Let's Keep The Trend Going

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The Scottish Local elections are coming soon and the conventional wisdom is that two things will happen:

 

  1.  Labour will be annihilated; and
  2.  The SNP will carry all before it.

Around these parts we’re not liable to just take the conventional wisdom as gospel – otherwise we’d believe that binge drinking was a growing menace to society and that the smoking ban had reduced the number of smokers, so it’s time to have a closer look at what might happen and eventually make a prediction or two.

Some background: the graph below shows the numbers of votes cast for the major political groupings in Scotland at local elections since 1995, when the current council structure came into existence. I say “groupings” rather than “parties” because a major part of the political scene here has always been the presence of Independent candidates. Some councils are habitually controlled and run by Independents – the various island councils are a good example of this.


le votes

Click on any graph for a BIG version.

 

The view of this blog is that the office of Independent councillor is the acme of public service. A councillor’s job is not easy, and the pay isn’t great. The fact that some people may be willing to stand up and try to make things better for their own area, for no significant personal reward, can give us some hope for society. They contrast well with the opportunists who hang on the tails of political parties in the hope of an easy election and a path upwards through the party hierarchy.

 

Anyway, back to the graph. We can see that the numbers of votes cast in local elections over the past twenty years has been steadily increasing. Again, conventional wisdom has it that the electorate is increasingly disengaged from the democratic process, but these figures belie that view. At a local level, where there is a real opportunity to actually have an effect, people will participate when allowed to do so.

This next graph shows percentages, where we can see how the vote was shared out.

 

le_percent_of_vote

Two things can be readily seen – the proportion of the vote for Labour has steadily fallen over that time, and the smaller parties and Independents have all gained share. Good for them, and for us, but how has this carried through to seats, where the real influence lies?

le_percent_of_seats

For much of the time, one party has gained a disproportionately high number of seats, and therefore influence. I’ll let you work out which one that is. A gradual lessening of their power turned into a bit of a rout in 2007, when they lost all except Glasgow and North Lanarkshire councils. In truth they also lost the glorious South Lanarkshire Council, and SLC would have been run by a rainbow coalition - excluding them - were it not for a dirty little deal done by Labour and half of the Conservatives. This allowed them to push through the disastrous redevelopment of Strathaven Academy: that is the main reason for the existence of this blog, but that’s a story for another day.

An obvious feature of the graph above is the sudden increase in the SNP representation at the 2007 election. In fact they doubled their number of elected members. So that must have given them a lot of councils under their control, mustn't it? Well, no it didn't, and a glance at the next graph will show just what the big change was.

le_councils_controlled

You'll need to expand the graph to see the only Liberal Democrat holding (2003) but no amount of expanding will show the Conservatives' holdings, because there are none in this period.

A significant factor in the sudden change in 2007 was of course a change in the way we voted and the move to multi-member constituencies and preferential voting. Suddenly our participation in democracy was transformed and instead of just being allowed to make an X on a bit of paper every few years, we were permitted to write some numbers. This simple change transformed the vote and, all of a sudden, safe seats were no longer safe. Whereas before a vote for a candidate who did not eventually win was often seen as wasted, now voters could cast a ballot for a fairly guaranteed winner, but still give one or more others a chance. This allowed the less well known parties, and many Independents to pick up seats on the basis of second- or third-preference votes.

You can easily see from the graph that Labour's inexorable but slow decline was massively accelerated - in the space of just twelve years Labour fell from controlling over half of all the councils in Scotland to just two. In terms of council control the big winner in 2007 was "No Overall Control".

This has opened up the franchise and has allowed a greater spread of views to be heard in council chambers across the land. Councils now more closely represent the make-up of their residents and the power and patronage of the major parties has been greatly weakened. It is now genuinely possible for small parties or even a single person to take on and beat a national party machine, and that is reflected in the number of these candidates who are standing for election as Independents in May.

So, as promised, here are our predictions:

  1. Labour will be (almost) annihilated in Scotland, (almost) confirming the conventional wisdom. We think that they will be reduced to a rump (about 20 seats) in South Lanarkshire, will lose Glasgow by a small margin, possibly to a coalition, but will (just) retain North Lanarkshire, mainly because the SNP’s attention will be focused on Glasgow.
  2. The SNP will not carry all before them. They will increase their overall representation and will take control of Glasgow, but much of their expected support will instead be diverted to candidates from the smaller parties or Independents.

And some bonus predictions:

  1. The Conservatives will increase their share of the vote by 20% over 2007, bringing them close to Labour to contend for the second party in Scotland;
  2. And the Liberal Democrats’ share will drop to less than that for the Independents (it is already less than Independents and others combined).
  3. Very few councils in Scotland will be run by any single party.

We’ll be returning to the topic of these elections several times over the next few weeks, hopefully with some participation from candidates.

The next post will look at the types of candidate standing in this election

 

 Data for the graphs above

Votes Cast

  1995 1999 2003 2007
Labour 743 781 612 590
SNP 445 468 452 586
Conservative 196 206 283 328
Liberal Democrats 166 174 272 267
Independent 130 137 190 229
Other 24 25 68 103
Total 1,704 1,791 1,877 2,103

Figures for 1999 have been interpolated between 1995 and 2003 as detailed summary data was not found.

 

 Wards, Seats

  1995 1999 2003 2007
Labour 613 545 509 348
SNP 181 201 181 363
Conservative 82 108 122 143

LiberalDemocrats

121 148 175 166
Independent 151 135 230 192
Other 7 11 4 10
Total 1,155 1,148 1,221 1,222

Until 2003, voting was for single-member wards. In 2007 this changed to multi-member wards.

 

Councils

  1995 1999 2003 2007
Labour 20 16 13 2
SNP 3 1 1 0
Conservative 0 0 0 0
Liberal Democrats 0 0 0 0
Independent 5 5 6 3
No Overall Control 4 10 11 27
Total 32 32 32 32
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