“Were you up for Salmond (And Much More)?”: A Look Back at the Extraordinary UK General Election Results in Scotland

The change in Scotland's political Map from 2015 to 2017. Image Credit: @ElectionMapsUK; cropped by Wesley Hutchins

The change in Scotland's political Map from 2015 to 2017. Image Credit: @ElectionMapsUK; cropped by Wesley Hutchins

     It was a memorable night which began and ended in ways few had predicted, and which may have marked a yet another significant turning point in Scotland's political landscape, as well as the future of the United Kingdom.

     At just after 10:00PM UK time, the exit poll was revealed to show that Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives would lose their majority, though remain the largest party with 314 seats. Labour under Jeremy Corbyn was projected to gain 34 seats for a total of 266, the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon would have 34, and Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats were given a bump up to 14.

     The immediate reaction was one of extreme bewilderment. On Twitter, the poll aggregator Britain Elects tweeted two words which expressed the astonishment of the nation and for the matter, the world: “Holy sh**.”

     For the past couple of weeks, polls had been showing a narrowing of what had been a formidable lead for the Tories at the time when Theresa May had called for the election in April to shore up her position in the negotiations for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (aka, “Brexit”). A botched manifesto roll-out, a u-turn on elderly care policy, May’s refusal to participate in debates and her cool demeanor, as well as a general feeling of complacency and overconfidence in the party had turned off many voters. In contrast, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, all but written off for its biggest defeat since Michael Foot’s leadership in 1983, picked up steam as his avowedly left-wing and socialist platform connected with those tired of austerity and weary of Brexit – somewhat like our own Bernie Sanders in America.

     However, most pundits still believed that even if May did not achieve the eye-watering majority of around 100 seats, she would still manage to retain a majority government, if only barely and she would at least be able to claim that she had her own mandate, as opposed to inheriting David Cameron’s. Now this exit poll was upending all those assumptions. The pound fell sharply, Twitter went crazy, and morning editions of newspapers across the country went to press proclaiming how the Prime Minister’s gamble had failed.

     Shocking as this was with Theresa May potentially no longer at the helm of a majority government, more surprising with particular regard to Scotland was the exit poll showing the SNP losing 22 seats – a stunning reversal for a party that had achieved the incredible feat of winning all but three of Scotland’s 59 constituencies just over two years ago. A deeper analysis of the exit poll resulted in a list of seats that were likely to change hands, and among them were seats belonging to SNP deputy leader and Westminster group leader Angus Robertson (Moray) and former SNP leader Alex Salmond (Gordon) and they were at serious risk of losing that evening, along with other stalwarts of the party would have their parliamentary careers coming to an abrupt end. The poll also implied that all three main pro-Union parties were performing better than expected and would make significant gains at the SNP’s expense.

     Following the initial reaction, there was disbelief and urges of caution. Elements of the Tories and the SNP – two of the parties of government in the UK – took the exit poll to task, with the former insisting that they would have a majority and perhaps a bigger one at that, and the latter saying its losses would be far more limited.

     Indeed, within that first hour or so after the poll was released, it did seem as though the projections may have been off, at least to some degree. The first results that were declared in England were holds for Labour, but also featured significant increases in the Conservative vote – some of it coming from people who had voted for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in 2015. Surely if these were to be replicated in other places that were not safe Labour seats and/or in areas where Labour had been vulnerable to UKIP, then it would indicate the potential for more Tory seats and perhaps a majority Tory government.

     On Twitter, there were reports of backtracking on the poll as the results came in one by one and showed trends contrary to what the poll had indicated, and if it had underestimated the Conservative vote across the UK, it may have also underestimated the SNP vote in Scotland as well – perhaps by a lot. Journalists, commentators, and partisans on all sides were expressing skepticism. In Gordon, where initial reports had Alex Salmond and his Conservative opponent in a tight race, now it was being reported that the former first minister was out in front.

     As much as many of us wanted him out of Parliament, it was simply inconceivable that he would lose and that so many SNP seats would flip to a pro-Union party in part because of his name recognition in particular and the staggering majorities of many SNP MP’s more generally which have to be overcome. For this reason, the Tories, Labour, and LibDems expressed extreme caution in an effort to manage expectations and avoid potential disappointment. “Was it possible?”, many of us asked. Yes, but not probable and another reason was the concern that in some seats, the votes of those parties would cancel out each other, so that even though a majority of constituency voted for a pro-Union candidate, it got an SNP MP due to the split vote. It seemed more realistic that the SNP would lose 15 seats at most.

     As the counting continued to progress however, it became apparent that something was afoot. In the North East and Perthshire, it was reported that the three Union parties were experiencing increases in vote share, as well as in the South of Scotland, but that the Tories were particularly showing strength against incumbent SNP candidates. More striking was what was happening in the Greater Glasgow area, where Labour had been dominant for generations, but the SNP had become the new game in town. Once insurmountable Labour parliamentary majorities had been replaced with towering SNP ones in the city which had voted “Yes” for separation and ended Labour’s 37 year control of the city council to put the SNP in charge. Even in the event that Labour or any other party benefited from a swing against the SNP, the general feeling was that it would not be enough to overcome the entrenched nature of the SNP in this area.

     And yet, by midnight UK time, Labour was having reason to be increasingly optimistic as the counting continued and showed them as least keeping up with the SNP in the Glasgow area and Clydeside seats. On the other side Scotland, it was also reported to be in first place in East Lothian and holding on well in Edinburgh South, where Ian Murray appeared to be picking up a larger majority than in 2015. Meanwhile in Edinburgh West and East Dunbartonshire, the LibDems were running close with SNP, though they too were feeling very confident about their chances at retaking them.

     Then at just after 1:00AM in the UK, the first Scottish result came in the form of Rutherglen and Hamilton West, just to the southeast of Glasgow where Scottish Labour had begun its campaign, and it was a Labour gain. On an 8.9% swing, Gerard Killen had overturned Margaret Ferrier’s 9,000 vote majority and won the seat with a majority of 265 even as the Tories and LibDems also made gains here.

     The shock of this result could not be overstated: a constituency which had utterly rejected Labour only two years earlier for the SNP in the wake of the independence referendum was now returning a Labour MP against virtually all projections and predictions. In my own review of the Scottish constituencies likely to change hands, I did not pay attention to any of the Glasgow area seats, save for East Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire. To be sure, it was only one result, but the 9,000 vote majority Labour managed to overturn was bigger than majorities in other nearby constituencies, which meant that they were in play and that it was possible that the exit poll had been accurate after all.

     As it was, next to declare was Paisley and Renfrewshire South, where a majority of 5,600 stood between Labour and Mhairi Black, who had defeated Labour’s Douglas Alexander in 2015 to become the youngest parliamentarian in over 300 years. She faced a closer fight than expected, though she stayed on with a significantly reduced majority of 2,500 in part because of the division of the vote between the three pro-Union parties; there were more than enough votes from the Conservatives and LibDems which could have been used to block Black by lending them to the Labour candidate, who was her closest opponent. Indeed, there had actually been a swing from Labour to the Tories, suggesting perhaps that the attacks on Labour’s stance on the constitution/separation – including Nicola Sturgeon’s last minute revelations – may have had an impact. Not for the last time this night, a majority pro-Union constituency would end up with a separatist MP who had a smaller majority than last time and therefore was more realistically beatable. The only question now was: “How many more?”

     Indeed, many of us were bracing for this to happen in a great many seats, which would blunt any significant advance against the SNP and allow them bragging rights and an excuse for another divisive referendum. To be fair, they would likely do this with 34 MP’s as much as with 45 MP’s – a majority of seats being all that mattered. However, it would definitely weaken their case with the former and give us hope that Scotland would become more politically balanced.

     West Dunbartonshire (containing Clydebank, birthplace of some of the great ships of the Cunard Line at the old John Brown’s shipyard) was the next result to declare, and once again, the sitting SNP MP was re-elected with a reduced majority 2,200, which could have been overcome with more tactical votes for the Labour candidate from other pro-Union candidates. The silver lining of course was that the rising vote share for all three parties indicated that at the very least, there was a backlash against the SNP, and that just as towering Labour and LibDem majorities could be toppled as they were in 2015, so could SNP ones in 2017. Hopefully, it would be just a matter of time before what happened in Rutherglen would be repeated across the country.

     Sure enough, as the 2:00 hour approached, reports were coming through saying that in East Dunbartonshire, where the vote had been so close as to say that “John Swinson” had been elected, the Liberal Democrats were increasingly confident that Jo Swinson was pulling away from SNP incumbent John Nicolson to reclaim the seat she had held from 2005 to 2015. Labour was all but claiming victory in East Lothian, and the SNP had pretty much thrown in the towel on border constituency of Berwickshire, Roxburgh, and Selkirk – saying that while there vote had held up, the LibDem vote had transferred to the Conservative candidate, John Lamont. Meanwhile in the Western Isles (Na h-Eileanan an Iar), the difference between Labour and the SNP’s Angus MacNeil was said to be in the hundreds.

     Then another declaration, this time from the Ayrshire seat of Kilmarnock and Loudoun, which stayed with the SNP’s Alan Brown, whose majority was reduced, but was still significantly ahead because of a swing which mostly benefitted the third-placing Tories while the Labour vote remained mostly flat.

     Thankfully however, the next declaration wasn’t so much just good news as it was a major upset: long-time SNP MP Mike Weir lost his Angus constituency to the Conservatives. This is was one of the areas that had been on the bubble for changing hands, though more likely to stay put than not. Now, here were the Tories overturning an 11,000 vote majority to take a seat with a 2,700 vote majority which they had targeted for years in an area that had been part of their old Scottish heartlands before the SNP came along. Labour and the LibDems also benefited from the swing against the SNP, but it was mostly for the Tories and they came out on top in spectacular fashion as it was starting to become clear that the SNP may be in for a rough night.

     The next results from Dundee weren’t surprising given its status as a “Yes City” during the referendum and both of its SNP MP’s were re-elected with reduced, but still substantial margins as Chris Law (Dundee West) and former SNP deputy leader Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) fell below 40% of the vote share and the other parties gained. Interestingly for a city in which Labour and the SNP have traditionally been the top vote-getters, the Tories edged out Labour for second place in Dundee East – yet another sign of that party’s revival in Scotland.

     After 2:00AM came the results from several constituencies and therefore a clearer picture of new political landscape. In quick succession, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, Paisley and Renfrewshire North, Falkirk, and the Western Isles (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) emerged with re-elected SNP MP’s and it was the same story as with the other ones: substantial swings away from the SNP and the pro-Union parties putting on votes to cancel out each other to allow the SNP candidate to win. All of these were seats previously held by Labour and Labour was the main challenger, but surges in Conservative support helped to prevent Labour from winning and knocking the SNP down another peg.

