26 May 2009

The Boundaries are A-Changin: West Central Scotland

Well, we now have revised proposals from the Boundary Commission for the new Holyrood Constituencies, and with them, initial proposals for the Holyrood Regions, giving us a better idea of the electoral landscape going into 2011, and meaning that we now have actual figures to apply to opinion polls. But the main detail that we have now is a better understanding of how we think people would have voted had the new boundaries been in place.

Let's take a look at the new West Central Scotland region - the successor to West of Scotland. It loses Dumbarton (whose good burghers will get a shock when they get their polling cards and discover that they're now Highlanders), Clydebank & Milngavie and Strathkelvin & Bearsden (both of whose residents will be surprised to learn that for electoral purposes, they are now seen as being in the East). In their place, the region gains Cunninghame South (re-uniting North Ayrshire into one region), East Kilbride and Hamilton, Larkhall & Stonehouse.

One observation: it's interesting that despite Boundary Commissioners considering the Clyde a natural boundary for constituencies in Glasgow, they thought nothing of a possible seat straddling the Clyde with the two parts (North Renfrewshire and Clydebank) being connected solely by the Erskine Bridge, which crosses the Clyde at a far more Firth-like point than the various bridges in Glasgow. It's also worth noting that the reaction to that idea appears to have been so hostile that now, not even the West Central region straddles the Clyde.

Anyway. Cunninghame North looks like it would still be SNP by a proverbial ba' hair, while Cunninghame South would still be Labour by around 2,000 votes.

East Kilbride, Andy Kerr's stomping ground, stays Labour and changes add about 600 votes to Kerr's majority. But here's the thing: this is not just Kerr's patch. Linda Fabiani has been an SNP ever-present here, standing in East Kilbride in 1999, 2003 and 2007. She faces a choice: stay with EK or stay with (East) Central Scotland. She cannot do both. She could do a stright swap with Gil Paterson (who stood in Clydebank & Milngvie last time, and was also a Central Scotland MSP for four years), but how would SNP members in the West react?

Eastwood, meanwhile, poses a problem for Labour: with the loss of Barrhead and Neilston to the new Renfrewshire South seat comes the loss of Labour's majority and a notional majority of 2,000 for the Conservatives. Ken Macintosh might want to look into possible escape routes: unless a Tory Government at Westminster draws almost instant and venomous hostility in Scotland (obviously the Tories got less and less popular the last time around, but it took the 1997 Election for Eastwood to switch), expecting him to stay on here is effectively de-selecting him.

Greenock & Inverclyde stays fairly safe Labour.

Another newcomer to the region, Hamilton, Larkhall & Stonehouse, gives Tom McCabe a majority of just over 3,000. It also gives potential food for thought to a number of Regional MSPs: Christina McKelvie fought the predecessor, Hamilton South, in 2007. Does she follow the Constituency or the Region? John Wilson had originally been the candidate here in 2007, but stood down from the Constituency election to contest the local election in Coatbridge, where he won a seat, but is quitting to focus on Holyrood. Does he follow the Region (he could conceivably contest Coatbridge & Chryston, I suppose), or attempt to secure the Constituency selection? Then there's the Tories' Margaret Mitchell, candidate here in every Scottish electon since 1999, and Regional MSP for Central Scotland since 2003. Which does she choose? Will she even stand again? Would she stand a snowball's chance in Hell of a high enough ranking in the same Region as Annabel Goldie and Jackson Carlaw?

Anyway. Paisley is united under one Constituency rather than being split into North and South, each with a bit of the environs attached. Most of Paisley South goes into here, while North gets carved up fairly comprehensively, so you'd view this more as Hugh Henry's balliwick. Which may pose a problem in the (probably) unlikely event that Wendy Alexander wants to stand again. Put simply, her seat has ceased to be, and if she wants another, this is probably her best shot. And it's not a bad one for any incumbent Labour MSP to contest: they have a notional majority of 4,000.

Renfrewshire North & West is a possible plan B for Wendy Alexander should she want (or need) one, though strictly, Trish Godman is the incumbent in this neck of the woods. And she faces an improved lot, with notional vote (and majority) increasing by 1,000. That's indifferent news for Bill Wilson, SNP Regional MSP: his vote stays largely where it is and that moves him into second place. It's bad news for Tory Leader Annabel Goldie: having just snatched second place in 2007, and requiring less than a 4% swing to gain the kudos of a Constituency in the next Parliament, approximately 1,300 Tory voters go up the swannee and leave her languishing in a rather grim third place and needing an 8% swing to win - twice what she needed before.

