2019 in Review: All the Parliaments

When I wrote last year’s review of Parliamentary polling, I didn’t expect there to be an election this year, never mind two! That means this post will be a little more than just a look at polling, since we’ve had our last (for the foreseeable) European Parliament election, plus of course the snap general election. It’s been a dramatic year in politics in the UK, and even going back to the start of the year feels like a completely different world.

European Parliament and New Parties

We started the year with the long-awaited splinter from the Labour Party, as 7 Labour MPs walked out to sit as their own group. They were shortly joined by another Labour colleague and 3 Conservative MPs. It seemed that more defections were inevitable, and a (then) hypothetical party associated with them briefly looked like it could be a major player, though largely by devouring the Lib Dem vote. Although they did eventually launch Change UK, a latter day SDP it was not. Those other defections didn’t materialise, and what in hindsight looks like a massive failure in planning that saw them sit out the May local elections in England likely helped the Lib Dems and Greens capture much of the Pro-Remain energy.

UKIP also suffered what wasn’t so much a split as it was the bulk of the party rebranding as the Brexit Party, once again under Nigel Farage. This new party very rapidly overtook the rump UKIP in the polls.

When the snap (for the UK) EU Elections came at the end of May, Change UK amounted to basically nothing. They came to less than that in Scotland (and Wales), chalking up an even feebler 1.9% here than the 3.6% they polled in England. Enter the Lib Dems though, who came second UK-wide, and third in Scotland. Brexit meanwhile completely displaced UKIP, as expected.

I’ll not re-hash too much of the overall results in this post, seeing as you can find them on the appropriate page. The headline figures were;

  • SNP – 37.8% (+8.8)
  • Brexit – 14.8% (new, +14.8)
  • Liberal Democrat – 13.9% (+6.8)
  • Conservative – 11.6% (-5.6)
  • Labour – 9.3% (-16.6)
  • Green – 8.2% (+0.2)
  • Change UK – 1.9% (new, +1.9)
  • UKIP – 1.8% (-8.7%)

Suffice it to say it was a very good election for the SNP, Brexit and Lib Dems, a disappointment for the Conservatives who nonetheless held on and the Greens who stood still with no MEP, and nothing short of a catastrophe for Labour. Having gotten uncomfortably used to coming third, coming fifth to win no seats and lose the UK’s longest serving MEP would have been deeply painful for the party. But the Euros as a whole were always going to be difficult for the two big UK parties of government, given they’ve always tended to be used as a bit of a protest vote, and that was even more the case this time.

Change UK effectively died after this, as most of their MPs went off to join the Lib Dems or sit as a different group of Independents, though it would take until after the GE to formally dissolve. Brexit live comfortably on having taken UKIP’s place as the primary hard line anti-EU party, though their Scottish MEP left the party in the run up to the GE.

General Election

It’s only just finished and I’ve already written screeds about it so there isn’t a huge amount more to add, though I will compare the headline result with how polling stood at the end of 2018;

  • SNP – 45.0% (+7.2)
  • Conservative –25.1% (-1.7)
  • Labour – 18.6% (-6.4)
  • Liberal Democrat – 9.5%, (+2.9)
  • Green – 1.0% (-0.4)
  • Brexit + UKIP – 0.5% + 0.1% (-0.6)

Green and Brexit figures not entirely comparable given polling at the end of last year just assumed full slates. For the major parties, it’s roughly the difference between last year and the election that you’d have expected from polling – the SNP up a huge amount, the Lib Dems rebounding but nowhere near the level they had hoped post-EUs, the Conservatives down a bit, and Labour collapsing.