     It was around this time that the result in Perth and North Perthshire rested on a knife-edge as the margin between SNP incumbent Pete Wishart and Tory MEP Ian Duncan was only 36 votes, and that a recount was underway at the request of the Tories, for whom this seat was one of their top targets, and had been since they lost the predecessor seat of Tayside North in 1997. Winning here against another veteran SNP figure here would be hugely symbolic and mark the return of Perthshire to being Tory country.

     However, the next result to come forward provided that symbolism. In Moray, the Tory candidate Douglass Ross defeated Angus Robertson – overturning a 9,000 vote majority to oust the SNP’s leader at Westminster and ending the SNP’s hold on another area that had previously been a Conservative heartland. This was a “Portillo moment” in the highest sense and Robertson became a major casualty in what appeared to be a pro-Union wave across Scotland that was at least in some way reversing the SNP tsunami two years ago. Surely at this point, there were some lower-profile SNP MP’s and candidates who were starting to wonder: “If it could happen to him, what about me?”

     A few minutes later, Glenrothes in Fife was declared to be an SNP hold, but this was followed by Labour’s surprise victory in Midlothian, where Danielle Rowley overturned Owen Thompson’s 9,800 vote majority and retook the seat for her party with 885 votes to spare. Another close race concluded in Inverclyde, where Labour came within 384 votes of retaking that constituency from the SNP – another place where a few tactical votes could have made the difference.

     Over in Ochil and South Perthshire meanwhile, tactical voting may have indeed made a difference with the Conservative Luke Graham gaining the seat from Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, a high-profile and veteran SNP figure formerly of Labour and the Tories. While more attention had been paid to the very real possibility of the North Perthshire seat switching hands, the South Perthshire seat was seen as less likely to change and the last two months of projections showed it being a likely SNP hold. It was therefore surprising to see Ahmed-Sheikh lose this seat, but then again, this was an election which throughout the UK as a whole, was producing results previously unimaginable. South Perthshire was now blue once again after 20 years and it seemed that its northern counterpart would soon follow.

     Meanwhile, the SNP successfully held North Ayrshire and Arran, where a 13,500 vote majority against Labour in 2015 had become a 3,600 vote majority against the Conservatives in an area they had represented for the most part until the 1980’s when Labour started winning here, before eventually ending up with the SNP via Patricia Gibson. In East Renfrewshire, her fellow party colleague Kirsten Oswald was not so lucky as she went to defeat at the hands of Conservative candidate Paul Masterton. This seat, also historically solid Tory territory until 1997 when it voted for Labour’s Jim Murphy, it then SNP in 2015, and was now back in Conservative hands with a majority of 4,700.

     On the other side of the Clyde in East Dunbartonshire, Jo Swinson made her political comeback. Polls and projections had this being a close-run deal, but as it turned out, Swinson took back her old seat with a comfortable majority of over 5,300 votes against John Nicolson’s 2,000 vote majority two years ago. This was the first Scottish seat won by the Liberal Democrats, as well as their first net gain of the night, with hopefully more to come.

     Indeed, if what was being said on Twitter indicated anything, there would in fact be more. Reports were coming in to claim that SNP majorities were falling everywhere as Labour, the Tories, and LibDems were all eating into the SNP vote from 2015, and that the party was facing trouble in Glasgow. Glasgow of all places, where they had been given control of the city council just weeks before. Labour in particular was starting to feel optimistic about retaking some seats in the city.

     Perhaps this switch had to do with the reaction against another referendum, but also likely due to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity appeal to many of the soft “Yes” voters who could be persuaded that they could get the government they wanted throughout the UK and not just in an independent Scotland. Indeed, given the financial difficulties and austerity which a separated Scotland would likely have to go through, the potential argument from Labour may have been that in fact, the only way to get the kind of government they want is by sticking with the UK and signing up with Corbyn and Labour.

     Glasgow rapper Darren McGarvey – aka Loki – is a known supporter of independence, but has become very critical of the SNP for their cautiousness, lack of a radical agenda, and focusing too much on…you guessed it, independence. He stated on the BBC that Corbyn – who began the last day of Labour’s campaign in the city on Buchanan Street – had “called his bluff” by proposing an agenda that was “genuinely left wing and of genuine substance”, and that while he would still vote for independence in another referendum, this wasn’t what the vote was about and therefore why he had voted Labour. Perhaps there were many others in the city of the same mindset and voted accordingly.

     Meanwhile, there had been rumors and perhaps early indications that both Aberdeen North and Aberdeen South were going to flip from the SNP to Labour and the Tories respectively, which would have been surprising since the SNP was projected to hold the former. However, it was revealed that Aberdeen North had been held by the SNP’s Kirsty Blackman with a majority of 4,100 votes, while Aberdeen South was still counting. In Glasgow East, incumbent MP Natalie McGarry had been elected under the SNP banner as she defeated Labour’s Margaret Curran, but had resigned from the party whip after allegations of financial impropriety regarding her involvement Women for Independence organization during the referendum. Her SNP replacement, David Linden, held on to the seat with just 75 votes ahead of Labour, whilst the Tories doubled their vote. Glasgow Central was a much less tight affair with Alison Thewliss being returned with a majority of 2,267.

     Up north, there was hardly such relief for the SNP has Alex Salmond arrived at his count in Aberdeen. It is clear that we wasn’t happy with the less-than-desirable news about the Tories possibly winning his seat, as well as perhaps knowing of the fate of his colleague Angus Robertson next door to him. By this time, a total of seven SNP MP’s were already gone, and the night was far from over.

     Just after 3:00AM, Glasgow North East was declared to be a gain for Labour via candidate Paul Sweeney. They had lost it in 2015 when the SNP’s Anne McLaughlin took the seat on a swing of 39% which was the biggest swing of the election back then and memorably “broke” the BBC’s swingometer (prompting the Beeb to “recalibrate” it). Now Labour was reversing that with a swing of its own to take the seat back with a majority of 242. All things considered and with having a Glaswegian MP once again, this was becoming a good and better than expected night for Labour. More close results were announced from Dunfermline and West Fife, where the SNP’s Douglas Chapman held on with 844 votes over Labour, and in Lanark and Hamilton East, where the Tory surge propelled them to within 266 votes of toppling Angela Crawley.

     Then after being all but known as a matter of fact, the result from East Lothian at last revealed that Labour’s Martin Whitfield had regained the constituency from the SNP’s George Kerevan – overturning his 6,800 vote majority and winning by 3,000 votes. East Lothian had been a big target for the party and as far as most commentators (myself included) where concerned, it was their only realistic prospect for a gain in Scotland. Indeed, a surge in the Conservative vote gave proof for the reasoning behind why this seat, if it were to flip from the SNP, would go to them and not Labour. However, it wasn’t enough as the increase in Labour vote – albeit smaller than that of the Tories – was enough against the declining SNP vote to put Labour on top.

     Back in Glasgow, the SNP’s Patrick Grady held Glasgow North with a reduced majority of 1,060 votes over Labour and down south, the Tories pulled off another surprise victory when Bill Grant gained Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock from the SNP’s. The old Ayr constituency was once a solid Conservative seat at Westminster and thus, this represented yet another area going back to Tory blue. Minutes later, Aberdeen South also returned to its Conservative ways when Ross Thomson defeated the SNP’s Callum McCaig. Then there were two more holds for the SNP in Airdrie and Shotts and Glasgow South with majorities of 195 and 2,027 respectively over Labour. They SNP also held on to Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, where two years ago, Drew Hendry had defeated Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury during the Cameron-Clegg coalition government. Hendry’s majority, as with everywhere else had been reduced, but he was nearly 5,000 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, who was a Conservative as the LibDems had fallen to fourth place.

     Down south in Fife, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s old constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath returned to Labour via Lesley Laird with a majority of 259 over the SNP, while in Edinburgh, Tommy Sheppard held on to Edinburgh East with a 3,400 vote majority over Labour. Then at last came the result from Perth and North Perthshire: Pete Wishart squeaked back into Parliament by the skin of teeth with a majority of just 21 votes! This was a seat that had been consistently projected to swing to the Conservatives via candidate Ian Duncan, even if only by a few votes in his direction, and with the loss of Angus Robertson and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, it seemed somewhat inevitable that Wishart would go as well. Then again, nothing in politics seems to be inevitable these days and if anything is possible, the re-election of Pete Wishart was one of those things. Still, Wishart’s previous majority had been 9,600 and with Labour and the LibDems increasing their respective vote shares in a constituency they knew they didn’t have a chance of winning, it was another story of the three pro-Union parties putting up votes, canceling each other out, and letting the SNP in through the back door.

     It was the same story in Glasgow North West – an area once represented by Labour’s Donald Dewar – where Labour came up short against the SNP by 2,500 votes, as well as Glasgow South West, where the SNP’s Chris Stephens hung on by an even tighter margin of only 60. However, there was good news from Coatbridge, Chryston, and Bellshill, where Labour’s Hugh Gaffney overturned an SNP majority of 11,500 votes and took back another former heartland seat for his party with a 1,500 vote majority. With this win, Labour was now expecting to finish the night with seven seats in Scotland, with Ian Murray expected to eventually emerge with an increased majority in Edinburgh South.

     It was around this time that SNP politicians and members (including Alex Salmond, still await the results in his Gordon constituency) looked at the rest of the seats to declare and thought it safe to begin banging the drum on how the SNP won the election with the majority of Scottish seats – attempting to downplay the number of seats lost. As it was, the party did go on to hold on to Linlithgow and East Falkirk with a majority of 2,900 over Labour, as well as Cumbernauld, Kilsyth, and Kirkintilloch East – also over Labour with a majority of 4,200 votes.

     Then there came two critical victories for the Liberal Democrats; retaking Caithness, Sutherland, and Easter Ross and Edinburgh West. The latter seat was a big LibDem target, especially after they had retaken the overlapping Holyrood constituency last year and with candidate Christine Jardine, they overturned former SNP MP Michelle Thomson’s 3,200 vote majority against them two years ago and took back the seat with 2,900 votes to spare. The former seat in the Highland council area was another former LibDem seat once held by John Thurso until he was defeated by the SNP’s Paul Monaghan (of RT fame), but was not included in most projections as flipping from the SNP. Interestingly, the LibDem vote was almost unchanged from 2015, but a massive swing from the SNP to the Conservatives doubled the Conservative and brought the SNP down enough to deliver the seat to LibDem candidate Jamie Stone with 2,000 votes to spare. Perhaps a case of “accidental” tactical voting?

