After one of the most acrimonious elections the UK has yet seen, polls closed in the unexpected EU Elections yesterday. But with votes unable to be counted until the rest of the EU finishes voting on Sunday night, you might have an elections itch you can’t quite scratch. I’m here to help tide you over by taking a little look at some of the more interesting contests to watch in Scotland, where we’ll be counting on a council-by-council basis.
Bear in mind this election was a Scotland-wide vote and therefore there’s no particular electoral meaning to coming first in a given council area. Instead, these posts are intended to identify the areas that might give some indication of greater trends, or have a particularly big impact on the overall result. For today’s batch of councils, we’re going to look at predominantly rural areas, with higher than average Leave votes and a recent history of Conservative victories.
Moray is set to be one of the most interesting results due largely to that extremely narrow Remain vote. Just over a hundred votes stood in the way of Moray being the only Scottish council to vote to Leave. This is likely down to the historic dominance of fisheries along the coast, an industry some feel has been particularly let down by the EU. At normal elections Moray has a long SNP history, with the party holding the seat at Westminster for 30 straight years. In 2017, however, this fell to the same fate as the SNP’s other coastal strongholds and went Conservative.
Until the Conservatives went into EU election free fall, that made Moray an obvious candidate to move into their column for these elections. Now, it’s going to be a case of watching to see just how badly they do here, and then whether the SNP re-assert their dominance in the area or face a Brexit Party that might just prove strong enough to win the most votes.
Although Aberdeenshire as a whole was more securely Remain than Moray, the Banff and Buchan Westminster constituency is estimated to be the only such area in Scotland to have voted Leave, by 54:46. That same constituency had also been one of those longstanding SNP strongholds, with the same 30 years of representation, most of that by Alex Salmond. His successor Eilidh Whiteford would win the seat twice before falling victim to that Conservative revival. The rest of Aberdeenshire had a strong Lib Dem presence at both Westminster and Holyrood until 2011.
So again, keep an eye out here for a Conservative collapse and a Brexit surge, with the likely prospect of the SNP coming in first place. However, watch out for the Lib Dems* too. If they are indeed mounting a revival then this is one of the places we’re going to see that most strongly, given their history in the area.
* Don’t you dare, Councillor Corbett.
Completing our trio of noteworthy councils in the northeast corner of (mainland) Scotland, Angus is more similar to Moray than to Aberdeenshire. Again this is an area that has a strong fishing heritage and which was less strongly Remain than the Scottish average, and the SNP held the Westminster seat covering most of the area for, yep, you guessed it, 30 years before the Conservatives plucked it from them.
With substantially below average scores for both the Lib Dems and Greens in 2014 and a bruising result expected for Labour, Angus is likely to come out with the most three-cornered contest between the Conseratives, SNP and Brexit Party. I’m inclined to suggest that will probably also make it the one the SNP have the clearest lead in out of this trio of councils.
Dumfries and Galloway
Heading to the complete opposite end of the country, Dumfries and Galloway is superficially similar to what we’ve looked at so far. It’s big, it’s rural, it has a higher than average Leave vote. But it has also been slightly more politically diverse in (relatively) recent years than at least Moray and Angus. You wouldn’t think it based on recent results, but Galloway was actually one of the SNP’s 6 Scottish seats in 1997, with them having been nipping at the Conservatives heels for many elections before then**. The Conservatives held one or other end of D&G as their only Scottish seat from 2001 onwards whilst Labour held the other, before 2015 saw the SNP win both ends, followed swiftly by going blue in 2017.
So here we’re looking to see how badly both the Conservatives and Labour fare. With more of a Labour vote to lose, there’s space for the SNP, Greens and Lib Dems to pick up votes, and that strong Leave vote also suggests it’ll be fertile ground for the Brexit Party.
** A self-indulgent wee aside here would be to hold up my late grandpa as an example of the particular SNP-Conservative switcheroo in this part of the country. A Unionist and habitual Conservative voter as far as I’m aware, he was also a big fan of folk band Gaberlunzie. At his funeral they played a song that “Alan always requested from us”, where the chorus was about “reclaiming Scotland’s sovereign independence”. A romanticised form of Scottish nationalism perhaps wasn’t always as incompatible with unionist sentiment as it now seems.
For the last in this batch of Key Battlegrounds, we hop over to the other end of the south for the Scottish Borders. Although the Borders was more Leave than the Scottish average, it’s not as pronounced as with the other four we’ve looked at in this post. Instead, what really makes the Borders an interesting area this time is that it’s sort of become the jewel in the crown of the Conservative revival in Scotland. This is an area that was strongly Lib Dem for about 30 years, but where they were whittled away to the point of deposit loss by 2017, in the face of a commanding Conservative victory. It’s a similar story of Conservative dominance here at the Holyrood and Council level too.
That makes the Borders the Conservatives best – and potentially only – chance of coming first anywhere in Scotland. Of course that disclaimer about winning councils meaning nothing electorally needs restated here, but it would be quite the psychological blow for a newly built stronghold to seemingly come crashing down. With a smaller Leave vote here the Brexit Party likely won’t prove as popular as in the other areas discussed in this post, but could the Lib Dems claw back some of their support here by appealing to the likely very large chunk of Conservative-Remain voters?
Tomorrow, I’ll look at the other five key areas, which (with one exception) are more urban, more Remain, and less Conservative.