in many places. Ashfield is not as safely Labour as it used to be either.






Tuesday, 16 May 2017

On recent German Landtag elections: Schulz takes a shunting

Recently, two Landtag elections were held in Germany, those of Schleswig-Holstein and Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia), two key battleground states in Germany, which has its Bundestag election in September this year.

Both results dealt a critical blow to SPD (Social Democratic Party) lead candidate for the Bundestag, Martin Schulz, the former leader of the S&D group in the European Parliament, who was closing the gap on CDU (Christian Democratic Union) Chancellor Angela Merkel after he was selected by the SPD. In Schleswig-Holstein, the SPD only lost one of their seats and their coalition partners the Greens did not lose any, but this was enough for the CDU to take the lead, meaning that Daniel Gunther will likely replace Torsten Albig as Minister-President of Schleswig Holstein, particularly since the Free Democrats (FDP) gained three extra seats compared to 2012. CDU-FDP coalitions have occurred many times at Landtag and Federal level in Germany, the most famous examples being from 1982-98 when the FDP allowed Helmut Kohl of the CDU to retain the Chancellorship for 16 years, and when they supported Angela Merkel during her second term as Chancellor, only to pay a heavy price when they lost every single Landtag seat in 2013. Although the CDU and FDP only have 34 seats between them (37 are needed for a majority in the Schleswig-Holstein Landtag), this could be enough for them to govern in practice. Alternative fur Deutschland made another Landtag entrance, but they only managed 5.9% and 5 seats, which is typical of the fact that the sheen is fast coming off AfD especially westwards of Berlin, and following key defeats hard-right nationalist populism is going out of vogue in continental Europe. AfD is however still taking considerable numbers of votes from CDU, SPD, and Linke voters in particular, which can partly explain why Die Linke (The Left) failed to re-enter the Schleswig-Holstein Landtag, with their vote share only increasing to 3.8%. The South Schleswig Voters' association retained its 4 seats; as it is representing the Danish minority it is exempt from the usual Funf-Prozent Threshold for elections to either the Landtag or Bundestag; it nevertheless lost a quarter of its 2012 votes due to its participation in Herr Albig's coalition, which was frowned upon by voters to say the least. The Pirates, as expected, were thoroughly rejected from yet another Landtag, dropping to a mere 1.2% of the vote.

The North Rhine-Westphalia Landtag election, in one of the key battleground areas in any Bundestag election (cf. West Midlands in the United Kingdom), was even more startling in this respect, as once popular Minister-President Hannelore Kraft saw her SPD-Green coalition crashing to a heavy defeat. The SPD lost 30 of their 99 seats, and crucially lost pole position to the CDU, led in this state by Armin Luschet. The second Kraft administration has not fared well here, particularly in the wake of the refugee crisis and major deficit trimming (rather hypocritical since Frau Kraft has been critical of Frau Merkel's austerity policies in the past), and the Greens' popularity on a federal level, as well as a state level, has declined somewhat since 2013. This, combined with a dislike of Sylvia Lohrmann's policies as Education Minister, culminated in them losing over half their seats in the North Rhine-Westphalia Landtag, compounded by the fact that the number of seats in the Landtag itself was reduced from 237 to 199 (this is 18 more than in 2010, however; this state, the largest in Germany by area, experiences notable population flux). The FDP, meanwhile, experienced another revival by increasing their seat total by 6 to 28 and taking third place in the Landtag; the timing was better for them since in 2012 their support had not declined as sharply as in 2013, meaning they were able to work from a more substantial base in North Rhine-Westphalia, which has some notable areas of core FDP support, like former West German capital Bonn. This is in fact the best ever FDP result achieved in the modern history of North Rhine-Westphalia. Given that there are many key industrial heartlands in this state, you would expect the AfD to do well, but they only achieved 7.4% and 16 seats, only 2 more than the Greens and well behind the FDP. Their support in working-class areas probably contributed to Die Linke failing to re-enter the Landtag; they achieved 4.9%, another Landtag near-miss in recent history. The Pirates were ousted from this Landtag just 7 days after they lost all their seats in Schleswig-Holstein, meaning they no longer have any Landtag seats whatsoever-they have been well and truly firewalled out of political significance. It is likely that Herr Luschet will take over in this Landtag without delay, as the new combined total of the CDU and FDP (100 seats) is just enough to get a majority.

These two Landtag elections will provide a strong morale boost for Angela Merkel with the Bundestag election just over four months from now, even if the FDP's likely re-entry into the Bundestag will cost the CDU/CSU some seats. At Wahlkreis level, ).many key marginal single member constituencies are located in North Rhine-Westphalia, and the CDU already struck a significant blow to the SPD in that respect in 2013. Many key inner-city Wahlkreis held by the SPD are now more vulnerable than ever, which is reminiscent of the situation that will transpire in the UK next month (exacerbated by the UK's total lack of proportional representation at a parliamentary level).