     At any rate, the Tories found victory elsewhere with a string of significant gains. In Berwickshire, Roxborough, and Selkirk – jokingly known as the “John Lamont Seat” because of him standing there at the last three elections – was finally won by John Lamont. Two years ago, he had narrowly lost the seat by 328 votes, but now won it from the SNP’s Calum Kerr with a whopping 11,000 vote majority and 54% of the vote as SNP and LibDem votes transferred to the Conservatives. Meanwhile, in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Andrew Bowie won with nearly a 8,000 vote majority over the SNP, and in Stirling, Stephen Kerr squeaked by with just 148 votes to spare over the SNP to become the first Tory MP representing it in 20 years since Michael Forsyth.

     By now, it was after 4:00AM UK time and the exit poll which was treated with caution at the beginning of the night was really looking quite accurate. There were four more SNP victories in central Scotland and the south: Livingston, where Hannah Bardell won with reduced, but comfortable majority of 3,878 against Labour; Motherwell and Wishaw, which returned Marian Fellows with 318 votes over Labour; Edinburgh North and Leith, a seat which was heavily contested, but resulted in Deidre Brock hanging on with 1,600 votes to spare in a roughly three-way race with Labour and the Tories; and Central Ayrshire, where Phillipa Whitford’s majority was sharply reduced as voter swung from her to the Tories and the Tories came within 1,200 votes of wresting the seat from her.

     This string of SNP wins was finally followed Ian Murray’s triumph in Edinburgh South. Two years previously, he hang with an increased majority of 2,600 votes against the SNP wave as the rest of his party was decimated across Scotland; this time, he increased his majority still further to an enormous 15,500 votes and with 55% of the vote – the biggest majority and largest vote share in this year’s election in Scotland – and he was now one of seven Scottish Labour MP’s heading to Westminster as the party was seemingly being revived from political oblivion. Murray was also first of the three pro-Union MP’s after 2015 to have his result declared, with LibDem Alistair Carmichael and Tory David Mundell still awaiting the declarations in their constituencies.

     Meanwhile, the SNP held the UK’s largest constituency, Ross, Skye, and Lochaber in the Highlands. Once the seat of the late Charles Kennedy, it fell to Ian Blackford (now the SNP's leader at Westminster), who ousted the former leader of the Liberal Democrats with a majority of 5,100 votes. This time, even though his vote share declined, his majority grew to 5,900 votes as overall turnout fell and a decline in the LibDem and SNP vote was matched with a rise in the Conservative vote which has not enough for the Conservatives to win this seat. In Edinburgh South West, the Conservatives came within 1,100 votes in a three-way fight for taking former Chancellor Alistair Darling’s old constituency, but the SNP’s Joanna Cherry held on and prevented what could have been a return to Tory blue this area once represented by Sir Malcolm Rifkind as Edinburgh Pentlands.

     However this disappointment was overcome by what was biggest upset of the night in Scotland: Alex Salmond lost his Gordon seat to the Conservatives. All throughout the campaign and into the night, the thought of dethroning a man, who it must be conceded, has been a political giant and changed the trajectory of Scottish – and to some extent, UK – politics, was an enticing yet dim prospect exactly because of his stature. Even with the favorable conditions for the Scottish Tories – having won the council elections in the Gordon area last month – and the exit poll showing that he was in trouble, it was somewhat expected that Salmond would pull out a victory, if only a narrow one.

     However, this was already one of those nights when a big name and a towering majority hardly mattered. The fact that he lost and the scale of the defeat – over 3,000 votes behind Tory candidate Colin Clark – couldn’t have made it clear that this was a big win for the Tories (beyond their dreams) and a historic moment which represented just how severe the backlash had become against the SNP over a potential second referendum and other policies, as well as their grip on the political scene, which was started by the former party leader and first minister himself. When Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson talked up the possibility of taking Gordon based on the local election results, Salmond said that she was arrogant to “continue the line of ‘we’re going to take this seat, and we’re going to take that seat’. Once it doesn’t happen, it’s very bad news for Ruth Davidson’s credibility.”

     Now people will live on to ask the question: “Were you up for Salmond?”

     The news of Alex Salmond’s defeat had hardly been absorbed when news came that his former constituency of Banff and Buchan – were he had started his parliamentary career – had returned to the Conservatives 30 years after he had defeated Sir Albert McQuarrie, the “Buchan Bulldog”. His successor to the seat, Eilidh Whiteford, had been the MP since 2010 when Salmond stepped down to focus on his jobs as an MSP and First Minister of Scotland, and at the last election, she held it with majority of over 14,000 and a 60% vote share. This year, her vote plunged by 21% as David Duguid of the Conservatives overturned that margin to win the seat by almost 3,700 votes – a remarkable swing of 20.2%.

     This was a massive earthquake result as with Gordon, because few people believed that Banff and Buchan would flip to the Tories and the party itself believed that both seats were out of their reach. At best, there may have been a swing in favor of the Tories, but only that. However, as many people have noted, not only were there strong feelings against another referendum, but also dissatisfaction with the EU and adherence to the Common Fisheries Policy, which some in the North East fishing industry believe has been harmful. Combined with this being an area with conservative (with a small “c”) tendencies, and a decision between the pro-EU SNP and the Tories promising to deliver Brexit, perhaps the result should not have been surprising, but it was still stunning.

     And yet, this dramatic night still was not over with five seats still left to declare. In one of those seats, North East Fife, a second recount was underway after the Liberal Democrats were ahead by two on the first count and by just one vote on the second. If this result was to stand, it would have meant that the LibDems would have at least four seats in Scotland – with Orkney and Shetland still to declare if Alistair Carmichael would continue to be its MP.

     It was now 5:00AM and while virtually all attention was on the elections to Westminster, there was a by-election to fill the Holyrood seat of Ettrick, Roxborough, and Berwickshire which had been vacated by John Lamont when he announced his candidacy for the overlapping Westminster seat of Berwickshire, Roxborough, and Selkirk. Aside from its connection to the overall general election, this by-election also gained some notoriety for featuring Alex Salmond’s sister Gail Hendry as the SNP’s standard bearer here. Almost expectedly, the Conservatives held on the seat with ease as Rachael Hamilton took over from Lamont, who as noted above, won the Westminster seat.

     In a sign of the times for the Scottish Conservatives, they were running low on people to fill the gap left behind at Holyrood by Ross Thomson, who was going to Westminster to represent Aberdeen South. Unlike Lamont who represented a constituency, Thomson was a regional list member for the North East region – having been elected from a list of Tory candidates on the basis of the proportion of the vote that they had received in the region last year. According to Scottish Parliament rules, his vacancy is to be filled by the next person on the list at the time of the election last year, but as reported by the BBC, Colin Clark (now MP for Gordon) and Kirstene Hair (now MP for Angus) were also on the North East region list for the Conservatives and another person, Nicola Ross, had quit the party. Excluding her, they are down to Tom Mason, their last person on the North East list and if something happens to him or any other North East Tory members, then those seats will not be filled until the next Holyrood election in 2021.

     One way to look at it – as mentioned by the BBC’s Philip Sim – is that the Scottish Tories, once left for dead, have revived to the point where there are more positions for them to take up than there are of them. 

     That issue wouldn’t befall them in Argyll and Bute, where they put up a good fight against Brendan O’Hara, but came up short by 1,300 votes – having slashed his majority by around 7,000 votes. The Conservative surge here had displaced the previously dominant LibDems down to third place and the Conservatives back in the running here for the first time since the seat was created in 1983.

     However, the LibDems would prove their resiliency elsewhere with Alistair Carmichael holding on to Orkney and Shetland. Except for a fifteen period from 1935 to 1950, this area has been a stronghold of Liberals and Liberal Democrats since 1837 and they have won every general election here since 1950, which is the longest active streak for a party in any British parliamentary constituency. The SNP surge in 2015 and an attempt to legally remove Carmichael from office due to the “Frenchgate” affair almost brought that to an end, and though he survived, questions remained about his future. Would he stand for election again and if so, would the SNP be back to finish him off? As it turned out, he did stand again and won re-election with a vastly increased majority of 4,500 votes, which is lower than what he had in 2010, but significantly more comfortable than the 817 votes he survived on in 2015. Not only that, but he was now one of four LibDem MP’s from Scotland as the party fought its way back from irrelevance, as well as the second of the three pro-Union MP’s who survived in 2015 to have his result declared, with David Mundell’s declaration not far behind.

     Before him though was the declaration of the seat next door to his – Dumfries and Galloway – where Alister Jack defeated Richard Arkless with a majority of 5,600 votes, resulting in another historically Conservative area, like so many others that night, returning to blue. Afterward, the result for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale, and Tweeddale was announced and David Mundell emerged victorious with an expanded majority of nearly 9,500 votes – the biggest he’s ever enjoyed since his first election to the Commons in 2005. Having been the lone Scottish Tory MP for twelve years, Mundell was on the receiving end of the joke about there being more giant pandas than Tory MP’s. Now having definitively defended his seat with a bigger majority, the Secretary of State for Scotland was being joined by 12 other colleagues as the Scottish Conservative revival reached a new level.

     At 6:00AM, there was now only one seat left to declare: North East Fife, where only one vote stood between SNP incumbent Stephen Gethins and his Liberal Democrat challenger. A third recount was underway and there was the real prospect of a new counting team being brought in and/or that the race would come down to a coin toss should this recount produced a tie. Finally at around 6:30AM, it was announced that Gethins had held on by just two votes, a far cry from the majority of 4,300 he enjoyed in 2015, but that was all he needed to stay on. In fact, most of the swing against him benefitted the Conservatives, but the LibDems remained by far the second-place party and they considered a legal challenge.

     However, for all intents and purposes, all constituencies had declared and full and the end result on this dramatic and historic night was that the SNP fell to 35 seats, while the Conservatives, Labour, and the LibDems rose to thirteen, seven, and four seats respectively. In term of vote share, the SNP finished with 36.9% of the vote, followed by 28.6% for the Conservatives, 27.1% for Labour, and 6.8% for the Liberal Democrats.

     Those seat totals and percentages reveal an election night which was truly astounding, not only because of what happened, but because of the scale and the extent.

     Regardless what the SNP spin doctors and their most fervent supporters (or are otherwise trying to convince themselves and anyone who will listen), this was a devastating night for their party. In one stroke, they lost 21 seats, watched their vote share plunge by 13 points and they shed half a million voters, and along the way, some of their biggest names disappeared from Westminster – Angus Robertson, the deputy and Westminster group leader; Mike Weir, the chief whip; international trade spokeswoman Tasmina Ahemd-Sheikh; and of course, their foreign affair spokesman and former party leader, Alex Salmond.

     Yes, they retained the majority of Scottish seats and remain the third biggest party at Westminster, but this already a forgone conclusion from the beginning of the campaign, because the SNP had 56 seats last time around and steep majorities in most of them which were believed to be very difficult too overturn. It was also known that the party would likely lose some seats, with the only question being: “How many?” What was surprising and what they cannot ignore (try as they might) was that they ended up with vastly fewer seats than almost anyone expected and that it could have been worse as some of those vaunted majorities all but evaporated.