Then there's the 'new' seat, Renfrewshire South, made from the offcuts of surrounding seats. If Hugh Henry can secure Paisley, this offers Ken Macintosh his meal ticket for 2011-15: Barrhead stays in the seat, which would have a Labour majority in excess of 5,000 votes.

So that gives us 7 Labour constituencies, 1 SNP and 1 Tory. What of the List?

Labour's Constituency performance rules out amy List seats anyway, giving them a net loss of one seat compared with the old West region. The SNP have something to cheer here: notionally, they gain an extra List seat, giving them five to play with. But if we have sitting Regional MSPs sticking with Constituencies they were pegged with in the run-up to 2007, the party still has a problem: Gil Paterson could keep fighting Clydebank and so move into East Central, creating two vacant slots. But there are three MSPs potentially moving from Central Scotland to fill them: Linda Fabiani, Christina McKelvie and John Wilson. If the remaining MSPs for the West do not lose out, one of these three must. One of them must find a new patch of East Central Scotland.

The Tories, meanwhile, face something of a disappointment: on the current Region, they were unfortunate not to get an extra seat - Labour picking up eight constituency seats when the strength of their vote merited seven across the region prevented the Tories from gaining seat number 3. Despite gaining Eastwood, and Labour going down to the expected level, the Tories do not gain that extra seat, which instead goes to the SNP.

The LibDems (I feel like I've been ignoring them, but the reality is that I can't see many talking points involving them in this new region) stay where they are. They'll have things (good and bad) to chew on in other regions, however.


Brigada Flores Magon said...

All of this is of interest to politics wonks but comes at a time when a Catholic in Northern Ireland has been beaten to death by Protestants celebrating the victory of 'their' team in a Scottish Premier League football match. The mention of Larkhall in the post resonates. When will all parties in Scotland agree to end sectarian schooling, arguably the root cause of this cancer in our society?

Will said...

No argument here: this will never change as long as there's a culture of one of the groups being seen as "Other".

But as someone who was celebrating as well on Sunday, let me make one thing clear: the attackers responsible are quite simply scum. Not content with murdering this man, they beat his Protestant wife for trying to help him, and their pregnant neighbour for trying to help her.

The bastards. The utter bastards.

Malc said...

Will this is fascinating stuff. Quick question though. Your point re: Ken Macintosh reads "expecting him to stay on here is effectively de-selecting him."

Is this how MSPs should be viewing the opportunity to represent a constituency? Isn't that attitude what got us into the expenses mess in the first place?

Yes, Macintosh is in a bit of a pickle. But the honourable thing would be to stand, fight hard to up the Labour vote and, if unsuccessful, thank the electorate for the opportunity to serve them previously. Same goes for all other MSPs who may lose out.

Will said...

Malc, a fair question and one that I answer simply by reminding you that I am an unashamed cynic in the "Hell is other people" mould! I tend to work on the basis that people in a good position do their best to stay in it (or find a better one when possible) and so it's only natural that an MSP who's been representing a seat for 10 years should be a bit perturbed when a large chuck of it (and a supportive one at that) ends up on the other side of a boundary.

And with Renfrewshire South not having a sitting tenant but taking a fairly important part of Eastwood, a Ken Macintosh chickenrun would feed cynicism but would at least make some sense. That said, we don't yet know what he'll do - it's early days and he may well fight on in Eastwood. We will see.

All the same, I had a lot of respect for Elaine Murray's reaction to losing part of Dumfries, saying that she'd be disappointed not to be representing that part of town after 2011 but that she was grateful to have done so for the time that she has done. Fair play to her.

Forward said...

I am reluctant to get into this argument - particularly as it has nothing to do with your excellent analysis of the boundary changes - but feel someone should stand up for Catholic schools.

The school that my children attend encourages its pupils to value themselves and others. The idea that its existence fosters sectarianism is ill-informed and frankly offensive.

Studies have also shown that Catholic schools achieve better results than non-denominational schools. In any other country in the world we would be asking what can be learned from their success.

Holyrood Patter said...

as someone living there i take issue with greenock as a safe labour seat. of course you have the usual blind labour voters, but i feel the snp have a lot to gain there, especially with the boundaries being unkind to the list msps. you are pinngin a lot on gil paterson, but will he stay on as an msp?