Category Archives: Scotland

What does it take to get elected in Scotland and Wales?

By Stephen Fisher, 6th May 2021.

There is speculation about how well various new and small parties will do in today’s elections to the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments. Former SNP First-Minister Alex Salmond has recently established the Alba Party, while George Galloway has created Unity 4 All. Both are contesting regional list seats in Scotland. Meanwhile, Abolish the Welsh Assembly has come fourth, with at least 6% of the regional list vote, in all four polls for the Welsh Parliament (Senedd Cymru) since mid-April. Also, Reform-UK, the renamed Brexit Party, is fielding candidates in both countries. These are just some of the various contenders.

This post explains some of the complications in trying to figure out what share of the vote a party needs to get elected in these institutions. It ends up pointing to past experience as a guide and drawing comparison with and the electoral system for the Greater London Assembly (GLA).  

TLDR: The experience of all five elections to the Scottish Parliament suggests that around 5.5% of a regional list vote is usually enough to win a seat. It would be rare, but not impossible, to miss out on a seat with 6%. Winning on 5.2% to 5.4% is not uncommon. The lowest D’Hondt ratio ever to yield a seat in Scotland was 4.6% (equivalent to a single party winning a seat on that share). That was in 2003 when the SNP won 5 seats, including 2 list seats, with 23.0% of the Mid Scotland and Fife list vote. For the Senedd, a share of around 6.5% in a region is likely to be enough, especially in North Wales and Mid and West Wales which have historically been more accessible to small parties. By comparison, the GLA has a 5% legal threshold, without which parties would get seats with 3.8% of the vote.


The Scottish Parliament has 129 seats. The electoral system is sometimes described as proportional, but it is significantly different from pure proportional representation. If it were close then a party would win a seat for roughly every 0.8% of the vote, since 100/129=0.8. More precisely, if all the seats were elected by the D’Hondt method of proportional representation a party would be guaranteed a seat with more than 100/(1+Number of seats) per cent of the vote, that is 100/130 = 0.77% of the vote. As we shall see that is much lower than what is actually required to get elected.

Continue reading What does it take to get elected in Scotland and Wales?

Scottish Local Elections Forecast 2017

by Stephen Fisher

The local elections in Scotland tomorrow will be conducted using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, a form of proportional representation. As the graph below shows, the relationship between seats and votes has been close to but not perfectly proportional in the only previous sets of STV elections. Larger parties tend to be a little over-represented, smaller parties a little under.


However, the Conservatives were noticeably less well represented than might be expected from their size alone. For my seats forecasting model (a regression of seat share against first preference vote share, with zero intercept) I have interpreted these as party effects that are likely to be replicated again this week, but we shall see.

Continue reading Scottish Local Elections Forecast 2017

How did the SNP lose their majority in Scotland?

by Stephen Fisher.

The SNP went into yesterday’s Scottish Parliament elections defending a majority of 9, and with many expecting that they would manage to achieve another majority on the strength of their performance in the constituencies alone.

Indeed the SNP managed to improve on their 45.4% share of the constituency vote in 2011, with 46.5% this year. Moreover, Labour dropped from 31.7% in 2011 to 22.6%. This represents a Lab to SNP swing of 5%, which should have been enough for them to take 13 seats from Labour. That number, on top of the 53 constituencies they won in 2011 would have yielded the SNP 66 constituencies on a uniform swing, a majority of 3 before looking at the regional list seats.

What went wrong for the SNP then? Continue reading How did the SNP lose their majority in Scotland?

Labour need to tempt not terrify the voters they have lost to the SNP

by Stephen Fisher

Abstract: This post summarises the main points from the national and constituency polls in Scotland before discussing what might help Labour north of the border. The British Election Study survey evidence suggests that Scottish Labour MPs will not be saved by incumbency effects or tactical voting, so the party will primarily need to attract a significant number of their former voters back from the SNP. Arguing that “votes for the SNP help the Tories” seems unlikely to help as the former Labour voters who now support the SNP care little for Miliband over Cameron, or even Labour over the Conservatives. Instead of scaring they need positive persuasion with something that appeals to their strong preferences for more devolution and against austerity cuts. The recent Vow+ demand for greater devolution of welfare benefits seems to fit the bill. Whether it will prove convincing is another matter. Continue reading Labour need to tempt not terrify the voters they have lost to the SNP

What the Scottish Independence Referendum results tell us

Stephen Fisher, 19th September

Alex Salmond claimed that there were no No votes, just deferred Yes votes. They were deferred too late for the independence cause. But taking that attitude is possibly the best way of explaining the overall No vote in yesterday’s Scottish Independence referendum.

It is much easier to ask what factors led so many people to vote Yes than it is to ask why more people voted No. Up to a month ago the polls showed large leads for No. Voting to stay in the union was the default position. The key question is how the Yes camp managed to come so close even if they still did not actually manage to win. Continue reading What the Scottish Independence Referendum results tell us

Which councils are most likely to be indicative of the overall result in the Scottish Independence Referendum?

Stephen Fisher, 18th September

The results of today’s referendum on Scottish independence are being counted and announced by local authority area. Every vote counts equally. It is not like a British general election or even Scottish Parliament election, at which votes for some parties in some places have more chance of influencing the overall outcome than others.

Given the polls suggest the result could be close this means we might need to wait until all the results are declared before we know the outcome, especially if the two big cities (Edinburgh with 9% of the Scottish electorate and Glasgow with 11%) are among the last to declare. Unless the results strongly favour one side or the other, it will be difficult to interpret the early declarations to say what they imply for the overall outcome. Continue reading Which councils are most likely to be indicative of the overall result in the Scottish Independence Referendum?

How accurate will the Scottish independence referendum polls be?

Stephen Fisher, 11th September

The vote intention polls for the Scottish independence referendum seem to have been taken largely at face value by commentators, politicians and even the financial markets. In particular, the roughly equal split of the vote between Yes and No in several recent polls is being interpreted as if it implies that the result of the referendum is likely to be close. But how accurate are opinion polls as predictors of referendum outcomes and how accurate are polls for elections in Scotland more generally? Continue reading How accurate will the Scottish independence referendum polls be?