     The reality is that the SNP got squeezed on all sides as the three pro-UK parties all tore into its support from 2015. Rural areas in Perthshire and the North East which had once been the bedrock of SNP support since the 1980’s and 90’s were now reverting back to the Conservatives and their new heartlands in the Central Belt were on shaky ground too as Labour and the LibDems were making a comeback. Indeed, one reason why this night was as surprising as it became was due to the unexpected strength shown by those two latter parties which had been all but been left for dead in Scotland.

     In particular, Labour was only expected to pick up one seat, East Lothian – if that – and there were some doubts about the party hanging on to Ian Murray’s Edinburgh South constituency, so that there appeared to be the possibility of Labour being completely wiped off the political map. However, it emerged with six new seats – all of which had been lost to the SNP two years ago and all of which they took back in an election which seemed to partially reverse the nationalist tide. It won East Lothian, not by the slimmest of margins, but with over 3,000 votes to boot against George Kerevan. Elsewhere, the margins were smaller, but Labour managed to pull out wins in Midlothian, Gordon Brown’s old seat of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, and more remarkably, in its old Glasgow area heartlands of Coatbridge, Chryston, and Bellshill, Rutherglen and Hamilton West, and Glasgow North East. Oh, and Ian Murray kept his Edinburgh South seat with over 15,000 votes to spare – a remarkable feat which has hardly imaginable throughout the campaign.

     As for the Liberal Democrats, they did about as well as they could have with all things considered, for conservative estimates had them winning three seats; they ended up with four and almost won a fifth. Like Labour, they took back old heartlands from the SNP – Edinburgh West, Caithness, Sutherland, and Easter Ross, and East Dunbartonshire – and Alistair Carmichael held Orkney and Shetland with an increased majority from 2015. Back then, when that was their only seat, they had 7.5% of the popular vote in Scotland. It is therefore remarkable that with only 6.8% of the vote this time, the LibDems won more seats, which is a credit to their campaign targeting and concentrating resources in seats they believed were winnable and it paid off.

     However, the biggest beneficiaries by far of this election were the Scottish Conservatives. The party which had been completely wiped out in 1997, had only held a solitary seat at Westminster since 2001, been branded as “toxic”, and made into a pariah and the butt of the infamous panda joke had not only returned from oblivion and irrelevance, but emerged as a major player once again on the Scottish political scene and with the potential to shape UK politics as well. Since the start of the campaign, it was thought that the Tories were poised to win new seats in Scotland – perhaps a half-dozen or so in realistic terms and indeed, there had been the concern that a with past proclamations of Scottish Tory revivals and breakthroughs, this would be a dud or at least fall below expectations. This perhaps explains why they astutely managed such expectations and urged a great dose of caution when the exit had the SNP losing 22 seats.

     However, the Conservatives went on to have their best general election in Scotland since 1983 when they won 21 seats with Margaret Thatcher at the helm (and when considering vote share, it was their best result since 1979, also with Thatcher). This time, they won 13 seats – far more than what they expected in their wildest dreams. There were the seats they expected to gain in any circumstance – Berwickshire, Roxborough, and Selkirk, Dumfries and Galloway, East Renfrewshire, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, and Aberdeen South; there were the seats they believed they had a 50:50 chance on a better than expected night – Stirling and Moray; and then there were the seat they considered long-shots and only attainable on an exceptional night – Ochil and South Perthshire, Angus, Ayr, Carrick, and Cumnock, Banff and Buchan, and Gordon. Additionally, they held Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale, and Tweeddale – the seat of Scottish Secretary David Mundell – by nearly 10,000 votes.

     In short, the won just about everywhere, but were particularly strong throughout their traditional heartlands in Perthshire, the North East/Aberdeenshire, and the South/Borders – areas where they are once again dominant (with the notable exception of Perth and North Perthshire) and with particular interest to the South/Borders, they represent all of the constituencies in that area for the first time since 1959. Also for the first time since then, the Tories had a greater percentage of the popular vote than Labour thanks to big increases in their vote across the country, with the SNP vote dropping sharply and swinging to them, so that there were Tory gains (in vote percentage if not seats) in places where they had been moribund for decades.

     Aside from these superlatives and numbers (which have been astutely written about by blogger Kevin Hague), it is a testament to the strength of the SNP backlash that all three pro-UK parties did as well as they did and significantly outperformed expectations, including my own. Indeed, the breakdown of the results have shown that they could have done even better, because in places where the swing against the SNP was not enough to take the constituency, it was enough to slash dwarfing majorities to the point where several seats were up in the air for much of the night. Of those, there were nine seats won by the SNP by a thousand votes or less, and if they had gone the other way to the second-place candidate, the Conservatives would have added two seats (Perth and North Perthshire and Lanark and Hamilton East) for a total of 15, the Liberal Democrats would have had five with the addition of North East Fife, and Labour would have picked up six more (Inverclyde, Dunfermline and West Fife, Glasgow South West, Glasgow East, Motherwell and Wishaw, and Airdrie and Shotts) for a total of 13 – which would have amounted to 26 SNP seats and a collective 33 seats for the pro-UK parties.

How the political map of Scotland would have looked if the nine most marginal SNP constituencies had voted the other way. Image Credit: BBC; modified by Wesley Hutchins.

How the political map of Scotland would have looked if the nine most marginal SNP constituencies had voted the other way. Image Credit: BBC; modified by Wesley Hutchins.

     For Labour, most of these seats would have come from its old West of Scotland heartlands and the fact that it did come agonizingly close in those places in addition to winning back the seats has been attributed to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. As was mentioned above, there were people like Loki the rapper who voted for independence and may well still support independence, but were attracted to Labour’s manifesto under Corbyn as well as what they saw as Corbyn’s bona fide socialist credentials. In contrast, the SNP has become seen as too cautious and compromising for the sake of middle class votes, and the result has been that some of the soft “Yes” voters who abandoned Labour two years ago are now at least giving the party a hearing again and voting for it. In other areas of the country, particularly in the North East, the Tories benefited from something of a Brexit bounce in part due to fishing communities and their attitudes toward the EU. In both cases, there was also some fatigue over the SNP being too obsessed about independence to the point that nothing else seemingly matters.

     Indeed, it was the issue of another referendum in breaking up Britain which loomed large over this election and the pro-UK parties campaigned to varying degrees opposing such a referendum, so as to make the SNP “get back to its day job” in running the day-to-day functions of the Scottish Government and return to politics not purely centered on constitutional issues. The result was a shellacking at the polls and a 61% pro-Union majority between the three parties which asserted itself and told the Nats: “No, we’ve had enough, thank you.” While the number of seats did not reflect this, the political map of Scotland has nevertheless become more healthy, colorful, and representative of Scotland.

     All of this is why even with a majority of Scottish seats at this election, the SNP lacks what they had hoped for: the ability to claim that they are the will and voice of Scotland made in flesh, so that they would have had the moral case and leverage for applying pressure on Westminster for a second referendum. However, it appears that have not got the message, at least not entirely. Nicola Sturgeon has admitted that the possibility of another referendum may have had an impact at this election, but little else.

     The problem is that Sturgeon misjudged the voters of Scotland in the wake of the Brexit vote. She expected – as did I, it must be said – that there would be a sharp spike in support for separation with Scotland voting overwhelmingly for the UK to remain in the EU, but the UK as a whole deciding to leave. Within hours of the vote being declared, she announced that a second referendum was “highly likely” so that Scotland could keep its place in the EU while the rest of the UK got out. What ended up happened was that people resented their pro-EU vote being used for naked political opportunism and being taken for granted. The sustained spike in support for separation has not happened and if anything, the signs are that it is going the wrong way, with this election being proof of that.

     There is the possibility that this a bump in the road from which the SNP may bounce back – and in these febrile times, don’t count against it – but it could also be something far more and it may well be the Nats have to reckon with the possibility that we are past “Peak SNP” and that the election amounted to something of a market correction. At the least, what has happened suggests that Sturgeon prematurely marched her troops up the mountain and convinced them that all they needed was one more push to get to the top and see a Promised Land which now appears far more distant and less inevitable.

     Depending on how Brexit goes, this may change, which is why the new SNP Westminster group leader Ian Blackford is calling a second referendum an insurance policy against Brexit. However, there are many who are seeing right through this, such as Fraser Whyte on Twitter, who said that this was akin to saying: “chopping my leg off is insurance against stubbing my toe”. Indeed, independence and the case for it has become complicated and even less reassuring because of Brexit, especially when one considerers that all of this may lead to Scotland being out of the UK and the EU – a double whammy which few people desire and at any rate, there’s also a recognition that the UK matters vastly more to Scotland than the EU.

     The result is that waving the independence issue around in any context has proved a vote loser and is testing the patience of the electorate and the SNP are danger of acting as though nothing has happened and treating this election as a minor blip before regular service resumes in the march to independence. Well, just ask Labour about the “minor blip” they’ve had since losing power at Holyrood in 2007.

     However, the pro-UK parties must not become complacent and wait for the SNP to make mistakes and hope to ride to more victories based on them. This election has given them a tremendous boost and the 24 seats between them can serve as the foundation for further growth, but they need to articulate their respective visions for Scotland within the UK and lay down credible alternative policies. This is especially true at Holyrood, where there is a market for fresh ideas after ten years of SNP rule, but also at Westminster, where they can influence policies which affect to whole United Kingdom. Non-party organizations such as Scotland in Union will also play a role in providing a non-partisan outlet for pro-UK activism and have already shown their capacity for making a difference. The tide appears to be turning, but it will be imperative to challenge the SNP head-on on more than just constitutional issues to ensure the Union’s long-term survival.

Commentary on Sixteen Scottish Westminster Constituencies

Maps of some Scottish council area's with UK parliamentary constituency boundaries superimposed over them. Image Credit: @ElectionMapsUK

Maps of some Scottish council area's with UK parliamentary constituency boundaries superimposed over them. Image Credit: @ElectionMapsUK

     For the past several months, I have been busy with several things and have not had a lot of time to update this blog or do much writing at all, but I would have been remiss if I had not written something in the lead-up to the upcoming general election for the UK Parliament (Westminster) in Scotland.

     It is virtually certain that the SNP will win the majority of Scotland’s seats at Westminster, but it is also clear that they will lose some seats, perhaps in the double digits if certain constituencies vote in a way that leads to a pro-Union MP. What I am presenting here are my thoughts and analysis on the 16 constituencies which appear to have a realistic possibility of changing hands from the SNP or are being defended by the solitary Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat MP’s from Scotland.