Friday, 12 May 2017

My five questions about the 2017 general election and other thoughts

With nominations for the 2017 general election having closed yesterday afternoon, it is clear that the surprise general election turned up with fewer candidates as a result. Due to 'Progressive Alliances' and 'Regressive Alliances', many seats have ended up with only 3 candidates (from Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats) for the first time in 12 years or more, and many constituencies have no Green or UKIP candidate (not many have both a Green candidate and a UKIP candidate either, in addition to the major parties above). The Liberal Democrats are also not standing in Skipton & Ripon or Brighton Pavilion, in endorsement of the Green Party candidates there. The total number of candidates in this election is 3,301, down more than 1000 from the last general election.

Unsurprisingly, the Prime Minister's constituency, Maidenhead, attracted the most candidates, with 13 on the ballot, whereas Islington North, held by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, attracted 10. Tim Farron's constituency of Westmorland & Lonsdale saw only 4 candidates coming forward. Unlike in 2015 there are far fewer constituencies with double-figure candidate totals on the ballot paper, and most have no more than 5.

Will a Progressive Alliance have any real impact in constituencies where it appears to be taking place?

In general, the answer is no. The Conservative polling lead is simply too high for the Progressive Alliance to work, and in any case UKIP is bolting on to the same tactic of standing down to help the Conservatives, in many cases within the same seats such 'Progressive Alliance' arrangements are taking place e.g. Wells, Twickenham, and Lewes. In many competitive seats, the Conservative and UKIP votes combined are greater than the combined votes of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party; even if one party withdrew and endorsed another many of that party's voters still will not vote for that other party for a variety of reasons. A large proportion of UKIP voters will switch back to the Conservatives, but not all of them. There are also fewer UKIP candidates than there are Conservatives, and not just in London either, and many Green voters will still not vote Labour or Liberal Democrat given the recent history and actions of those parties in power.

Polls have shown the combined Conservative and UKIP vote among respondent to be at least 52% in the weeks leading up to this campaign, whilst the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green votes combined generally hover around 42% at most. In any case, Labour has not stood down anywhere, even in constituencies where they and in fact expelled three activists in the South West Surrey (fka Farnham) constituency, currently represented by infamously bad Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, when they suggested Labour stand down for Dr. Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/south-west-surrey-labour-party-louise-irvine-steve-williams-kate-townsend-jeremy-hunt-general-a7725446.html  As has been shown in the past, there are limits to which votes can be squeezed of any of those three parties. With UKIP no longer having any real purpose now that Britain is on course to leave the EU, its vote will be squeezed tighter than a top-notch accordion, even in constituencies where it once had a good chance of winning.

In any case, the seat gains the Conservatives manage from Labour this year will more than counteract any vote transfers these specific deals might provide. The mathematics just does not add up for the idea at present in a majority of constituencies.

Recent news has shown Jeremy Corbyn and Labour closing the gap on the Conservatives. Can the gap be closed enough to prevent a Conservative victory?

Almost certainly not-the gap between the opposition and government (whichever way around it is) generally closes around election time anyway, but there are limits, especially since many voters already decide who to vote for many weeks before polling day itself. In 1979, the Liberals were languishing on 7-8% on average, and could only close the gap to hit a 13.5% vote share (down 4.5% on October 1974), especially since the Rinkagate affair, as well as the Lib-Lab pact, were fresh in voters' minds. Many fiscal Liberals would have tactically switched to the Conservatives in marginal seats anyway due to Margaret Thatcher's economic mantra, and that is exactly what they did. The outcome is often effectively set many months before the election is called; a late Green surge in 2014 could only in 2015 increase the Green vote share in the UK by 2.9% despite many more candidates (including myself in Hemel Hempstead that year) to vote for than in 2010. The UKIP vote shift to the Conservatives will also overtake Labour with ease, even though Labour's vote is likely to remain rather stable at approximately 30%, also accounting for a further decline in Scotland and a significant drop in Wales.

Which seats will be the key barometers of this election, even though a Conservative landslide appears certain?

The Conservatives are likely to make significant gains in Wales and could even overtake Labour in terms of seats won. The key battleground area is Clwyd, where four Labour seats are particularly vulnerable to the Conservatives, and elsewhere Bridgend and Newport West are key targets. Former mining and industrial areas particularly in the Midlands are now within the sights of the Conservatives for the first time in more than 80 years. North East Derbyshire and Newcastle-under-Lyme are near-certain Conservative gains this year, but Mansfield within the East Midlands, Birmingham Erdington in the West Midlands, Bishop Auckland in County Durham, and Alyn & Deeside in Flintshire are key barometers to indicate how large the Conservative victory will be. The swings required in each seat seem considerable but UKIP votes in all of them can potentially provide a Conservative gain of all four and many similar seats besides: https://greensocialistalan.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/2017-general-election-which-long-held.html

Conservative seats within the firing line of the Liberal Democrats (the Isle of Wight is in the Green Party's sights) still include prosperous seats in the south such as Eastbourne and Lewes, and suburban southwest London seats like Twickenham and Kingston & Surbiton. Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, and Oxfordshire can also spring a surprise or two for the Liberal Democrats in heavily pro-Remain areas.

