It was good to see the results coming in from the East Livingston and East Calder by-election in West Lothian last week. Not just because it was a thumping win for the SNP from Labour but because it signalled that, despite all the mince which has flown across social media this summer, the voters are keeping their eyes on the prize even if others would rather debate the political equivalents of the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin.
The results also showed the continuation of what is beginning to look like a long term change in affiliations within the Unionist community. First preferences came out as;
SNP – 1890 (42.5%, +1.7)
Conservative – 1085 (24.4%, +2.4)
Labour – 969 (21.8%, -9.1)
Green – 336 (7.6%, +4.0)
Liberal Democrat – 118 (2.7%, nc)
ISP – 47 (1.1%, new)
As we saw very clearly in May, there are very differing attitudes to voting tactically among the three unionist party voters but these attitudes do appear to be hardening over time.
Tory voters appear to value the Unionist cause even over what they would normally see as their own financial self interest and will hold their noses and vote for anyone to stop the SNP in large numbers. Witness Edinburgh West, North East Fife and Dumbarton where the Tories switched in huge numbers.
Liberal Democrat voters are also happy to vote for anyone else if it will stop the policy which the Liberals survived on for decades; Home Rule. But they are less in numbers these days, many have made that switch over the course of elections and, as a consequence, don’t show up so graphically. Indeed, it may well be that, except where the tories keep them in office, they have effectively become virtually extinct like specimens in a zoo or lab.
Labour unionist voters appear to be less likely to switch and also choosier about who they will switch to. The results from May 2019 would indicate that for many there is still a real reluctance to vote for a Tory but switching to a Lib Dem would be less problematic. (I use the term Labour unionist to differ from those who still hold their socialist roots dear.)
The other factor which will be increasingly important next year in the Council elections is the willingness to transfer 2nd, 3rd preferences to the SNP is in direct contrast, not really surprising. With Labour voters fairly relaxed and Tories most reluctant.
This will give those poor souls who are currently planning the strategies for multi member wards next year some more food for thought. Although the SNP may well come out as winners in the 1st preferences, this is not always translated into actual seats because of the effects of vote transfers. The key factor in this is simply when do the tories drop out. If, as in the W Lothian example above, the tories stay in, the effects of transfers between unionists is much less than when the tories drop out earlier. Just think back to the by-elections last year and even in the 2017 results where this trend first became apparent.
The question is how to keep the Tories in the contest as long as possible to reduce the impact of vote transfers. If you want to study how they work and the mathematical formula which governs them, I wish you well. (d’hondt system – Bing)
The other big advantage of the coming weeks and months, as by-elections come along and the campaigning can restart, is that it will take some of the heat out of speculation as actual votes gain sway.
Those keyboard warriors who have been lamenting the lack of something to do can now get their walking boots on, pens and clip boards out and start talking to real voters instead of each other on social media. Do the voters in their droves want Indyref2 before they are confident that the threat of covid has reduced? I don’t claim to know but the chances are there to go and knock on some doors or stand on some stalls and have real conversations and find out.