SP21 – The Candidate Bonanza Coming to a Ballot Near You

Keep tabs on all the latest polling, articles and information ahead of the 2021 Scottish Parliament election in the Ballot Box Scotland Holyrood Hub!

Although the Holyrood campaign has been ongoing for months now, the starting gun for the final stretch was fired by the close of nominations on the 31st of March. We now know all of the parties and candidates contesting this election, so there’s no more time for surprise entrances to the race like the Alba Party’s sudden appearance on the 26th.

The focus now for every party and candidate is on delivering their pitch to voters – a task made somewhat harder by inability to knock on doors due to the pandemic. As important as those pitches are however, they are outside the wheelhouse of Ballot Box Scotland. Instead, I’ve been harvesting the candidate data, adding it to the relevant pages on here, and crunching the numbers. 

National Candidate Totals

Note that specific party colours have only been assigned to “prominent” parties. It’d be very fidgety for me to go through and maintain consistent colour coding for minor parties throughout my coverage, and I’m sure everyone understands I am doing vast amounts of work on BBS at the moment! Other parties are therefore all assigned my default “Other Pink” colouration.

List Candidates

Across the eight regional ballots, a mighty 701 candidates have been nominated for election. 689 of them are drawn from a total of 24 different political parties, with the remaining 12 standing as Independents. The 13 largest slates here come from parties which are contesting every region, meaning every voter in Scotland will be able to choose between them. That compares to just 8 parties who stood nationwide in 2016.

Some interesting little titbits here are that although they are the fourth largest party overall, the Greens have stood the third most list candidates, placing ahead of Labour. As we’ll see shortly that doesn’t mean more candidates overall, however. Meanwhile, the very short space of time between launching and the close of nominations likely contributed to Alba fielding four per region for 32 candidates, placing them 11th in terms of candidates here. That’s short of the number found by the likes of the Freedom Alliance, UKIP and the Scottish Family Party.

Constituency Candidates

For the constituencies, a total of 357 candidates have been nominated. 342 of these are drawn from political parties, whilst the remaining 15 are standing as Independents. As ever, the four Westminster parties are each contesting all 73 of the constituencies, whereas the sum and total of all other constituency candidates is 65.

The other Holyrood party, the Greens, have typically opted either to not or only minimally contest the constituency side of the ballot, given the cost of deposits and the unlikelihood of smaller party success under FPTP. Standing in 12 this time means they have the fifth most constituency candidates, and four times as many as they stood in 2016. This perhaps suggests a gradual uptick in constituency nominations as the party further embeds itself in the mainstream of Scottish politics.

Four of the other parties standing in every region have also stumped up some constituency candidates – the Libertarians, Family Party, UKIP and the Freedom Alliance. UKIP didn’t stand in any constituencies last time, but did go for 3 in 2011, whilst the Libertarians had a candidate in Edinburgh Central in 2016.

Unique Candidates

The dual-ballot nature of the voting system means many candidates are nominated for both. We can therefore sum up the total number of unique candidates, which is 808. A total of 25 political parties account for 783 of these, and there are then as many Independents as parties at 25 candidates too.

It’s notable that the SNP have a much larger number of unique candidates than any other party. In contrast to past elections, and perhaps because of the expectation they’ll do very well in most constituencies, a very large proportion of their candidates are only on one ballot. Unless polling changes dramatically, we can expect most of their constituency candidates to be elected, but very few of their list candidates.

Of course, Labour took that approach up until 2011, when it spectacularly backfired to the extent that they feature (though aren’t named, on page 38) in New Zealand’s review of their similar electoral system. In 2011, the SNP had a slightly opposing problem where they won unexpected constituencies that locked out what seemed like solid list placings, as Shirley-Anne Somerville can attest.

Overall Diversity of Options

The 2016 election was notable for the fact it offered voters the fewest choices on the regional ballot since Devolution, by quite some way. Across the eight Holyrood regions, a total of 82 separate lists (or Independents) were on the paper – or an average of just over 10 per region. Having gone through the painstaking process of adding every candidate to this website, I had a strong sense 2021 would be one of the busier years. But just how busy is it in comparison to previous elections?

It turns out this is the busiest year, albeit tied with 2007, with a grand total of 142 separate lists (or Independents) to choose from this time around. That’s an average of just shy of 18 options per region. In Highlands & Islands, North East, South and West regions, voters have never had so many options. Those in Mid Scotland & Fife have as many as were available in 2017, whilst Central, Glasgow and Lothian are all at their second most busy.

Looking at the regional breakdown per party, we can see most of the parties not contesting every region are only contesting a minority of regions. Just two of these 11 parties are available in more than half of the regions, whilst nine are present in fewer than half.

Local Diversity of Options

The last little bit of detail to give then is a more exact breakdown of which regions and constituencies parties are contesting. Remember that the full details are available on the appropriate regional information pages.