To what extent will the Brexit issue affect the election result?

Handling of Brexit will be one of the biggest issues of this election, if not the biggest, even though many Remain voters do not want a second referendum but rather a dampening of the Brexit blow where Britain leaves the EU but remains in the European Single Market. Given that Britain is still very divided over the Brexit issue ('Bregretters' are becoming less prominent), the issue will produce some rather interesting results. Pro-Remain MPs in Leave-voting constituencies*, and Pro-Leave MPs in Remain-voting constituencies*, may be in for a rude awakening.

With more Green Party candidates than UKIP candidates, and regionalist parties like the Yorkshire Party fielding more candidates, are we veering towards Canadian-style politics?

In a way, yes, but without the large swings that typify Canadian elections as opposed to British ones. The Green Party will likely reassert itself as at least the fourth party in British politics, as it was for some years until Euroscepticism and hostility towards the EU, and associated issues, achieved greater media coverage and indented themselves into the public consciousness. Some UKIP votes in 2015 were protest voters who may switch to the Greens, or any party that is neither Conservative nor Labour, and possibly to meritable Independent candidates.

Other notable things about this election....

The Christian Peoples' Alliance is standing its highest ever number of candidates at this general election-31. In England, the CPA and the Yorkshire Party, with 21 candidates, are the only parties other than the largest five (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and UKIP) to stand more than 10 candidates this year. Due to the timing of this election, only 31 MPs are retiring, although Simon Danczuk is standing as an Independent after Labour did not re-admit him, and David Ward is an Independent candidate in his former seat of Bradford East after the Liberal Democrats sacked him over anti-Semitic remarks. In next-door Bradford West, ex-Respect** frontwoman Salma Yaqoob is making a play for it even though she lives in Birmingham and built up her political profile there. Claire Wright now stands a better chance of winning East Devon as an Independent than she did in 2015, but former Independent Health Concern MP Richard Taylor (now 82) will not be trying to regain Wyre Forest. Newcomers in political party terms include the Women's Equality Party with 7 candidates, and the Friends Party with 3 candidates.

In minor candidate news, David Bishop of the Buss-Pass Elvis Party returns to this election having not stood anywhere in the 2015 election, but perennial Wessex advocate Colin Bex does not feature among candidates this year, although the Wessex Regionalists have a candidate by the name of Jim Gunter in Devizes, Wiltshire.

*Constituencies that are estimated to have voted Remain or voted Leave based on estimates for Remain/Leave results by ward; exact ward results are not available.

**The Respect Party dissolved in 2016.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Meanwhile, across the Channel and the Atlantic...

Three days ago, the second round of France's momentous 2017 Presidential election ended, with centrist Emmanuel Macron of the En Marche! movement defeating Front National's Marine Le Pen by the wide margin of 66.1% to 33.9% (although this is not as wide as the margin by which Jacques Chirac defeated Marine's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, back in 2002). Marine Le Pen finished ahead in only two departments, which unsurprisingly were in the north of France; one covered the key port of Calais.

Like in 2002, the second round was a foregone conclusion, as voters rallied round to stop the extremist Mme. Le Pen from winning, and it succeeded. However, M. Macron's desire to 'reform' the French economy sparked protests the same day he was confirmed as winner of the said French Presidential election; M. Macron is a former banker and in league with wealthy elites in practice, and therefore is not as 'progressive' as some have imagined.

Two days later, the Canadian province of British Columbia, the only Canadian province to have a Pacific coastline, held its general election which became a tight race between the NDP, Liberals, and Greens. In the end, the Liberals emerged victorious but their vote share was less than 1% greater than the NDP's. The Green Party did make a breakthrough, winning 3 seats, a record in Canadian provincial elections thus far, but because of FPTP their excellent vote share of 16.75% did not translate into as many seats as they hoped for (there are 87 seats in the British Columbian Assembly). This historic high, which was achieved even though the Green Party of British Columbia did not field a full slate (four provincial ridings had no Green candidate, which were Peace River North, Peace River South, Skeena, and Stikine) will nevertheless boost morale in other provinces, and lead to the Canadian Greens having their own surge in the same way the NDP once had. Only a few seats changed hands and the competitiveness of the election dampened the vote swings considerably, but the Liberal government lost enough seats for the Greens to have the balance of power; the Liberals have 43 seats, the NDP have 41, and the Greens now have 3. This should lead to British Columbia taking stronger action on environmental measures, especially given the biodiversity of the Gulf Islands and other nearby islands.



Monday, 8 May 2017

My analysis of 2017 United Kingdom local elections, part 3: Scotland, Wales, and the overall picture

Scottish and Welsh local elections proved to be a very interesting story for local elections this year, and this is the first time in many years that Scottish, Welsh, and English local elections have been held on the same day-4 May 2017.