     The following commentary is based on polling (insofar as they can be believed and on a national swing), the historical background and trends of these constituencies, the performance of parties at last year’s Scottish Parliament (Holyrood) election and this year's local council elections, and in some cases, the personal qualities of the candidates. I will note that there are caveats to be observed, especially with regard to local elections being an indicator of general election performance, partly because of the use of the single transferable vote (STV) system, as well as due to the number of Independent candidates. Also, some people may simply vote differently in local elections from what they may do in parliamentary elections for Westminster and/or Holyrood. Furthermore, national swings may not pick up local factors which may decide the outcome in individual constituencies, and of course, the polling and my own assumptions may be wrong.

     That being said, I believe I have tried my best to explain my reasoning with these constituencies as all three main pro-Union parties attempt to keep what they have and potentially make some gains at the expense of the SNP and place a dent in that party's claim for a mandate on having another divisive separation referendum.

Aberdeen South – Within the city of Aberdeen, this constituency in the southern part of the city is currently occupied by the SNP’s Callum McGraig, who won the seat two years ago by defeating Labour’s Dame Anne Begg with a majority of 7,200 votes. It has been in continuous use since 1885, and during that time, solidly voted for Liberal MP’s until 1918 when it began electing a string of Conservative’s in a chain broken only twice in 1966 and 1987 by Labour MP’s – one of whom was Donald Dewar, the future leader of Scottish Labour and inaugural First Minister of Scotland. The Tory hold on this area ended in 1997 with the election of Dame Anne, who went on to hold the seat for the next 18 years and became the first Labour politician to hold it for more than one parliamentary term. During this time, the Liberal Democrats became the main challengers before the SNP leapfrogged both them and the Tories to defeat Dame Anne in 2015.

At Holyrood since the first devolved parliamentary election in 1999, the LibDems won this seat via Nicol Stephen until 2011 when its successor seat, Aberdeen South and North Kincardine was won by the SNP’s Maureen Watt. She was re-elected in 2016, albeit with a significantly reduced majority against a 20% surge in the Tory vote under Ross Thomson, who came in second place but nevertheless gained a seat as a regional list MSP for the North East region. Thomson came in fourth when he contested the Westminster seat two years ago, but is now in a position to possibly win it this time around. An overall reaction against the SNP’s obsession for another referendum in a city which overwhelmingly voted to maintain the United Kingdom is working in his favor and he is sure to build on his name recognition and electoral performance over the last two years, which has seen the Tories become the main challengers to the SNP. Local elections this year saw them emerge as the second biggest party in terms of council seats and winning one of the wards which make up the parliamentary constituency. Combined perhaps with tactical votes from the wards where the LibDems were the biggest party, Ross Thomson and the Tories are in a very good chance to win here and help to send a message to the SNP.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh, and Selkirk – Covering most of the Scottish Borders council area, this constituency in the southeast of Scotland was the most marginal throughout Scotland at the 2015 general election – with the SNP’s Calum Kerr beating Conservative candidate John Lamont by just 328 votes, and now Lamont, who has held the corresponding seat at Holyrood since 2007, is standing once again for a rematch with Kerr.

Both men in 2015 were well ahead of the previous incumbent, Michael Moore, who had served as Secretary of State for Scotland during the Cameron-Clegg coalition government. In turn, Moore represented what had been this area’s affinity with the Liberals/Liberal Democrats since former party leader David Steel won a predecessor constituency from the Tories in 1965 and in fact, Moore was Steel’s successor to the Ettrick, Tweeddale, and Lauderdale seat before it was combined with the equally LibDem seat of Roxburgh and Berwickshire to form the current constituency in 2005, which Moore won and held for ten years. The Tories remained the main challengers here and at the Holyrood level, both seats returned LibDem MSP’s until the aforementioned John Lamont won Roxburgh and Berwickshire. Now known with expanded boundaries as Ettrick, Roxborough, and Berwickshire, Lamont has been re-elected twice, including at last year’s parliamentary election where he grew his majority and won 55% of the vote. Meanwhile, the SNP became the main challengers as the LibDems were pushed into third place.

At the local level, the Tories have also grown in strength. This year’s council elections resulted in them being the biggest party in terms of seats on the Scottish Borders Council and in terms of first preference votes cast. More crucially for the upcoming general election, they were the winning party in six of the ten local wards which make up the Westminster constituency where they are the main challengers to the SNP. Assuming the voting patterns of this year and last year hold up, John Lamont and the Conservatives should win this seat.

Dumfries and Galloway, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale, and Tweeddale, and Berwickshire, Roxburgh, and Selkirk. Image Credit: @ElectionMapsUK on Twitter

Dumfries and Galloway, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale, and Tweeddale, and Berwickshire, Roxburgh, and Selkirk. Image Credit: @ElectionMapsUK on Twitter

Dumfries and Galloway – Located in the southwest of Scotland, this constituency is located entirely within the larger Dumfries and Galloway council area, and the current MP is the SNP’s Richard Arkless, who defeated Labour’s Russell Brown in 2015 with a 6,500 vote majority. Before 2005 when the present seat was formed, this area’s predecessor seats had been a Conservative-SNP battleground, but voted for Conservative MP’s in every parliament but two since 1931, including Ian Lang, who served as Scottish Secretary and President of the Board of Trade under John Major. Lang’s parliamentary career began when he defeated the SNP’s George Thompson for the Galloway constituency in 1979 and ended when he lost his expanded seat of Galloway and Upper Nithsdale to the SNP’s Alasdair Morgan in 1997. Morgan then lost the seat to Tory candidate Peter Duncan in 2001, and the seat had the distinction of being the only one in Scotland to change hands that year. Four years later, it was largely replaced by the current seat, which was won and held by Labour via the aforementioned Russell Brown for ten years.

Meanwhile at the Holyrood level, except for the first election in 1999 which resulted in the election of Alasdair Morgan to the corresponding seat he had at Westminster, the Conservatives have held it and the successor seat of Galloway and West Dumfries since 2003, and at last year’s Scottish Parliament election, the Tories under Finlay Carson (replacing the retiring Alex Fergusson) increased their majority for that seat. During this year’s local elections, they won the biggest number of first preference votes in five of the eight wards which make up the Westminster seat, while also winning the biggest number of votes throughout the entire Dumfries and Galloway council area (which voted overwhelmingly against separation), as well as holding more council seats than any other party.

This seat may be close in the end at this election, but so long as the Tories turn out their vote and perhaps get some tactical votes their way, they ought to win this from the SNP.

Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale, and Tweeddale – This constituency will be one to watch for the simple reason that it is represented by David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland. His status in that role and as the sole Scottish Conservative MP has made him a target for the SNP, which would love to claim a significant scalp and deliver a blow to prospects of a Conservative revival north of the Tweed. What’s interesting about this area is that it represents an amalgamation of political traditions which has made it a marginal seat and difficult to predict – having elements of the old Dumfries constituency along the border, the Clydesdale constituency to the north, and the Tweeddale, Ettrick, and Lauderdale constituency to the east. Dumfriesshire had been a safe Tory area and held for over 30 years by Hector Munro until Labour’s Russell Brown won it in 1997; Clydesdale and its predecessor seat of Lanark had returned Labour MP’s since the 1950’s; and the Tweeddale/Peeblesshire area has been part of Liberal/Liberal Democrat-voting constituencies since the 1960’s under David Steel.

When the current constituency was formed for the 2005 election, it was thought to be a Labour-oriented seat based on notional results from the 2001 election, but David Mundell won it and has held since with an increased majority in 2010 and barely hung on by 798 votes two years ago against the SNP tide. However, changes in voting patterns favorable to Mundell and a more polarized electorate divided over the issue of another referendum has made this election Mundell’s to lose. Last year, the Holyrood constituency of Dumfriesshire, held by Labour since its creation in 1999, had been won by Mundell’s son Oliver in the parliamentary election. At the same election in Clydesdale, the Tories jumped to second place against the SNP, which had taken the seat from Labour in 2011 and the party also showed similar strength in Midlothian South, Tweeddale, and Lauderdale against the SNP, which had also ended LibDem hegemony in this area. Furthermore, at local elections this year, many if not most of the council wards (from the Dumfries and Galloway, South Lanarkshire, and Scottish Borders councils) which make up the DCT constituency were ones in which the Conservatives had won the biggest number of votes. Assuming the aforementioned patterns hold up, David Mundell should be re-elected with a bigger majority, but he needs to get his vote out because we know the Nats will surely turn out their own.

East Dunbartonshire – Formerly a long-time Labour area to the north of Glasgow, this seat in its current incarnation had been held by the Liberal Democrats via Jo Swinson from 2005 to 2015 when she lost it to the SNP’s John Nicolson by 2,100 votes. Now Swinson, who was a government minister in the Cameron-Clegg coalition administration, is standing to regain her old seat in a re-match against Nicolson, a former BBC journalist who has become somewhat more known for other things rather than his work as a parliamentarian, such as his apparent role (along with fellow SNP MP Pete Wishart) in applying political pressure on media company STV to sideline digital editor and commentator Stephen Daisley for opinion articles and Twitter activity – at times aimed at the SNP – which displeased him. That aside, what makes this seat interesting is that while Swinson is the odds-on favorite win and some projections have her party winning back that seat or at least within striking distance, the results from last year’s parliamentary election for Holyrood and this year’s local council election don’t bear that out.

Again, looking through the history of this area since World War II at the Westminster and Holyrood levels, it is not exactly clear how the LibDem’s managed to win this seat in the first place. In fact, the Conservatives have had better chances here over the years and indeed, they briefly held the old East Dunbartonshire seat in 1974, as well as its successor seat of Strathkelvin and Bearsden in the 1980’s. Labour and now the SNP have been winners here, and at the 2016 Holyrood election, there was a larger vote share and vote increase for the Tories than for the LibDem’s in the corresponding Scottish Parliament seats. At this year’s local elections, the SNP won the biggest number of first preference votes in all of council wards which make up the constituency save for two, and one of them – Bearsden South – was topped by the Tories, who in some projections are better positioned to beat the SNP in the constituency. That said, the LibDems have had decent representation on the council in the two decades since it was formed and they did manage to double their current representation to six seats (second to the SNP and on par with the Tories), albeit that probably had more to do with the vagaries of the STV proportional voting system.

Perhaps it all comes down to Jo Swinson as an individual, rather than any party label, and indeed during the run-up to the last general election, it was believed that her personal qualities and reputation as a local MP would save her from defeat. As it was, those factors were not enough against the SNP tide, but perhaps voters are reconsidering her for who she is and what she brings to the table. If enough of them vote based on those considerations, Swinson – perhaps with additional help via tactical voting – may very well return to Westminster.

