The concept of a ‘swing’ doesn’t really apply in the English contest for the 2015 general election. The Conservatives and Labour are neck and neck, third-force parties disrupt the electoral arithmetic on a local level, and where the collapsed Lib Dem vote will go to varies based on local dynamics. But, in a turn of events by now at least superficially familiar to many, in Scotland ‘swing’ just about sums it up.
It might be less than a year since we selected our 50 constituencies, but Scotland’s political landscape has since been rendered almost unrecognisable. In 2010, the Scottish National Party returned just 6 MPs to Westminster. In 2014, 55% of the country said No to independence. But here in 2015, projections for SNP seats at Westminster range from the high 30s to the 50s.
The feeling of a jubilant, surging campaign, buoyed by the promise of victory, is not one which characterises many English marginals. Disaffection drives many voters, whether it be away from the coalition, tired with austerity; away from Labour, disappointed with its leadership; away from the Lib Dems, upset with their collaboration with the Conservatives; or, towards UKIP or the Greens, tired of the mainstream altogether.
The parties with the best chance of victory are not going to sweep the stage, and the English voters know it — and feel it. This disaffection has been evident to us as we’ve traveled through marginals, speaking to voters and campaigns.
But whether or not you endorse their politics, its undeniable that the SNP are, as it were, sweeping the stage. Such is the surge, that seats that were marginal in 2010 are now closer to being categorical. Scottish Labour used to dominate at general elections. But the old strongholds are crumbling.
The Scottish seats which will be decided by a narrow margin in 2015 are most likely to be the Labour strongholds of 2010, in which Labour will either cling on or be tipped over the edge by the SNP surge.
Dundee East is one of the Scottish constituencies we selected back in June as one of our 50 marginals. The seat was, in 2010, the closest SNP/Labour marginal, with an SNP majority of 1821. In 2005, the SNP took the seat from Labour by a whisker-thin majority of 383.
But, as we now know, previous results count for little in Scotland when considering the result in May. To underline just how much the politics of the country has changed, in 2010 not one of the 56 Scottish seats at Westminster changed hands. Now, by all standards other than previous general election results, Dundee East is no longer a marginal seat.
One indication is, paradoxically, an absence of polling data. All marginal constituency-level analysis rests to some extent on Lord Ashcroft’s polls: they are well-established, and provide the most data. Tellingly, there are no Ashcroft polls for Dundee East; instead, the focus is on Dundee West, a Labour-held seat whose 2010 result had Labour winning on a 7278 (19.6 point) majority.
50for15’s interviews with Stewart Hosie of the SNP, MP in the last parliament, and Lesley Brennan, candidate for Labour, shed light on the contest in Dundee East. The narratives parallel the national story, but bring to light features of the Scottish contest not always adequately reflected in the English media.
The story for many Scots is about promises already made by English politicians, promises which many felt have not been honoured in draft legislation drawn up from the proposals of the cross-party Smith Commission on further devolution to Scotland. It’s also about social justice, a topic that often ends up tied into nationalism — a frustrating dynamic for Scottish Labour, and one which plays into the SNP’s hands.
In light of the significance of Scotland and the SNP for the 2015 elections, we’ve visited and written about two further constituencies beyond those already selected within the 50: Dundee East, Edinburgh South and Argyll and Bute. We’ll be revisiting the latter two on our roadtrip, but we’ve broadened our horizons to include analysis of Dundee West, which is forthcoming, and Glasgow South — both of which had large Yes-voting populations in the referendum.
As previously mentioned, there’s already Ashcroft polling data for Dundee West which predicts the unseating of Labour. We’ll add a look-in at how Chris Law, the SNP candidate there, is running his campaign; and how voters in St Mary’s, a residential area of the city, are responding on the doorstep. A founder of the Spirit of Independence movement, Law’s journey to candidacy through the referendum campaign is symbolic of the wider national picture.
Glasgow South mirrors Dundee West in that it’s held by Labour, the party which has defined the city’s politics for aeons. The SNP are less established in Glasgow than Dundee: insight into a seat in the heartland of Labour’s once iron-strong support is crucial to understanding contests here, and further afield in Scotland. Tellingly, SNP Party Leader Nicola Sturgeon is MSP for Glasgow Southside; her Westminster counterpart Stewart McDonald, whom 50for15 recently interviewed, looks set to take the seat this time.
The experience of ousting a party that’s held seats before some of the contesting candidates were born is just one of the many surreal aspects that such a huge and rapid game-changer brings.
While polls and elections are often reduced to numbers — and doubtless, the Scottish numbers fascinate many — it’s the experience of voters and candidates that drives the result. The experiences themselves can be as interesting as their implications.