The SNP underperformed despite still being the dominant force in Scotland-they lost control of both Angus and Dundee councils and failed to gain overall control of any council, even Glasgow. In fact, despite a pro-unionist Conservative surge, not a single Scottish council is under single-party control anywhere. The SNP overall lost 7 seats, as their gains from Labour were counteracted by losses to the Conservatives and Independents (and sometimes the Greens), especially in rural areas where effectively only the SNP and the Conservatives are in play. However, the SNP gained largest party status in Glasgow, Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire, Fife, Falkirk, West Dunbartonshire, West Lothian, Aberdeen, and by just one seat, Edinburgh (which I initially predicted would have the Conservatives as the largest party). The Conservatives managed to push Labour into third place in terms of overall seats, and decisively relegate them to being the third party in Scotland. However, the only councils they managed to gain largest party status on were Aberdeenshire, Dumfries & Galloway, East Renfrewshire, and Perth & Kinross (where ironically they had previously given the SNP support on the council); this will nevertheless be enough to put them in striking distance of key SNP seats, as will their hold of the Scottish Borders Council.

Labour meanwhile continued their poor run and long decline in Scotland. Only three Scottish councils now have Labour as the largest party: East Lothian, Inverclyde, and Midlothian, and in several councils they fell from first to third place in seat numbers (e.g. Edinburgh). Single Transferable Vote, which all Scottish councils use, generally punishes bad performances severely, but for Labour this was mainly confined to councils where they had an outright majority; their heaviest losses were in Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, and South Lanarkshire, which are strictly SNP v Labour contests in practice despite the proportional element of the STV system. The Liberal Democrats' recovery was limited, but occurred in wards covering the few constituencies they have a chance of recapturing in June, notably Edinburgh West and East Dunbartonshire. The Scottish Greens had a very good night overall, winning 5 extra seats nationally, and winning their first seats in Highland, Orkney, and two extra seats apiece in the cities of Edinburgh & Glasgow, concentrated in the central areas mainly of these two cities. However, they lost their only seat in Midlothian at the same time. Outside of the main parties, only Independents achieved any representation and all minor parties (e.g. the Libertarian Party and TUSC) came nowhere near achieving any council seats. These Scottish elections saw the first uncontested ward under STV-South Kintyre in Argyll & Bute where all 3 candidates were elected unopposed.

Wales did not fare as badly for Labour as many predicted. Labour lost control of  Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil to Independents but crucially lost Bridgend to no overall control (they lost 13 seats, the Conservatives gained 10) and over half their seats in Wrexham. However, they retained control of Cardiff council, countering losses to the Conservatives with gains from the Liberal Democrats, which effectively erases any chance of the Lib Dems recapturing Cardiff Central this year. They also managed to make a net gain of three seats in Flintshire, a key battleground for this year's general election. The Conservatives only gained overall control of Monmouthshire, where they were already the largest party, and failed to gain overall control of the tightly contested Vale of Glamorgan council, but they did gain largest party status in Denbighshire, also a key battleground between the Conservatives and Labour in Wales. Plaid Cymru also did not gain any councils directly from Labour (but certainly gained many seats from them in key Lab vs. PC contests such as Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf), made no further headway in Ceredigion, and fell two seats short of winning overall control of Carmarthenshire; only Gwynedd is under Plaid's control but they did achieve largest party status in Ynys Mon. Plaid Cymru did however gain their first two seats in Powys, despite its poor levels of support for Plaid generally (they have never even saved their deposit in Brecon & Radnorshire and have not done much better in Montgomeryshire either), and overtook the Liberal Democrats in Bridgend and Wrexham. It bodes well for making gains from Labour in Ynys Mon, and possibly Llanelli as well. The Liberal Democrats generally fared worse than in 2012, except in Powys and Ceredigion. The Green Party made their first gain in a council in Wales in years, gaining Llangor in Powys and only narrowly missing out on extra seats in Llandridod within the same council. Powys was also the only area where Independent councillors and candidates, who generally made substantial gains in Wales overall, fared badly-the number of Independent councillors in Powys fell from 48 to 30.

The overall picture of these elections must be seen from the fact that the Conservatives made considerable gains despite being in government with a small majority, and only lost a few seats, mainly to the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. UKIP's collapse also aided many Conservative gains from Labour even though the Labour vote share remained reasonably stable in many counties. With only one month to go before the general election, a landslide Conservative majority of 100 or more seats reminiscent of the Thatcher era is now a foregone conclusion, and no 'progressive alliance' can prevent this in the current circumstances, especially when UKIP is fielding fewer candidates and endorsing some Conservative MPs.



Sunday, 7 May 2017

My analysis of 2017 local elections in the UK, part 2-Metro Mayors

The Metropolitan Mayoral elections also showed up some surprising results, particularly in areas thought favourable for Labour, alongside low turnouts. This is not surprising given Britain's general dislike of US-style mayoral systems, and the amount of taxpayers' money being used to fund these positions.

