Note: Unsurprisingly, this is a lengthier post than normal, so please bear that in mind before getting stuck in!
We have no idea how long they’ll serve for, but Scotland now has six freshly elected Members of the European Parliament ready to take up office in July. Across Britain, results shaped up roughly as expected based on polling, with the Brexit Party sweeping from nowhere into the lead, a surge in support for the strongly Remain parties, plus a stunning collapse for Labour and particularly the Conservatives. Northern Ireland too completed a bit of political realignment, with the Alliance Party winning their first ever MEP, giving an unprecedented 1:1:1 balance between Unionist, Nationalist and neutral “Other” parties.
In that context Scotland didn’t fall too far from what was expected, though there was one major surprise which I’ll cover shortly. The SNP took a clear lead here, with Brexit a distant second. The SNP took the lead in every mainland council area plus Na h-Eileanan Siar, whilst the Lib Dems led the Northern Isles. With a turnout of 39.9%, up 6.4% from 2014, the overall vote share per party was (full results available in this spreadsheet);
That translated to three SNP MEPs, plus one each for the Brexit Party, Lib Dems and Conservatives. Labour lost both of their seats, and UKIP failed to hold the only seat they’d ever won in Scotland. That means Scotland’s new MEPs are;
- Elected 1st – Alyn Smith, SNP
- Elected 2nd – Christian Allard, SNP
- Elected 3rd – Louis Stedman-Bryce, Brexit
- Elected 4th – Sheila Ritchie, Liberal Democrat
- Elected 5th – Aileen McLeod, SNP
- Elected 6th – Nosheena Mobarik, Conservative
Let’s take a slightly closer look at how each party did this time around, starting with the first placed party and working down.
As expected, it was a good night for the SNP, increasing their share of the vote substantially versus 2014 and landing a third MEP. That’s half of Scotland’s MEP allocation, a feat that hasn’t previously been accomplished in the PR era. Although they were hopeful of a fourth MEP and I certainly thought it possible, it was an outside chance. As it turned out they came 135,352 votes or 8.6% short of picking it up from the Conservatives.
Although a solid result, it’s worth remembering that the 2014 elections saw the SNP under-perform compared to their Scottish Parliament norm. This result effectively brings their European figures more in line with their Holyrood results, which is a definite positive for them. Big swings in the Central Belt councils where Labour had the lead in 2014 stood in contrast to much more modest gains in Aberdeenshire (+0.1%), Moray (+0.2%), Angus (+1.1%) and Perth & Kinross (+2.8%). These are the long-standing SNP areas that tipped Conservative in 2017. As the only councils to register SNP gains of less than 5% vs 2014, that may suggest lot of the decline there at other levels may be locked in for the moment.
- Best Council – Dundee, 46.1%
- Worst Council – Orkney, 24.2%
- Best Swing – Glasgow, +14.7%
- Worst Swing – Aberdeenshire, +0.1%
- Placings – 30x First; 2x Second
The Brexit Party
Towards the end of the campaign there was some rather intense speculation as to whether the Brexit Party could win two seats in Scotland. I was pretty dismissive of the idea on Twitter, not believing a single-issue Leave party could cross 20% in Scotland. I proved correct in my prediction when they came in just shy of 15%, but that still represents a substantial gain versus the UKIP result in 2014.
Although they did well, they didn’t come first in any councils. They did however come within about 6% of beating the SNP in Dumfries and Galloway. Their support tended to come in higher than the national figure in rural and/or coastal councils, and lower in more urban areas, with the two big cities being the only places they came below 10%.
- Best Council – Moray, 29.1%
- Worst Council – Edinburgh, 9.4%
- New party, no swings
- Placings – 17x Second; 10x Third; 4x Fourth; 1x Fifth
I reckoned the Lib Dems were in with quite a good chance of an MEP, and they very comfortably managed to win one. In fact they were only 1% short of beating the Brexit Party. I’d noted that as the only major party that was both pro-UK and pro-EU, that unique selling point may play very well given Scottish politics is riven along both of those constitutional lines. That certainly seems to be the case, though note that their overall gain was only half what it was across GB as a whole at 6.8% vs 13%. Thanks to their longstanding strongholds in the Northern Isles, the Lib Dems were the only party other than the SNP to have the lead in any councils.
Surprisingly there were four councils the Lib Dems saw their vote share drop in; Highland (-1.3%), Orkney (-1.9%), Argyll & Bute (-2.4%) and Shetland (-4.4%). They also saw only very modest gains in the Borders (+1.5%) and Aberdeenshire (+2.9%). All of these are areas where the Lib Dems were very strong until recently, and which overall I would have expected to show the most signs of any resurgence. I’m honestly not sure whether this is a very good sign (because it could be seeds for genuine growth across the country) or very worrying (because it could be a flash in the pan elsewhere and genuine declines where they actually hold seats) for them. We shall see in 2021, or perhaps before if there’s a snap General Election.