Parties Standing in Every Region

As noted above, every voter in Scotland will have the ability to vote for 13 parties. Of these, the four Westminster parties are contesting every constituency as well:

  • SNP
  • Conservatives
  • Labour
  • Liberal Democrats

Five parties are contesting some constituencies as well as every region:

  • Greens – 12 Constituencies
    • Glasgow Kelvin / Glasgow Pollok / Glasgow Provan / Inverness & Nairn / Edinburgh Central / Edinburgh Northern & Leith / Cowdenbeath / Aberdeen Central / Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire / Galloway & West Dumfries /  Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale / Paisley
  • Libertarians – 9 Constituencies
    • Motherwell and Wishaw / Glasgow Pollok / Caithness, Sutherland & Ross / Edinburgh Central / Edinburgh Western / Kirkcaldy / Aberdeen South & North Kincardine / Kilmarnock & Irvine Valley / Dumbarton
  • Family Party – 7 Constituencies
    • Coatbridge & Chryston / Edinburgh Pentlands / Edinburgh Southern / Mid Fife & Glenrothes / Perthshire North / Renfrewshire North & West /  Strathkelvin & Bearsden
  • UKIP – 5 Constituencies
    • Motherwell & Wishaw / Glasgow Pollok / Moray / Edinburgh Central / Eastwood
  • Freedom Alliance – 4 Constituencies
    • Glasgow Southside / Caithness, Sutherland & Ross / Edinburgh Northern & Leith / Banffshire & Buchan Coast

Finally, four parties are contesting every region but no constituencies:

  • Abolish the Scottish Parliament
  • Alba
  • All for Unity
  • Reform UK

Parties Standing in Some Regions / Some Constituencies

Six parties are standing a mixture of both regional and constituency candidates, but not contesting every region:

  • TUSC – 3 Regions, 3 Constituencies
    • Glasgow / Highlands & Islands / West
    • Aberdeen Donside / Dundee City East / Dundee City West
  • Restore Scotland – 2 Regions, 4 Constituencies
    • Highlands & Islands / North East
    • Inverness & Nairn / Shetland Islands / Banffshire & Buchan Coast / Dundee City West
  • Scotia Future – 2 Regions, 2 Constituencies
    • South /  West
    • Ayr / Renfrewshire South
  • Communist Party of Britain – 2 Regions, 1 Constituency
    • Glasgow / Lothian
    • Motherwell and Wishaw
  • The Reclaim Party – 1 Region, 1 Constituency
    • Glasgow
    • Glasgow Pollok
  • Vanguard Party – 1 Region, 1 Constituency
    • South
    • Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale

Parties Standing in Some Regions / No Constituencies

Five parties are standing in some but not all regions, and not contesting any constituencies:

  • Independent Green Voice – 5 Regions
    • Central / Glasgow / North East / South / West
  • Renew – 5 Regions
    • Glasgow / Lothian / Mid & Fife / North East / West
  • Social Democratic Party Party – 2 Regions
    • Glasgow /  Lothian
  • Women’s Equality Party – 2 Regions
    • Glasgow /  Lothian
  • Animal Welfare Party – 1 Region
    • Lothian

Parties Standing in No Regions / A Constituency

There’s one little oddity of a party standing in a single constituency and no regions, and that’s the Liberal Party. Their one candidate is on the Glasgow Southside ballot. Note this is a small party of its own descending from the original Liberal Party, and not the modern Liberal Democrats most of that party merged into in the late 80’s.

Independent Candidates

Independent candidates are available on seven regional ballots:

  • 5 Regions with 2 Independent Candidates
    • Glasgow / Highlands & Islands / Mid & Fife / North East /  West
    • Note that both West Independents are also contesting constituencies
  • 2 Regions with 1 Independent Candidate
    • Central / Lothian
  • 1 Region with no Independent Candidates
    • South

And in 13 constituencies:

  • 2 Constituencies with 2 Independent Candidates
    • Glasgow Southside / Dumbarton
  • 11 Constituencies with 1 Independent Candidate
    • Airdrie & Shotts / Falkirk East / Glasgow Pollok / Na h-Eileanan an Iar / Shetland Islands / Edinburgh Central / Ettrick, Roxburgh & Selkirkshire / Clydebank & Milngavie / Cunninghame South / Eastwood /  Greenock & Inverclyde

Phew! That’s the candidate side of things wrapped up now! Over the rest of the Easter Weekend, I’ve got a little bit of re-sprucing up of the regional result and candidate pages to do that’ll make them a bit more navigable. The next installation of Ballot Box Battlegrounds will be available on Monday, and I’ve got ideas for a couple of other SP21 related articles. I’ll need a very long holiday after this election, I think…

If you find this or other Ballot Box Scotland output useful and/or interesting, and you can afford to do so, please consider donating to support my work. I love doing this, but it’s a one-man project and takes a lot of time and effort. All donations, no matter how small, are greatly appreciated and extremely helpful.
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