The West Midlands Mayoral election proved to be a critical blow to Labour, since Andy Street of the Conservatives narrowly defeated MEP Sion Simon.  However, he only did so by 6,021 votes in round one and 3,746 votes after 2nd preferences, a margin of less than 1%. The marginal boroughs of Dudley and Walsall, so often contested highly by both Labour and the Conservatives, proved to be decisive in Andy Street's win, as he won both by very substantial margins indeed. In another blow for UKIP, it was the Liberal Democrats who finished third instead of them, even though the only areas of Liberal Democrat support in the West Midlands conurbation are in Solihull and the Yardley area of Birmingham. UKIP saved their deposit despite losing so much of their vote in the tight race between Messrs. Street and Simon, which was particularly telling in the same marginal boroughs of Dudley and Walsall where they did comparatively very well in the 2015 general election. Despite his good campaign, the Green Party's James Burn only managed 4.7%, losing his deposit, although he did manage 3rd in Solihull within the context of the Mayoral election. As for Communist Graham Stevenson, he may have accidentally delivered a Conservative win, although Sion Simon's rather poor on the ground campaign bears greater responsibility for Labour's loss and despite the Communist Party of Britain advocating a vote for Labour in the upcoming general election, the few remaining Communist voters will likely just stay at home.

Another narrow but critical defeat for Labour came in the Tees Valley Mayoral election, which featured a turnout as low as 21.3%. Labour have not been performing well in the Tees Valley area recently if by-election results are anything to go by, and three marginal constituencies (Darlington, Stockton South, and Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland) lie within this area. Labour's loss is clear sign that Jeremy Corbyn's hardline socialist mantra is losing hold of voters far from metropolitan areas, and that UKIP's loss will mainly be the Conservatives' gain, even though UKIP once won over voters from both the Labour and Conservative camps (as well as protest voters from the Liberal Democrats whilst they were in coalition with the Conservatives).

The West of England Mayoral election was another surprising win for the Conservatives and a runner-up finish for Labour by just 4,377 votes, and was the most interesting contest of all by any accounts (except for UKIP, whose candidate, Aaron Foot, lost his deposit and was in no position to win this election given its make-up). Despite this, turnout did not even hit 30% when most county council elections at least touched that. This was one of only two Mayoral elections where the Green Party candidate saved their deposit (the other being Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, helped by Julie Howell's determination and excellent ground campaign), but Darren Hall still only finished fourth even though there is substantial support for the Green Party in Bristol and Bath in particular. Former MP Stephen Williams, meanwhile, despite good odds failed to achieve even second place for the Liberal Democrats, but a 20.2% vote share is nevertheless respectable in the circumstances. Independent John Savage, formerly a Labour candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner, did surprisingly well with 15%-more than half the Conservative vote.

As expected, both the Greater Manchester and Liverpool Regional Mayoral elections provided easy Labour victories, aided by the personal popularity of both candidates (Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Steve Rotheram in Liverpool). Andy Burnham carried the vast majority of wards in Greater Manchester, even in Trafford, the only safely Conservative borough in the whole of Greater Manchester, and also in Stockport, the south of which (i.e. Cheadle and Hazel Grove) has only ever been dominated by either the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives. In both cases, the Conservatives finished a distant second and the Liberal Democrats a distant third. Both Green Party candidates finished fourth and both lost their deposits, although only narrowly in Tom Crone's case. However, both of them received many more votes than UKIP, although nevertheless it is a clear sign that the Greens must do more to reach voters outside the cores of metropolitan areas (i.e. the cities of Liverpool and Manchester itself, where the Green vote was much higher than in the outlying areas of the respective conurbations) if they wish to win more seats and become a more credible force nationally. I have said it before and I will say it again: green politics is for everyone, wherever they are and whoever they are. In the context of Liverpool, TUSC's Roger Bannister lost his deposit but achieved respectable results in Knowsley and Liverpool, and also beat the Women's Equality Party's Tabitha Morton, who did not achieve notable results in any of the boroughs of that region. Britain has shown that it has little if any time for radical feminism of any kind which the WEP preaches in practice, and all the WEP have done in elections so far is detrimentally split the Green vote.

The Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Mayoral election, whose turnout was the highest at 32.9%, was the only one the Liberal Democrats finished second in, which is line with their revival in the villages surrounding Cambridge (and also the town of Huntingdon), and the city of Cambridge itself. The Conservatives won despite James Palmer getting off to a poor start, although UKIP's collapse certainly helped them no end. The Liberal Democrats were ahead on 2nd preferences but this proved not to be nearly enough for victory. This was Labour's only third place finished but Peterborough and Cambridge helped them make up for a real lack of support in the more rural areas and small towns of Cambridgeshire. Even though UKIP lost all of their county council seats in Cambridgeshire the very same day, UKIP's Paul Bullen still finished fourth with 8.0%, UKIP's best result in these Mayoral elections. Julie Howell's preparation and active presence helped her achieve the second best Green result in all the Metro Mayoral elections with 6.3%, showing that potential is high for the Greens in the majority of Cambridgeshire, even outside the city of Cambridge itself. Independent Paul Dawe only achieved 4.6%, losing his deposit, but caused considerable damage to the UKIP vote in the process.

Even though Mayoral elections of all kinds are dependent on personal popularity, tribal voting is very much a feature as well, especially in metropolitan areas. Whether this devolution experiment works for any area remains to be seen.