- Best Council – Orkney, 33.5%
- Worst Council – North Lanarkshire, 6.9%
- Best Swing – Edinburgh, +14.1%
- Worst Swing – Shetland, -4.4%
- Placings – 2x First; 6x Second; 4x Third; 13x Fourth; 7x Fifth
It wasn’t unexpected to see the Conservatives do poorly. They may take some heart from the fact their vote proved slightly more resilient vs 2014 than in the rest of Great Britain, possibly making this the first time since 1955 that the Conservatives did better in Scotland than overall. Despite that blow they did manage to hold their seat, which may be an indication the niche they’ve carved out as the most hardline pro-Union party prevented the worst of the damage.
Their losses came in substantially above their national figure in many of the rural councils like Dumfries & Galloway (-12.0%), the Borders (-11.6%), and Perth & Kinross (-10.3%), as well as in heavily Remain Edinburgh (-9.4%) and East Renfrewshire (-10.4%), all areas in which they traditionally do well. By contrast, much smaller decreases in the likes of North Lanarkshire (-0.7%), Clackmannanshire (-1.4%) and West Dunbartonshire (-1.8%) could suggest that in areas they’ve historically been weak they didn’t have much further to fall than in 2014.
- Best Council – Dumfries and Galloway, 21.1%
- Worst Council – Shetland, 5.1%
- Best Swing – North Lanarkshire, -0.7%
- Worst Swing – Dumfries and Galloway, -12.0%
- Placings – 3x Second; 9x Third; 10x Fourth; 8x Fifth; 2x Sixth
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Labour had the most catastrophic result of any party in Scotland. That they didn’t elect a single MEP was the biggest surprise of the election for me, as I’d reckoned that even with an expected huge hit to their vote share, they’d definitely hold one of their two seats. I was dead wrong. Having served since 1984, six years before I was born, David Martin’s tenure as MEP has come to an end. The defeat of the UK’s longest serving MEP seems a particularly apt result in this Brexit-focused and Brexit-prompted election. They came 35,753 votes (2.3%) short of preventing that.
Labour’s vote cratered to a level I simply didn’t think possible across Scotland, haemorrhaging votes across their historic strongholds to take them into single figures. Every single one of the councils in the Greater Glasgow area that Labour had the lead in 2014 saw drops of over 20%. Every urban council saw at least a 10% decrease. Only a half dozen rural councils, the places they were already the weakest, saw swings of less than 10% away from Labour.
- Best Council – North Lanarkshire, 16.4%
- Worst Council – Scottish Borders, 2.8%
- Best Swing – Orkney, -5.8%
- Worst Swing – North Lanarkshire, -23.6%
- Placings – 4x Second; 7x Third; 4x Fourth; 5x Fifth; 12x 6th.
Although the Greens did increase their vote marginally on 2014, this will overall be a disappointing result for them. Having grown substantially following the independence referendum, the party would have been hoping that Co-Convenor Maggie Chapman’s unexpected second shot at an MEP seat would have done the trick. It may be that a more crowded Remain field than England made it tougher to get their message through; note that the Greens in Wales who faced somewhat similar circumstances also fared substantially poorer than their English colleagues, though they don’t have the benefit of substantial representation the Scottish Greens do.
A bit like the Lib Dems, the Greens recorded a few dips in vote share across the country that wouldn’t have been expected on past performances, including Stirling (-1.0%) and most surprisingly Edinburgh (-2.3%). Overall they were up at least marginally in 25 councils, and were 52,874 votes (3.4%) short of taking the last seat.
- Best Council – Edinburgh, 13.9%
- Worst Council – North Lanarkshire, 5.1%
- Best Swing – Dumfries and Galloway, +1.2%
- Worst Swing – Edinburgh, -2.3%
- Placings – 2x Third; 2x Fourth; 10x Fifth; 18x Sixth
In their first electoral outing, I had extremely low expectations of Change UK. They met them. Given their low support there isn’t a lot to draw from Change UK’s vote spread, except perhaps that having an East Renfrewshire lead candidate (even if David Macdonald did quit to back the Lib Dems) may have done them some good there.
- Best Council – East Renfrewshire, 2.9%
- Worst Council – Shetland, 1.2%
- New party, no swings
- Placings – 16x Seventh; 16x Eighth
Having only ever elected one candidate in their entire history in Scotland and with polls suggesting they had been completely supplanted by the Brexit Party, it’ll have come as a surprise to no-one to see UKIP fail to defend the seat they won in 2014 and come dead last amongst the parties.
- Best Council – Dumfries and Galloway, 2.7%
- Worst Council – Edinburgh, 1.1%
- Best Swing – Edinburgh, -6.7%
- Worst Swing – Dumfries and Galloway, -10.8%
- Placings – 16x Seventh; 16x Eighth
Look, there’s not much to say about the two Independent candidates since we all know absolutely hee-haw about them, except that by winning 0.5% of the vote between them, they are living proof that some voters will vote for literally anything to show their dissatisfaction.
Also, one of them owns a crematorium in Angus, which honestly if you wanted to pointlessly burn five grand surely gives you an easier option than putting your name on the EU ballot.
That’ll do for immediate coverage of the overall results. In the coming days there may be a couple of nerdy topics I return to, such as how things may have looked under alternative electoral systems used across the EU.