Sean Fear’s local election commentary

Sean Fear’s local election commentary

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    What will be the impact of the Scottish switch to PR?

The next round of Scottish local elections will be held under the Single Transferable Vote system of proportional representation. First past the post has produced some very distorted results in the past, in Scottish local elections. For example, Labour won 87% of the seats in Glasgow, in 2003, on 48% of the vote, and most remarkably of all, a bare majority in Edinburgh with just 27% of the vote.

    Surprisingly perhaps, Labour have opted to abandon an electoral system that provides them with a considerable advantage. In 2003, Labour won 41% of Scotland’s council seats on 33% of the vote. If their vote share were to remain unchanged next year, then they could well lose 100 seats.

In fact, their likely loss (assuming the same vote share) will probably be less than this. This is because the wards used for the purpose of the election will only contain three or four seats. In practice, that means that a party would need to poll at least 25% of the vote to be sure of winning a seat in a three member ward, and 20% in a four member ward.

Labour, with their 33% vote share, are far more likely to achieve this, than either the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives, who each won 15% in 2003. The Scottish Socialists, and the Scottish Green Party, who both did well under the system of PR used for the Scottish Parliamentary elections, are unlikely to achieve this sort of vote share in more than a handful of wards.

While Labour are sure to lose overall control of Edinburgh, they can be fairly confident of retaining the majority of their councils in the Central Belt (unless their overall vote share falls sharply). In practice, winning 40% of the vote in any one council is likely to be enough to win an overall majority of seats, albeit, with considerably greater representation for opposition parties. The SNP, in particular, will be able to convert their substantial vote in the Central Belt into a considerable number of seats.

One feature of Scottish politics is the very substantial number of Independent councillors in rural areas. Unusually, they were favoured by the First Past the Post system. Scotland used small, single member wards, in which personal votes counted for a lot. Overall, Independents won nearly 20% of the seats in 2003, on 11% of the vote. With much larger, multi-member wards, their personal vote might be diluted, and the four main parties may well gain at their expense.

Last night’s local elections produced a net gain of one each for the Conservatives, and Labour.

Chiltern DC – Great Missenden:
C 494, Lib Dem 149, Lab 23. An easy Conservative hold.
Durham CC – Dawden: Lab 775, C 148. An easy Labour hold.
Easington DC- Passfield:
Lab 480, Ind 213 Labour gain from Independent
Manchester CC – Gorton South: Lib Dem 1588, Lab 1208, BNP 185, Green 151, C
90. Lib Dem hold. Labour and Liberal Democrat voters both came out to vote in larger numbers than in May, probably due to the BNP candidate, but the outcome between the two parties was almost identical.
North Shropshire DC – Hordley, Tetchill and Lyneal: C 169, Ind 74, Ind
40. Conservative gain from Independent.
Shrewsbury and Atcham BC – Lawley:
Ind 318, C 298, Lib Dem 82. Independent gain from Conservative.
South Cambridgeshire DC- The Abingtons
: C 496, Lib Dem 261. Conservative gain from Liberal Democrat, on a swing of 36%.

Sean Fear is a London Tory activist and writes a weekly local election feature for PBC

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