 




Saturday, 6 May 2017

My analysis of 2017 local elections in the UK, part 1: County council elections

'[UKIP}, you are the weakest link. Goodbye!'
-Anne Robinson back when she hosted the Weakest Link.

NB: The 'unitarised' county councils (i.e. Cornwall, Durham, Isle of Wight, Northumberland, Shropshire, and Wiltshire) are covered here as well.

Readers, the results of the 2017 county council (and unitarised county council) elections in Britain, just five weeks before the snap election, are finally here.

The biggest story of the night is how UKIP have been wiped off the map, losing every single seat even in their best counties of Essex, Kent, and Lincolnshire. In fact, UKIP lost every single one of their 147 county council seats, gaining only Padiham & Burnley West in return. The majority of UKIP's losses, and ex-UKIP votes, benefitted the Conservatives mainly at Labour's expense, but not all of them; however, it benefitted them where it mattered, such as in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and Warwickshire.

UKIP were wiped off the map in county council election terms for one main reason: with Britain on course to leave the EU, their raison d'etre has disappeared, because if Britain had never entered the EU, UKIP would never have existed in the first place. Also, without the charismatic Nigel Farage as their leader, combined with the infighting that has spread to UKIP nationally as well as in their local council groups, they have lost many of their former supporters and have effectively become a busted flush. UKIP's organisation had in fact been crumbling before the elections started, to the point where they fielded fewer candidates overall than the Green Party.

Meanwhile, how did the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Greens do?

Conservative: There is no denying the fact that UKIP's heavy loss was the Conservatives' heavy gain, since the situation was the other way round in 2013 when UKIP deprived the Conservatives of overall control of even its strongest, safest counties, such as Lincolnshire and Norfolk, which this year it has retaken control of. UKIP's collapse also helped the Conservatives win many county council seats from Labour, although not as many as in 2009.

Much of UKIP's vote was a protest vote rather than a genuine paleoconservative anti-European vote, although Theresa May's hard Brexit stance helped the Conservatives win most of it back. Many protest voters still went over to the Liberal Democrats (ironic given how pro-Remain the Lib Dems were and are) and the Green Party, who are likely to become a good recipient of protest voters in future just as in 1989.

The Conservatives did not do as well this year as they did in 2009, despite Labour polling just as badly then as now, and they even had some losses along the way. In my home county of Hertfordshire, they lost Haldens and only narrowly won the new division of Hatfield East, failing to win back either Hatfield South or Welwyn Garden City South. They captured Derbyshire from Labour and the county councils of Lincolnshire, Warwickshire, Lancashire, Cambridgeshire, East Sussex, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Gloucestershire from no overall control, but not Oxfordshire where in many divisions their vote actually fell in spite of UKIP never having had any real presence in Oxfordshire, mainly due to the unpopular 'One Oxfordshire' proposal, nor Nottinghamshire despite benefitting well from UKIP's collapse also and gaining several Labour seats as a result.

Labour: Labour did not make as many losses as expected-and their vote share, contrary to opinion polls for this snap general election, remained stable in most counties, and sometimes slightly increased compared to 2013. However, Labour made far more losses than gains, and many of these were in highly competitive areas like northern Warwickshire (North Warwickshire and Nuneaton), Derbyshire, Hastings, Stevenage, and Crawley. They also failed to benefit much from UKIP's collapse, particularly in Essex working-class bastions like Basildon and Harlow. Critically, not a single Labour gain from Conservative was recorded in these county council elections (they came closest to it in Worthing, however), worsening Labour's woes for the upcoming general election; Labour did however make a few gains from UKIP and the Liberal Democrats, and several from the Green Party. However, it must be noted that very few voters go directly from Labour to Conservative or vice versa, although personal votes or lack thereof can influence this in key marginal seats.

Labour's loss of Derbyshire to the Conservatives and of Nottinghamshire to No Overall Control (based on their initial 2013 results) as well as largest party status in Lancashire and Northumberland, are undoubtedly the biggest blows to it this year, although in Nottinghamshire the rise of Independent groups, specifically the Ashfield Independents and Mansfield Independent Forum, dealt a bigger blow to them than the Conservatives, and they did not lose any divisions contained in the Gedling constituency (a key target for the upcoming general election). Their only real consolation is that they have in many places more seats than they had in 2009, considered Labour's true nadir in county council election terms in the UK.

Liberal Democrats: The so-called Brexit 'bounce-back' was in fact confined to a few places and the Liberal Democrats suffered overall losses in the end. In Nottinghamshire where I now live, they were almost wiped out despite making a deal with the Greens in Broxtowe, holding on to only one division, that of Bramcote & Beeston North. It was mainly in Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, and Oxfordshire that they were able to make inroads against the Conservatives, and their gains from Labour were few as well. In their south west 'heartland', however, they lost enough seats in Cornwall to make the Conservatives the largest party there instead, slipped back heavily in Somerset (particularly in Frome and Taunton), and their results do not bode well for any recapture of Wells or Yeovil either (even though former MP Tessa Munt captured the Wells division), Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland, rural Dorset, and Wiltshire. However, they experienced a strong surge in East Sussex, winning most of the divisions in Lewes and Eastbourne, both of which were only won narrowly from the Liberal Democrats in the 2015 general election. Meanwhile, they easily held all their divisions in South Lakeland and North Norfolk, but they are not out of the woods yet by any means.

