Category Archives: Scotland

Forecasting Local Election net seat gains/losses 2022

by Stephen Fisher, 3rd May 2022.

There are local elections tomorrow in England, Scotland, and Wales. Table 1 below shows my forecasts for net seat changes for each. They are based on projecting changes in opinion poll performance since the last round of local elections, with different methods for the different countries as discussed below. They represent what we might expect if the changes in party performance in local elections are on par with changes in the opinion polls.

Table 1. Forecasts for English local election net seat gains/losses for 2022

PC 0 0
SNP  -24-24

The Conservatives are expected to lose seats in all three countries. They are defending a strong 2017 base in Scotland and Wales, and dropped in the polls since both 2017 and 2018 when the English seats were last fought. 

Labour are expected to be the main beneficiaries from Conservative losses. The projections suggest Labour might recover most but not all the losses they suffered in 2017 in Scotland and Wales. In England, Labour are trying this week to build on cumulative gains from 2010, 2014 and 2018. They already control over half the seats up this year. Since Labour are at 40% in the polls, their poll support is no greater than is was in 2018. Instead of gaining seats from winning more voters, Labour are projected to make council seat gains in England primarily from the drop in the Conservative vote. But, as discussed below, last-year’s experience shows there are various reasons why that might not happen. 

Perhaps most surprising of the forecasts is the projected drop in SNP seats from what was considered a disappointing performance in 2017, winning only 32% of the first-preference vote when typically the party has been winning at least 45% of the vote in Scotland-wide elections since the independence referendum in 2014. My projection for the Scottish locals this week is based on changes since 2017 in local-election first-preference vote intention polls. Even general-election vote-intention polls show no advance on 2017 for the SNP. The party will be hoping that more of the people who vote for them in Westminster and Holyrood elections will support them in the locals this week. 


Typically, the Conservatives lose English council seats when their lead over Labour in the opinion polls drops from what it was the last time the election was fought. Similarly, if the Tories extend their lead, then they typically make net gains. The graph below shows that pattern for local elections in England when the Conservatives were in government and the local elections were not on the same day as a general election. There is a strong correlation, but with a lot of noise around it, meaning any forecast comes with a big range of uncertainty. This year either of the two main parties could be either up or down by more than 100 seats based on the variation in previous local elections.

Last year’s local elections contributed to that noise. The graph above distinguishes between what happened in the elections that were delayed from 2020 because of the Covid pandemic, and those that happened in 2021 as scheduled. The Conservatives substantially outperformed expectations from the historical pattern for both sets of elections. They made +248 gains in the “2020” set despite polls (in 2021) showing only a 1-point increase in the Con-Lab lead since 2016. For the 2021 set, the Tories suffered a net loss of only 14 seats despite the poll lead dropping by 13 points from the high that Theresa May enjoyed in the 2017 local elections (before losing most of it at the general election the following month).

Continue reading Forecasting Local Election net seat gains/losses 2022

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?