East Lothian – If Labour is going to gain a seat anywhere in Scotland, it will likely be here. Known for Labour politicians such as John Mackintosh and John Home Robertson, since World War II, this area has had a non-Labour MP only three times – from 1951-1966 and February 1974-October 1974 when it was held by the Tories, and since 2015 by the SNP’s George Kerevan, who was elected in the SNP tsunami that year. Most election predictions have it either staying with the SNP or going the Conservatives, but there are two reasons not to count Labour out; it retained the mostly overlapping Holyrood constituency last year on an increased majority and the party was also the largest one in terms of votes cast and seats won at this year’s local council elections. However, it must be remembered that the MSP of the Holyrood constituency, former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, has held the seat since 2007 and it is therefore possible that he benefited from a personal vote which was attached more so to his incumbency and not to his party label. Furthermore, as has been stated, local elections are not always solid predictors of parliamentary elections as they tend to be in different years, but since both are occurring just over a month of each other, perhaps a bit more weight ought to be placed on what happened at the May election. If Labour does win, it will be by the slimmest of margins against an incumbent SNP MP with a 6,800 vote majority and a Conservative candidate who may benefit from a national swing toward her party.

Inverclyde, Paisley and Renfrewshire North, Paisley and Renfrewshire South, East Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire, East Dunbartonshire, Glasgow (North West, South West, North, South, Central, North East, and East),   Cumbernauld ,  Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, and Airdrie and Shotts. Image Credit: @ElectionMapsUK on Twitter

Inverclyde, Paisley and Renfrewshire North, Paisley and Renfrewshire South, East Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire, East Dunbartonshire, Glasgow (North West, South West, North, South, Central, North East, and East), Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, and Airdrie and Shotts. Image Credit: @ElectionMapsUK on Twitter

East Renfrewshire – This is another constituency where a national swing to the Conservatives may yield a gain and like East Lothian, it was a bit of a story to tell. For most of the last century, this seat (known as Eastwood from 1983-2005) was solidly Tory and once was the safest Tory seat in Scotland until Jim Murphy won it during the Labour landslide of 1997 and he held on with increased majorities to make it one of the safest Labour seats in Scotland until he was consumed by the SNP’s own landslide in 2015 and lost to Kirsten Oswald, who now defends a 3,700 vote majority. After 20 years, it appears that this seat will return to the Conservative fold and there is good reason to believe this. Last year, the parallel Holyrood constituency – still called Eastwood and compassing a smaller area – elected Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw, who defeated Labour’s Ken Macintosh, the person who had held the seat since its creation in 1999. Furthermore, the Tories won the largest number of votes and council seats here at this year’s local elections. The Labour Party has selected Blair McDougall to stand for the seat and as the one-time director of the cross-party Better Together campaign against separation, he has name recognition and pro-Union credentials which make him more likely to win than a run-of-the-mill candidate in an area that voted heavily in favor of the Union in 2014. However, it does appear that if this seat switches hands, it will be Tories who will reclaim an old heartland.

Edinburgh South – Labour’s only other realistic chance at this election will be here, where Ian Murray stood alone as the rest of his party colleagues lost their seats two years ago. Not only did he buck the trend against the SNP in keeping his seat, he also managed to increase his majority and this was probably due to some tactical voting by Tory and Liberal Democrat voters, as well as Murray’s personal appeal as an incumbent local MP. Among other things and as a supporter of Hearts of Midlothian F.C., he chaired the Foundation of Hearts, which was organized by fans to save the club and buy it out of administration after its finances had collapsed in 2013. Murray himself, according to the Scotsman, played a “key part in membership drives, fundraising to ensure the club remained afloat and spearheading negotiations with administrators” which resulted in Hearts coming out of administration and on track to be purchased by FOH and its 8,000+ paying members.

With this profile and a reputation as a hard-working, responsive, and effective MP, perhaps its no surprise that he managed to hang on in 2015 more so because of his personal appeal than his party label, and he may have to rely on that personal appeal again in the face of the SNP and the resurgent Conservatives. Together, they were the most voted parties at this year’s local elections in the council wards which make up Edinburgh South and the Conservatives have a longer history of holding this seat than Labour – probably most notably by Sir William Darling, a great-uncle of former Labour chancellor and Better Together chairman Alistair Darling. However, Labour managed to gain the parallel Holyrood seat at last year’s parliamentary election and the party is reportedly going all-out here by pouring virtually all its Edinburgh resources into getting Murray re-elected, but it will likely be Murray’s personal relationship with his constituency that will get him over the line.

Edinburgh South West – Once the seat of the aforementioned Labour grandee Alistair Darling, it was taken by the SNP’s Joanna Cherry in 2015 and now stands as a potential Tory pick-up if the polls are to be believed. Before the 2005 general election, most of this area was once the Edinburgh Pentlands constituency, which was solidly Tory from its creation in 1950 and most notably held by one-time Foreign Secretary Sir Malcom Rifkind, who was the longest-serving MP for Pentlands until he was defeated by Labour’s Lynda Clark in 1997. Sir Malcolm failed to regain the seat in 2001 and the subsequently reorganized South West constituency was held by Labour for ten years. Meanwhile, the parallel Holyrood seat – still named Pentlands – has been held by Labour, Conservative, and SNP MSP’s (including the late former Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie) since its creation in 1999. The Conservatives came in second place here at the 2016 Holyrood election and at the local elections this year, they were also the most voted party in the council wards which make up both constituencies. This seat may come down to the wire on election night, so if the Tories want to win this seat, they will have to turn out their vote and probably hope for some tactical pro-Union support from Labour and LibDem voters.

Falkirk, Linlithgow and East Falkirk, Livingston, Edinburgh West, Edinburgh South West, Edinburgh South, Edinburgh North and Leith, Edinburgh East, Midlothian, and East Lothian. Image Credit: @ElectionMapsUK on Twitter

Falkirk, Linlithgow and East Falkirk, Livingston, Edinburgh West, Edinburgh South West, Edinburgh South, Edinburgh North and Leith, Edinburgh East, Midlothian, and East Lothian. Image Credit: @ElectionMapsUK on Twitter

Edinburgh West – It’s probably safe to say that this seat has gotten much attention over the last two years because of its current occupant Michelle Thomson, who was elected in 2015 as an SNP MP, but resigned the party whip before the year was out to sit as an Independent in the face of controversy and alleged impropriety over past property dealings. She’s not standing at this election and the Liberal Democrats – who lost the seat to her – are seeking to retake it as one of their target seats, and they have good reason to feel positive about their chances. At the Holyrood election last year for the overlapping constituency of Edinburgh Western, the LibDem’s via Alex Cole-Hamilton took back that seat from the SNP and at this year’s local council elections they were the most voted party in most of the council wards which make up both constituencies.

That being said, this was once a solid Tory seat from 1931 until 1997 when the LibDems gained it, and as with just about elsewhere in Scotland, the Tories are gaining steam. However, this is also among the seats where one or more of the three pro-Union parties are not actively campaign and using precious resources in a constituency where they know they won't have a chance, so that the party with the best chance of beating the SNP will do so. Here in Edinburgh West, that would appear to be the Liberal Democrats, whose candidate is Christine Jardine, who unsuccessfully contested the Gordon constituency against Alex Salmond in 2015. Recently, an SNP supporter publicly and falsely accused her of campaigning during the period when political activity was suspended in the wake of the Manchester terrorist attack when in fact, she was out burying her husband. This controversy once again raised the profile of this particular race and its importance to all concerned. For the LibDem’s in particular, it will be a building block back to relevance and for those of a pro-Union persuasion generally, winning this seat will be an important step forward in turning back the SNP tide.

Moray – If anything may signal the state of the SNP for better or worse, perhaps no better expression will be found than here, where Angus Robertson, the party’s deputy leader and Westminster group leader has been MP since 2001. This area was once reliably Conservative expect for when the SNP won the predecessor constituencies in 1974, but since this constituency was created in 1983, the Conservatives won it only on the first time and the SNP has held it since 1987. The party has also held the parallel Holyrood seat since its creation in 1999, but the Tories managed slash the SNP majority from 38.3% to 8.6% during the 2016 parliamentary election and in 2017 for the first time, they were the biggest party in terms of votes cast in the Moray Council election (though the SNP won more seats). Additionally, Moray had the highest Scottish “Leave” vote in the EU referendum (49.9%) and also voted against separation by a margin of 57.6% to 42.4%. With all being said, this is a prime area for the Tories, but Robertson is a formidable incumbent who will be hard to dislodge and – this can’t be stressed enough – council elections and referendums are not necessarily the best predictors of parliamentary elections. They will have to maximize what appears to be their core vote in the northwest of the constituency and elsewhere to claim this top scalp from the SNP.

North East Fife – Once solidly Liberal/Liberal Democrat for nearly 30 years under Sir Menzies Campbell, it fell to the SNP’s Stephen Gethins in 2015. Before that, it and its predecessor seat of East Fife tended to vote for Tories since the 1930’s and traded between the Liberals and Tories in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with its most notable occupant likely being the Liberal Prime Minister, Henry Herbert Asquith. In the present day, the Liberal Democrats are eyeing this seat as another one to take back from the SNP, but the Tories appear be gaining strength here as well and the SNP itself is not to be counted out. However, the LibDems unexpectedly won the corresponding Holyrood seat of the same name via their Scottish leader Willie Rennie at last year’s parliamentary election and the Fife Council wards which make up the constituency gave their biggest number of first preference votes to the LibDems at the council election this year. To win this seat and the others already mentioned as well as holding on to Orkney and Shetland would be a good night for them, all things considered, but as with everywhere else, they will have to turn out their usual voters and probably hope for tactical votes from other parties.

Orkney and Shetland – This is a seat with two main story lines attached to it. One is of political longevity, because save for a 15 year period from 1935 to 1950, Orkney and Shetland has been sending Liberal and Liberal Democrat MP’s such as Jo Grimond and Jim Wallace continuously since 1837, with the streak since 1950 being the longest run within any British parliamentary constituency and making it at one time, the safest seat for the LibDems.

For Scottish parliamentary purposes, the islands were split into two constituencies which have elected Liberal Democrats since their creation in 1999, and these became the last LibDem bastions in Scotland after the near wipeout of 2011 when they lost all of their mainland constituencies to the SNP, partly in response to their role as coalition partners with the Conservatives at Westminster. At the 2015 UK general election, then-Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael held on to Orkney and Shetland with a reduced majority during the SNP landslide as he became the last Liberal Democrat MP in Scotland.

This leads to the second story - one of political survival. After holding on to his seat, Carmichael – who has been in Parliament since 2001 – faced an attempt to have him removed from office by four constituents in Orkney over the “Frenchgate” memo controversy during the general election when he stated that as Scottish Secretary in the coalition government of David Cameron, he knew nothing of a leaked memo which said that Nicola Sturgeon told the French ambassador that she actually preferred Cameron as prime minister as opposed to then-Labour leader Ed Miliband. When it turned out that Carmichael was involved in the leak and he admitted to it, the “Orkney four” lodged a petition for his removal and force a by-election. Carmichael was eventually found not to have committed an “illegal act” and he kept his seat, but there seemed to have been untold damage to his reputation and the electoral chances of his party in Orkney and Shetland.