In a particularly notable hold, that of South Blyth, they deprived the Conservatives of overall control of Northumberland Council by a single vote, in that single seat. If you need proof that one vote can potentially make all the difference, this result is it.

The Liberal Democrats probably will make some gains from the Conservatives in the upcoming general election, but the number of gains from them is not likely to exceed single figures.

Green Party: The Green Party did indeed make many important gains and breakthroughs in these local elections, winning their first seat on the Isle of Wight, gaining two seats in Dorset and confirming themselves, and not Labour, as third party in Dorset, gaining their first two seats in Somerset and pushing both Lib Dem incumbents into third place in the process, one in Shropshire, an extra seat in Suffolk, and an extra one in Gloucestershire. Despite boundary changes and unfavourable circumstances, they also held onto their existing seats in Devon, Kent, Worcestershire, and Lancashire.

However, to counteract this, they sadly lost all their county council seats in Norwich and Oxford, following on from heavy city council losses in the same two cities to Labour last year, and their only seat in Cornwall, St Ives East, was captured by the Conservatives. They lost Rochford West in Essex as well due to UKIP's vote transferring easily to the Conservatives but held Witham North despite the same phenomenon occuring there as well. They also experienced many unfortunate near-misses, missing the Shropshire seats in Oswestry South and West by just 63 and 11 votes respectively, falling only 2-3% short of winning their first county council seats in East Sussex (the margins being just 62 and 107 votes in tight contests). They also failed to finish second in a single division of either Hertfordshire or Nottinghamshire (both places where I have campaigned and lived) despite the Green potential in both counties.

Independents and other parties: Most other parties fared very poorly in these elections. The Lincolnshire Independents lost all seats but the seat of Marianne Overton, to the benefit of the Conservatives in most cases, but in next-door Nottinghamshire both the Ashfield Independents and Mansfield Independent Forum had an excellent night. The Canvey Island Independents achieved the only gain from the Conservatives in the whole of Essex, but many other Residents' Associations performed poorly (e.g. in Epsom & Ewell). The 'old' Liberals lost all three of their seats, even in North Yorkshire which has one of their last bases (the other being the city of Liverpool), and with the Kidderminster Hospital issue no longer on the minds of many Worcestershire voters, only one Health Concern councillor was elected (one was also elected in Shropshire, though). TUSC fared even worse than last time, compounded by having fewer candidates (the county where they had the most candidates was Hertfordshire, of all places!). Few Women's Equality Party candidates stood, and their only notable showing was in Tunbridge Wells South. The performance of Independents varied from candidate to candidate, of course, but overall, more independent candidates were elected compared to 2013.






Tuesday, 2 May 2017

My 2017 general election predictions: Scotland

Two years ago, the SNP almost swept the board in Scotland's Westminster constituencies, winning 56 out of 59, leaving Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats with just one seat apiece in Scotland.

Now, especially in light of the overall 2016 Scottish Parliament result, and with the SNP already having reached their high watermark in 2015, the SNP stand to lose at least a few seats. Most SNP seats will remain SNP, especially as 40 of them were gained from Labour and the 6 they had prior to their historic victory (Moray, Banff & Buchan, Perth & North Perthshire, Dundee East, Na h-Eileanan an lar, and Angus) will firmly remain in SNP hands, despite the Conservatives' best efforts under Ruth Davidson to make a credible challenge.
Labour has fallen further in Scotland in the last 2 years and has no realistic chance of winning any of their lost seats back in this election.

Could the SNP lose any of their 10 most marginal seats?

1. Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk. When I saw this gain for myself on the night of the 2015 general election, whilst waiting for my own result in Hemel Hempstead, I was amazed the SNP won this at all, especially with popular Conservative John Lamont as a candidate and the SNP starting from a poor fourth place in an area which voted heavily against Scottish independence. The same John Lamont is running again, the Liberal Democrats are no longer in contention, there are few if any more Labour votes which can be squeezed (Labour lost their deposit here in 2015!) and the SNP majority is just 328, giving John an easy win this year. Dead cert Conservative gain.

2. East Dunbartonshire. The crucial factor is that Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat who was unseated by the SNP's John Nicolson in 2015, is running again and stands to benefit well from unionist (i.e. anti-SNP) tactical voting. Although John Nicolson has worked hard on some campaigns in his two years as an MP, the Liberal Democrats will be the beneficiaries of the 'unionist vote' and almost certainly return Jo back to affluent East Dunbartonshire. Dead cert Liberal Democrat gain.

