UK Election 2017 Preview: Scotland And Wales

Guest post by Nathan Wurtzel

While a Conservative government with an expanded majority is the expected result in the June 8 general election, Tory gains are unlikely to be uniform across the United Kingdom. One of the pertinent questions of this election is how much of their gain over 2015 will be concentrated in regions and seats they already hold.

There simply is not much remaining for Conservatives to gain in the East, South East, and South West of England. It is possible any collapse of the UKIP vote in these areas will result in greatly expanded majorities in already blue seats.

Wales is a different story with an uncertain ending. Labour has held the majority of seats and won the vote in every general election in Wales since first outpolling the Liberal Party in 1922. As recently as the 2001 general election, the Conservative Party won zero seats of the 40 elected in Wales.

2015 UK Parliamentary Results (Wikipedia)

Since then, the country has steadily become more competitive. At dissolution of Parliament Labour held 25 seats, the Conservatives 11, Plaid Cymru (“Party of Wales” – the Welsh nationalist party) three, and the Liberal Democrats held a single seat.

There is no single reason for the fall of Labour in Wales. In general, class-based support for Labour across the United Kingdom has declined in recent decades while Wales itself has struggled: one-fourth of its citizens remain in poverty.

Fifty three percent of Welsh voters defied pollsters by voting “LEAVE” in 2016. In addition, UKIP got a surprising 14% of the vote in 2015, a disproportionate amount in the counties of Clwyd, Gwent, and Glamorgan, where Conservatives are strongly contending for Parliament seats.

Recent polling has shown the Conservatives ahead of Labour in Wales for the first time, while last week’s local council elections showed Labour losing significant ground from 2012 with Conservative and local Independent gains. One must take care in translating council elections to Parliament, but at a minimum it appears the Conservative Party has a strong chance of gaining at least 5 seats and in a landslide could gain a dozen or more.

In the north-east Welsh county of Clwyd, a modest swing of 4.1% from Labour to Conservative will bring the Tories four seats: Alyn & Deeside, Clwyd South, Delyn, and Wrexham. The southern Welsh constituency of Bridgend should swing from Labour to Conservative, as well. The island constituency of Ynys Mon will be a three-way fight, resulting in either a sixth gain for the Conservatives (the more likely outcome) or a fourth Commons seat for Plaid Cymru.

The next two seats are the Welsh majority-makers for the Conservative Party. Newport East and Newport West can be won with swings of 4.4-6.7% over the 2015 results, but Welsh Labour held their ground well in Newport in last week’s local election, so this is no sure bet.

Going further, two Cardiff seats will require swings of 7.5% to 8% for a Conservative victory, and they also showed strong Labour organization last week. There are a half-dozen other Labour seats requiring swings of 9-13% in the counties of Glamorgan (Cardiff suburbs) and Gwent (South East Wales), and it is possible one or more of them could switch during a very strong night for Conservatives.

Conservatives only have three seats at risk in Wales: Gower and Vale of Clwyd were very close-run surprise, and as it turns out, bellwether gains in 2015, but their majorities should widen in 2017. It would be wise for Tories to keep an eye on the other seat, Cardiff North, as “Remain” received 62% in that constituency. Plaid Cymru appears to have no serious obstacle in holding their three constituencies and the Liberal Democrats should keep their lone seat of Ceredigion unless there is an unexpected nationalist surge.

Scotland, on the other hand, is in the aftermath of its unexpected nationalist surge. In 2015, the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 50% of the vote and 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats in a massive rout of Scottish Labour. Labour went from 42% of the vote to 24% and lost all but one of its seats. The Liberal Democrats lost ten of their eleven seats. The Scottish Conservative Party retained its sole seat and has not held more than a single seat in Scotland since John Major was Prime Minister.

2015 UK Parliament Results in Scotland (Wikipedia)

Scotland’s politics are cross-pressured.

Scotland turned out to be the United Kingdom’s strongest major region to vote “REMAIN,” its 62% vote higher even than London. While its inclination to remain in the European Union is strong, Scotland’s desire to leave the United Kingdom appears to have waned, as a plurality does not want another referendum soon, and a clear majority would vote to oppose it

This raises the possibility of a resurgent Toryism; that Labour voters, seeing their party’s prospects fading, are willing to strategically vote for the less-preferred Conservative Party (recall, a party that in Scotland trailed Labour one seat to 41 just three years ago) to hold off the SNP, says Thomas Scotto, professor of government and public policy at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. “I am really interested to see if strategic Unionist voting is occurring,” Dr. Scotto adds.

In last week’s council elections, Scottish Labour suffered a clear massive blow, losing 1/3 of their seats, while Conservatives more than doubled theirs. Polling is somewhat scarce, but the most recent shows SNP well off its 50% mark of 2015, which suggests a loss of about 12-15 seats.

Conservative chances are best in the English border constituencies of Berwickshire, Roxburgh, & Selkirk, which they almost won in 2015, and Dumfries & Galloway, if the Labour vote collapses as indicated. Despite the close vote in 2015, they should have no trouble keeping their current lone seat in Dumfreesshire, Clydesdale, & Tweeddale.

Although SNP margins in the 2015 elections were massive, expected large swings to the Tories could bring in East Renfrewshire in the Glasgow area, East Lothian in Edinburgh, and Perth & North Perthshire in Central Scotland. Constituencies in West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, Moray, Stirling, Aberdeen South, Ochil & South Perthshire, and Edinburgh South West present additional Tory pickup opportunities from the SNP.

The Liberal Democrats should hold their island fastness of Orkney & Shetland, while looking to rebound in constituencies like East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh West, Caithness, Sutherland, & Easter Ross, and the less-likely Gordon. A gain of two or three of these seats is possible.

Scottish Labour is very likely to lose its lone seat in Scotland, Edinburgh South, possibly to SNP, possibly to the Conservative Party. Its prospects for any gains are grim.

Overall, the Conservative Party stands to gain at least five seats and in a landslide over ten in Wales, while in Scotland they may add as few as two additional seats, but as many as eleven on a very strong night. The Liberal Democrats may regain two or three seats in Scotland, while the SNP could lose as few as one net seat or as many as fifteen. Labour would be fortunate to limit its losses to six seats in Wales and hold its lone seat in Scotland. It could lose as many as a dozen between the two countries.


Nathan Wurtzel is a D.C. based political consultant and UK elections enthusiast. You can follow him on Twitter here


Related: An Introduction To The 2017 UK Elections