Scottish Parliament

Although we’re not strictly expecting a Holyrood election until 2021, there’s a higher than average chance of collapse at the moment. The Scottish Budget needs to be in place for the start of the financial year in April, and usually has a few months before then to be planned, debated and passed. Scottish Councils are also reliant on the Scottish Budget to set their own. However, the UK Government has stated it won’t produce its budget, at the top of the budgetary pyramid, until March. That’s going to put enormous pressure on the parties at Holyrood, and could lead to the complete failure to pass a budget and potentially a snap election. To make matters worse, snap elections held more than 6 months before the next regularly scheduled Holyrood do not displace the scheduled election – so 2021 would happen anyway as well. Eek!

Anyway, that exhausting thought aside, let’s compare the average of Q4 2019 polls with the equivalent period last year. There were three polls (full list here) in that time, which averaged out for the regional vote as (vs Q4 2018 / vs 2016 election);

  • SNP – 38.0% (+3.2 / -3.7)
  • Conservative – 23.7% (-0.7 / +0.8)
  • Labour – 16.3% (-5.7 / -3.0)
  • Lib Dem – 10.0% (+2.4 / +4.8)
  • Green – 6.7% (-0.9 / +0.1)
  • Brexit + UKIP – 3.0% + 0.3% (+1.3 / +1.3)
  • SSP – 1.0% (+1.0 / +0.5)

This roughly mirrors the GE in suggesting solid increases for the SNP and Lib Dems, a small decrease for the Conservatives, and calamity for Labour. Notably though the Greens are also down quite substantially – likely to be equal parts the prevalence of Panelbase and their consistently low figures in the average and low profile during the GE campaign. Brexit alone are also doing marginally better than UKIP were this time last year, but it has been a downward trend.

And for the constituency vote (vs Q4 2018 / vs 2016 election);

  • SNP – 43.7% (+3.3 / -3.8)
  • Conservative – 24.3% (-1.3 / +2.3)
  • Labour – 16.7% (-6.5 / -5.9)
  • Lib Dem – 10.0% (+2.8 / +2.2)
  • Green – 2.0% (nc / +1.4)
  • Brexit + UKIP – 2.3% + 0.3% (+2.6 / +2.6)

As ever, a similar story between votes.

Translating that into a seat projection (vs Q4 2018 / vs 2016 election);

  • SNP – 62 (+8 / -1)
  • Conservative – 32 (-1 / +1)
  • Labour – 20 (-7 / -4)
  • Lib Dem – 11 (+4 / +6)
  • Green – 4 (-4 / -2)

Huge gains for the SNP, who are now polling the best they have since before the 2017 GE and might be expected to come roughly level in terms of seats to where they were in 2016. That’s driven in part by our old friend overhang, as their continued constituency dominance combined with Labour’s collapse means they can still win almost every constituency in the country (61 of 73) and it doesn’t matter so much they are down on both votes.

The flip side of that is that the Greens, who’re on a very marginally better share here than 2016, lose half what they were projected on at the end of last year and a third of what they won in 2016. They’re not losing MSPs here for lack of support, they’re losing them as the proportional part of the system struggles to cope with big imbalances wrought by the First Past the Post part. In effect, Labour’s lack of success negatively impacts the Greens as well. A reminder that proportional systems, if not designed well, can be just as counter-intuitive as pure FPTP is.

Whereas at Westminster they were static despite vote growth, even that imperfect proportionality works greatly in the Lib Dems favour here, as they’re projected to be in double figures, which if replicated at an actual election would be the first time since 2007. My calculator makes it that they aren’t quite back to an MSP in every region, as it has a strong weighting against their swing in Central where last time they came sixth behind UKIP with less than 2% of the vote, but nonetheless a level of success they’d doubtless be happy with.

One final big change in this projection compared to last year – a slender pro-Independence majority of 66:63, whereas last year was expecting a pro-Union majority. As wrangling over a prospective second Independence referendum seems set to be a defining feature of 2020, whether or not that’s replicated by the time an election rolls round could be important.

And that’s Ballot Box Scotland done for 2019! I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and I’ll be back after the holidays with a preview post for the Mid Galloway and Wigtown West by-election.