However, it seemed that the voters may have been turned off by what many people believed was a political witch-hunt to force out the last Scottish LibDem MP, and at the Holyrood election last year, the Liberal Democrats retained the separate Orkney and Shetland constituencies with increased majorities under Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott respectively. Meanwhile, this year’s local election can’t give any indication of which way the general election will go because Shetland Council and Orkney Council are heavily stocked with Independent councillors. However, most polling and projections have Alistair Carmichael surviving for another Parliament, perhaps with an increased majority – maybe an indication people being tired of the SNP and/or some tactical voting, but probably more so that voters have moved on and recognize him as their local MP who has worked in their interests for 16 years.

Perth and North Perthshire, Ochil and South Perthshire, Dunfermline and West Fife, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Glenrothes, North East Fife, Dundee West, Dundee East, and Angus. Image Credit: @ElectionMapsUK on Twitter

Perth and North Perthshire, Ochil and South Perthshire, Dunfermline and West Fife, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Glenrothes, North East Fife, Dundee West, Dundee East, and Angus. Image Credit: @ElectionMapsUK on Twitter

Perth and North Perthshire – The current occupant of this seat has in some way become more known for his use of Twitter than his work as an MP (winning Parliamentary Tweeter of the Year Award for 2015), particularly with regard to calling those who voted “No” in 2014 “nawbags” and sharing a tweet with foul-mouthed references to pro-Union parties in the lead-up to the council elections this year. He was also the alleged co-conspirator (with the aforementioned John Nicolson) in leaning on STV to sideline digital editor and commentator Stephen Daisley for opinion articles and Twitter activity – sometimes aimed at the SNP – which displeased him. In so doing, he has become a significant target for those wanting to get rid of him.

Pete Wishart has represented this area since he was elected to what was Tayside North in 2001, following in the footsteps of John Swinney, who now represents the corresponding seat of Perthshire North at Holryrood and is currently Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary in the Scottish Government. Before either of them, Perthshire regularly returned Conservative MP’s, including political notables such as Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, and Bill Walker. Only once before the modern era of the SNP did that party win here, and that was when Douglas Crawford held the Perth and East Perthshire seat from October 1974 to 1979. However, the SNP remained the main challengers to the Tories in the Perthshire area constituencies, and following the death of Nicholas Fairbairn in 1995, his Perth and Kinross seat went to the SNP’s Roseanna Cunningham in the resulting by-election. Two years later, John Swinney won Tayside North from Bill Walker during the 1997 Labour victory which saw the Tories losing all of their Scottish seats. Wishart succeeded Swinney in 2001 when the latter stood down to focus on his work at Holyrood and when the current Perth and North Perthshire seat was formed in 2005, the Conservatives narrowly lost it to Wishart, who has since increased his majority in subsequent elections.

However, the party is potentially looking its best chance to regain a foothold in Perthshire. At last year’s Holyrood election, Swinney saw his majority slashed from 10,300 votes to 3,300 in a 12% swing to the Conservatives and this year’s local elections saw the party become the largest in terms of votes cast in the Perth and Kinross council area (60% of which voted against separation) and number of council seats. More crucially, the party also received the biggest number of votes in all of the council wards which make up Wishart’s constituency except for the city of Perth itself. Victory for the Conservatives is indeed very possible here, especially with Perthshire native and European Parliament member Ian Duncan standing this year, but he and his party will have to maximize their vote in the northern and rural wards where they are most favorable and perhaps also hope for tactical votes from elsewhere in order to send Wishart looking for musical gigs and to send a message that they are back in business in Perthshire.

Stirling – This constituency at the heart of Scotland is conterminous with the Stirling council area and is currently represented by SNP MP Steven Paterson, who won it by a hefty majority of over 10,000 votes two years ago. Before then, the seat had been held by the Labour Party via Dame Anne McGuire since 1997 when she defeated the Conservative Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth – the inaugural holder of the seat since its creation in 1983 – who was one of the major political scalps in that general election as a cabinet minister and a casualty of the Tory wipe-out in Scotland.

Like Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale, and Tweeddale to the south, it represents an amalgamation of old political traditions. The northern and more rural area used to be part of the Kinross and Western Perthshire constituency which had been represented by Conservatives such as Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home; the old West Stirlingshire elements and the area including and surrounding the city of Stirling were more geared towards Labour. The result was a constituency that began as a safe Tory seat, then became a Tory-Labour marginal, and then a safe Labour seat before falling to the SNP in 2015.

At Holyrood, the corresponding seat – also called Stirling – was represented by Labour from 1999-2007 and has since been held by the SNP. However, the Conservatives have remained steady at around a quarter of the vote in both the Westminster and Holyrood constituencies, and at last year’s Holyrood election, they made gains to come in second place in Stirling. The local elections this year saw them emerge as the party with the biggest number of first preference votes and on par with the SNP in terms of seats on Stirling Council. The ward maps show the strongest vote for the Tories came from the northern and western wards, so if they can maximize their vote there, find some votes elsewhere (especially in the suburbs around Stirling), and can benefit from some tactical voting, they may well regain this for the first time in 20 years.

West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine – Located within the Aberdeenshire council area in the northeast of Scotland, this constituency is currently held by SNP MP Stuart Donaldson, who won it in 2015 with a majority of 7,000 votes from the Liberal Democrat Sir Robert Smith, who had held it since it was created in 1997. Before that, this area had typically returned Conservatives to Parliament, though Liberals and Liberal Democrats have had breakthroughs from time to time and provided the main competition to the Conservatives. This Tory-LibDem dynamic remained true after the LibDems became the dominant party in the 1990’s and continued until the SNP ascendancy two years ago, which resulted in the LibDems being pushed into third place, behind the SNP and Tories.

At the Holyrood level, the first devolved election in 1999 resulted in the Liberal Democrats winning the corresponding seat under Mike Rumbles, who then held it until 2011 when he lost the successor seat of Aberdeenshire West to the SNP’s Dennis Robertson. Five years later, Robertson lost the seat to the Tory candidate Alexander Burnett by 900 votes. This was one of the surprise events of the 2016 Holyrood election, and it showed the ultimate potential of Conservative strength in the North East against the SNP on a night when other constituencies like this one experienced sharp swings from the SNP to the Conservatives. Then at the local elections this year where the party ended up with more seats on the Aberdeenshire Council than any other party, it was also the winner in the wards which comprise the Westminster-level constituency. Combined with the fact that this area voted heavily in favor of maintaining the UK, it’s virtually clear the Conservatives are favorites to win here against the SNP and regain another old heartland.

Final Thoughts

     These are the 16 constituencies which I believe may possibly be held by a pro-Union MP at this general election. Some of them are more certain to turn out that way than others, but as I have stated, there are caveats and I am prepared to be wrong. Of course, I hope I’m not wrong and that all of these seats will be held by a pro-Union MP’s, if not potentially more. Indeed, I have heard some rumblings about places such as Rutherglen and Hamilton West returning to Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith potentially becoming Conservative territory, and perhaps even one of the Highland seats being re-gained by the Liberal Democrats. Another one is the Gordon constituency held by former First Minister Alex Salmond, which some are hoping will change hands to deliver a bloody nose to the SNP. In fact, there is some reason to believe that it may for much of the same reasons as Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine. However, there was not enough for me conclude that they are likely to flip from the SNP and in Salmond’s case, his notoriety alone makes me hesitant to say that he will likely lose his seat. The same holds for his old seat of Banff and Buchan, which may vote Conservative based on Brexit and the council election results, but the polling and projections have yet to show enough of a swing to the Tories to say that the constituency will vote for them.

     If anything, what I have tried to do here is base what I have said on polling, trends, and reasoned assumptions, which has resulted in a relatively realistic, but hopeful outlook. Indeed, one encouraging element of the polls has been the apparent decline in support for separation and the SNP, which in turn makes it more likely that more seats will elect a pro-Union MP - if not now, but in the future should this trend continue. For now, the only poll that matter of course is the one on June 8th, and we shall see by Friday morning how right or wrong we all were about this election, especially with regard to Scotland, and I definitely hope that enough of an impact will be made to make the SNP think again.

Proportional and Equal Representation in the House of Lords

     In the wake of the last general election, much commentary has been made by the media, opinion writers, politicians, and the public at large about the perceived unfairness of the United Kingdom’s age-old first-past-the-post (FPTP) system for electing members of the House of Commons - the lower house of the British Parliament.

     Such criticism is not new, for even in the days when the two major parties – Labour and the Conservatives – could command almost 90% of the popular vote between them in general elections, neither commanded a majority of the popular vote throughout the UK, though through the votes in each individual parliamentary constituency (or district), the parties often achieved majority status in terms of the number of seats in the Commons. Furthermore – with some exceptions – at least the election results had somewhat of a semblance to the actual number of seats won.

     However, first-past-the-post punishes smaller parties whose vote may be substantial but spread out across the country in such a way that it is not reflected in individual constituencies (where they tend not to stand a chance against the main parties), and therefore does not translate into seats in the Commons. From this view, the British Parliament is not representative of the electorate, resulting in a democratic deficit.

     Yet in many ways, this is what the system is designed to do: shut out smaller single-issue/regional parties and produce single-party majorities for stable and effective governance throughout the United Kingdom. But as the vote share of Labour and the Conservatives (a.k.a. Tories) has fallen to the rise of such smaller parties, this argument falls on the deaf ears of people who feel as though they are not represented in Parliament and the government of the day.

     It certainly seemed like a spurious argument during the 2015 General Election, when the opinion polls were predicting apocalyptic outcomes in which neither party would attain a majority of seats, and with the collapse of the Liberal Democrats – traditionally the third-largest party in Parliament and the coalition partners with the Tories since 2010 – there was talk of rainbow coalitions/post-election agreements with the Scottish National Party (SNP), UK Independence Party (UKIP), the Green Party, and the various parties from Northern Ireland – including the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

     As it was, the electorate produced a surprise – albeit wafer-thin – majority Tory government with 330 seats (out of 650) with party leader David Cameron as prime minister for a second term. This appeared to vindicate the continuance of FPTP, but the Conservatives achieved only 37% of the national popular vote – meaning that a clear majority of voters did not vote for the party. However, it won 51% of the seats in the Commons, and therefore gained a mandate to govern the entire UK without the Liberal Democrats or anyone else.

     Yet, if this appeared somewhat distorted, it was nothing compared to what happened in Scotland in particular, where the insurgent SNP won half of the vote, but took all but three of Scotland’s 59 seats in the Commons, which amounted to 95% of the seats and the party’s best electoral performance for a British general election. This has caused consternation among the half of Scots who did not vote for the SNP, especially those who support Scotland's place within the UK, whose voices are now only represented by three Members of Parliament (MP’s) – one each from Labour, the Tories, and Liberal Democrats.