3. Edinburgh West. A similar situation politically to East Dunbartonshire (and with the SNP majority not being much larger over the Liberal Democrats either), with the added factor of its current SNP MP, Michelle Thomson, not being able to run again (she resigned the SNP whip due to fraud allegations, and the SNP NEC refused to allow her to run under the SNP banner this year). Christine Jardine held up well against Alex Salmond in Gordon, and therefore already knows how to work the tactical unionist votes, and with the closest equivalent in the Scottish Parliament having a Liberal Democrat MSP, it is plain sailing for the Liberal Democrats. Dead cert Liberal Democrat gain.

4. East Renfrewshire. Here, however, the SNP are almost certain to hold, despite the fact it was the Conservatives who narrowly won the Scottish Parliament seat of Eastwood (covering most of this constituency, which was called Eastwood from 1983 to 2005) in a close three-way contest. Conservative voters in Scotland are less willing to tactially vote for Labour and without Jim Murphy Labour is likely to fall to third place anyway, although there is no longer enough momentum to give the Conservatives any chance of reclaiming East Renfrewshire for the foreseeable future-a consequence of demographic change. Dead cert SNP hold.

5. North East Fife. The Lib Dems are in a better position here than they were in 2015, but the task for them will not be easy. Personal votes matter more in rural seats like North East Fife than in urban and (de facto) suburban seats like Edinburgh West and East Dunbartonshire, and the Lib Dems do not have this on their side in North East Fife. There are also limits to how far the Conservative and Labour vote can be depressed, but chances exist nonetheless due to Willie Rennie's win of NE Fife in the Scottish Parliament election last year. Likely SNP hold.

6. Edinburgh North & Leith. Labour has been going backwards in Edinburgh just like everywhere else in Scotland, even if at not as fast a pace, and without their former MP Mark Lazarowicz they will not be able to rely on the personal vote factor to beat the SNP, nor are there enough usable tactical votes left for Labour. The SNP therefore have an easy victory. Dead cert SNP hold.

7. Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross. The Highlands have not been experiencing a real sign of Liberal Democrat recovery and the SNP vote is more stable there in any case. The Liberal Democrats will remain competitive but will not be able to capture this seat right away as Paul Monaghan of the SNP can benefit from the incumbency bonus easily. Dead cert SNP hold.

8. Dumfries & Galloway. Like in Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk, the SNP stand to lose many rural voters due to the shift taken by Nicola Sturgeon towards a more social-democratic SNP, and the Conservatives are in good stead here. However, with potential for tactical voting not as good as Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk and without someone as well-known a figure as John Lamont for this constituency, success is by no means certain for the Conservatives although they are on balance the favourites to win.Probable Conservative gain.

9. East Lothian. The fact Labour held on in the East Lothian Scottish Parliament constituency last year with an increased majority will not make a significant difference-Scottish Parliament elections have lower turnouts and the key issues are different. An assured SNP hold thus. Dead cert SNP hold.

10. Ross, Skye & Lochaber. Charles Kennedy, who lost the seat in 2015, died a month later and he was responsible for ensuring this was a Liberal Democrat seat in the first place. A Lib Dem-SNP swing is certain and this seat could experience one of the largest SNP vote increases in Scotland this year. Dead cert SNP hold.

Special note: West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine. This is only the 12th most marginal SNP seat, but in these circumstances it is in fact very vulnerable indeed. The Conservatives have been making considerable ground in Aberdeenshire recently, and even though there is a limit to which the Liberal Democrat vote can be squeezed, the SNP could easily leak enough votes to lose. A key Scottish seat to watch. Likely Conservative gain.

As for the three unionist seats....


1. Dumfriesshire, Clyesdale & Tweeddale (Con). David Mundell did well to hold off strong SNP efforts which in 2015 reduced his majority to just 798, and this is one of the few seats where the Labour vote will not be particularly helpful to the SNP. In the borders, the Conservatives will receive a sharp anti-independence boost, although the seat will not become safe. Dead cert Conservative hold.

2. Orkney & Shetland (Lib Dem). The orominent SNP candidate who nearly levelled the otherwise impregnable Liberal Democrat majority, Danus Skene, died last year and the Lib Dems will experience a bounce back here. The election petition brought against Alistair Carmichael failed and will not be fresh in many voters' memories anyway, and the Lib Dems are in no real danger here anymore. Dead cert Liberal Democrat hold.

3. Edinburgh South (Lab). Labour held on partly due to the negative publicity the SNP candidate in 2015, Neil Hay, attracted over trolling tweets, the SNP having polled their lowest share in this constituency in 2010, and a huge Liberal Democrat vote which collapsed. The SNP have selected a different candidate this time and are in a better position than Labour, who effectively have no more tactical votes to squeeze (any Green votes will almost certainly go to the SNP, as both the Scottish Greens and the SNP support an independent Scotland) meaning Ian Murray's majority will be overturned with ease. Dead cert SNP gain.

The SNP are certain to lose at least a few seats, but nevertheless the SNP will continue to dominate Scottish politics at a Westminster level for the foreseeable future, barring a catastrophe, even with Ruth Davidson as Scottish Conservative & Unionist leader.