     From a UK-wide perspective, the distortion was even more apparent with regard to UKIP, which received 13% of the vote across the UK, but returned only one MP, in contrast to the SNP, which won 5% of the UK vote but returned 56 MP’s because its vote was heavily concentrated in Scottish constituencies. This amounted to nearly 9% of the seats in the Commons and allowed them to displace the Liberal Democrats as the third largest party. For their part, the Lib Dems won 9% of the vote, but wound up with eight seats – or just over 1% of the Commons.

     These distortions – leaving the SNP overrepresented, the Lib Dems and UKIP underrepresented, and the Tories able to govern alone despite not having a majority of the electorate behind them – have fueled calls for FPTP to be replaced with some form of proportional representation in the House of Commons, so that the Commons can be more representative of the British electorate. It would have deprived David Cameron and the Tories of a majority, but also would have more accurately reflected the “sovereign will of the Scottish people” by preventing the SNP from taking more than about 30 seats and leaving respectable numbers for Labour and the Tories.

     However, there are people who value the link between MP’s and their constituents, which would be diluted in a pure proportional representation system. Another criticism is that PR would entrench high-ranking politicians since they would be placed at the top of PR voting lists, and would almost certainly be elected with no direct constituents to which they answer, which will make democratic deficits worse, not better. Then there are those who simply believe that FPTP, for all of its problems, has served the UK well, and subscribe to the belief that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

     The problem is that for many people in the UK, the system is broken, unfair, and unrepresentative. Throughout the referendum campaign in Scotland, one of the main talking points from the “Yes” campaign and its fervent supporters was that though Scotland had representation in the British Parliament at Westminster, it was nothing compared to the 533 English members and the English electorate, who could “out-vote” Scotland and deliver governments and government policies that “Scotland didn’t vote for.”

     Of course however, Scottish residents vote alongside their fellow British citizens (in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales) during general elections, and the elected Parliament and the subsequent government that is formed is the result of MP’s voted by the people from throughout Britain, and that government is one voted for by the British people as whole from Shetland to Land’s End. Its responsibility is to the United Kingdom as a whole (which includes Scotland) and not simply one part of it. In addition, MP’s are not organized into an “English bloc” or “Scottish bloc”, and nor do they often vote in such a way. Instead, they vote in accordance to their party and/or their personal values, which transcends the domestic boundaries within the UK.

     However, there perhaps is a case to be made that London and the South East do exert an inordinate amount of influence on the policies pursued by the government of the day by virtue of the concentration of people, wealth, and economic power in that area. With this in mind, it is therefore reasonable for parts of the UK outside of London to feel as though the capital and its environs have too much power over the direction of public policy in the UK.

     The fear of larger areas with concentrated wealth and power overpowering smaller areas with less wealth and power was a feature of the US Constitutional Convention of 1787, and it produced a deadlock amongst convention delegates, some of whom wanted a legislative body with two chambers based on population (which would have benefited larger states), whilst others wanted a single chamber body with equal representation, as it was in Congress under the Articles of Confederation. This was settled with a compromise in which the lower house of Congress would have membership allocated to the states in proportion to their population and the upper house of the Congress would allow each state to be equally presented by two members regardless of population.

     Eventually, the lower house became known as the House of Representatives, and as the chamber chosen by the people according to congressional districts within their state, it is larger than the upper house, the Senate, which is smaller and more exclusive, and functions to represent the interests of the states in a manner that befits a federation such as the United States. It means that the interests of the smaller states cannot be easily ignored as they can be in the House, where the sheer force of numbers from bigger states can drown them out.

     It sometimes means that the majority party in the House is not necessarily the majority party in the Senate, and even when both parties are in control, compromises may have to be hashed out in order to get things done, and by bringing the states to an even level with each other, it gives all of them a sense of having a significant role in governing the country. In addition, the Senate is also known for being the "world's greatest deliberative body" because of its tendency to slow legislation down for extensive debate, and to ensure that all voices are heard.

     If the United Kingdom is to move toward a federal system and address the legitimate concern of too much political and economic power being concentrated in the South East, then it is time to look toward changing elements of the UK’s parliamentary system, with a particular focus on reforming the upper chamber of Parliament - the House of Lords - so that it can become more representative of the UK’s nations and regions, as well as to more accurately reflect the will of the British electorate.

     To this end, I suggest that the House of Lords be composed of 100 members – with 25 allocated to each Home Nation and elected by some form of proportional representation (as is done in the Australian Senate, where twelve senators are elected via proportional means from each state, regardless of population).

     There are two main ways that this can be put into effect: proportional vote by Home Nation or proportional vote by region.

Option 1(a): Election of Lords via each Home Nation with simple proportional representation

     Under this plan, members would be elected according to the proportional vote for their party within their Home Nation. As with the European Union (EU) parliamentary elections, candidates will be arraigned according to a party list, but for the first part of this example, I will simply allocate candidates in relation to the percentage of the vote received by their party.

     Such a result based on simple proportional representation is expressed in the following graphs – beginning with the membership from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

DUP - Democratic Unionist Party; UUP - Ulster Unionist Party;

SDLP - Social Democratic and Labour Party; TUV - True Unionist Voice

     When the sums from each Home Nation are added up, here is what the UK House of Lords would look like under simple PR:

Option 1(b): Election of Lords via each Home Nation using the D'Hondt method of proportional representation

     The first variation of Option 1 used the percentage of the vote to allocate seats, and while this is very simple, it is not exactly proportional because it produces a fractional number of seats and requires rounding, the results of which some parties would protest. The D'Hondt method attempts to achieve a more perfect (though still imperfect) proportionality based on the actual votes cast, not the percentages, so that seat allocations are whole numbers and hopefully more fair to the parties and the electorate.

     This method of PR is named for Victor D'Hondt, a 19th Century Belgian mathematician and lawyer, and his system is used for elections throughout the world, including the election of British Members of the European Parliament (MEP's) from England, Scotland, and Wales. For more information on how D'Hondt's system works, I recommend this article from the BBC.

     Using that system, proportional representation in the Lord's is expressed in the following graphs – beginning with the membership from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

     When the sums from each Home Nation are added up, here is what the UK House of Lords would look like under D'Hondt:

     Comparing the two results, there is little substantial change, but there are winners and losers. Most significantly, the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) in Northern Ireland would have one seat under simple PR, but none under D'Hondt. Another significant loser under D'Hondt would be the Greens, which would be left with one seat in England, as opposed to one in Wales and one in Northern Ireland as well under simple PR.

     With that system, the Conservatives could boast of being the only party to have representation at the British Parliament from all four Home Nations of the UK, but D'Hondt would take away their sole Northern Irish seat, which would be compensated with an additional seat in England - keeping them at 22 seats. Meanwhile, Labour would gain one seat in Wales and increase their tally to 24, whilst the Lib Dems lose one to bring their number of Lords to five.

     In Wales, UKIP would have a bigger number of seats there (4) than in England under D'Hondt (3), whilst simple PR would produce the opposite result. In Northern Ireland, UKIP loses a seat, whilst the DUP, Sinn Fein, and the SDLP all make gains with D'Hondt. Indeed, D'Hondt would slash the number of Northern Irish parties in the Lords from nine to five.

     The only parties throughout the UK with no changes between the two systems would be the SNP, UUP, Alliance, and Plaid Cymru.

Option 2: Election of Lords via regions within each Home Nation using either simple PR or D'Hondt

     For the first option (in either variation), the popular vote in each Home Nation was used to calculate the allocation of seats for each party in an elected House of Lords.

     This second option would see members elected via regions within England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. The benefit of this option is that it would capture the regional political, social, and economic variances throughout the United Kingdom.

     However, if such a regional option were to be adopted, the seats would have to be allocated through the regions as equally as possible. For this purpose, the existing electoral regions used for the Scottish parliamentary and Welsh assembly elections, as well as the regions used for electing MEP's in England could be used. Electoral regions for Northern Ireland would have to be created, as it does not have any.

     But true equality would mean that each Home Nation would have to have five regions, but the only one that has five is Wales, and so this raises the question of regions elsewhere. However, having to redraw them to suit this purpose, or using the existing ones and allocating seats to them as equally as possible may prove to be a contentious issue that goes beyond the scope of this article. Therefore, there will be no calculation of what the Lords would look like via regional proportional representation.

     In conclusion, creating a House of Lords that is elected by proportional representation can go a long way in equalizing the political balance between the nations and regions of the UK, as well as to more accurately reflect the British electorate. Areas with less wealth, power, and population will have a greater say in the running of the country as they are brought to the same level as the wealthier, more powerful, and more populous areas.

     By doing this, it has the potential to create another binding aspect of the Union. For Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, this - as part of a move toward federalism - would amplify their voices in Parliament and move them closer into the heart of the Union, as opposed to the so-called "Celtic Fringe". Indeed, it may also force single-issue parties to step up and actually take part in shaping public policies and provide useful solutions to Britain's problems - putting themselves on official public record, as opposed to just protesting (and complaining).

     There are issues which need further discussing. For example, it can be argued that Northern Ireland is small enough to be a region in and of itself (as it is for EU elections), whilst England's size means that regional representation may be better at capturing its own political, social, and economic variances (i.e., Tories in the red Labour north and Labourites in the blue Tory south).

     In addition, there is the question of whether the Lords ought to be a body that has a mixed composition of elected and appointed members (or if it should be entirely appointed or elected), as well as to the extent it should be occupied by nonpartisan crossbenchers and Church of England bishops. Another issue is that of what to do with the officers of the Lords - some of whom are hereditary and occupy some of the oldest offices of state in the land.

     Then there is the question of what role the Lords would play - whether they would be able to (absolutely) block legislation from the Commons again, or remain as a revising chamber that provides useful scrutiny and amendments to government legislation and directives.

     As for how long members can serve, it may be advisable for them to be elected to lengthier terms (ten years perhaps) that are staggered compared to members of the Commons, and that such members may be limited to one term and subject to a minimum age requirement. Such measures can help to ensure that the Lords doesn't simply become a glorified version of the Commons and focuses on keeping the government of the day in check.

     But this and other issues noted here will be explored in future blog posts, which will focus on ideas to renew, refine, and reform Britain's constitutional system. For now, this article has discussed ways of using proportional representation to provide a proper outlet for the nations of regions of the UK in a similar way that the Senate does for US states, and as upper chambers tend to do in many countries (and typically with less members than the lower house).

     Almost everyone agrees that something has to be done about the Lords. Hopefully, the suggestions I have outlined can provide some guidance on the way forward for this honorable house, while also keeping its useful features intact and providing better and pluralistic governance for the United Kingdom.