GE24: It’s All Notional


Yesterday morning (16th of January), a big data drop nerds across the country have been waiting for finally happened: the official Rallings and Thrasher compiled “notionals” for the 2019 UK General Election, if it had instead been fought on the new boundaries that came into effect last year. You can’t fault the timing of this, as not even a full 12 hours earlier I’d tweeted about my GE24 preparations and how notionals were’t yet available!

There are some handy tools available from the BBC and Sky News to help you understand what’s changed in your area. A look at the national picture however seemed like a useful springboard for Ballot Box Scotland to formally kick off coverage ahead of the (almost certainly) 2024 UK General Election. 

Why Are Notional Results Important?

In order to truly understand an election, you need to know what happened last time. If a party wins a seat by 5%, is that good or bad? Well, if they won the same seat by 25% last time, it’s a pretty poor result. By contrast, if they lost it by 15%, that’s a big victory. Most of the time this is really easy, because you just compare the votes in that seat at the two elections. But when you have boundary changes, as we do this time, it’s not as simple. Notional results give a clear base to compare results with.

Especially for folk who haven’t knowingly lived through this before (the last time Scotland had a boundary change parliamentary election was Holyrood in 2011), I acknowledge that can make things a bit perplexing at first glance. Especially if you’ve got a constituency with the same name as the previous version that you know was won by Party A in 2019, it might jar to see it coloured for Party B on maps. But it’s important that is the approach taken, as to pretend it’s the same seat with the same outcome as the previous version means giving a false idea to voters of the changes after the 2024 votes are counted.

Where Did These Notional Results Come From?

Estimates compiled by Professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher on behalf of BBC News, ITV News, Sky News and the Press Association. Calculations for Scotland done by Professor David Denver, those for Northern Ireland by Nicholas Whyte.

As has been the case for previous elections with boundary changes, a consortium of broadcasters commissioned academics to produce these notional results. Professors Rallings and Thrasher are very weel-kent and respected in the psephological community, and have been the lead faces in previous boundary change elections too. Professor Denver is specifically responsible for the Scottish figures, which are obviously the ones Ballot Box Scotland is interested in. These are the figures that the participating broadcasters, and I would assume the media more generally, will be using to calculate swings and so on as the votes come in.

Remember that 11 seats are completely unchanged, plus one had a single block of flats added that nobody thinks is worth trying to figure out how they voted, so just over a fifth of seats don’t actually have any difference to GE19 under the old boundaries. That includes the entirety of Ayrshire, so if you’re resident in that fair county, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about elsewhere.

Notional Overview

Overall Impact

In one respect, these notional figures confirm the assumptions everyone (BBS included) had about the impact of the boundary changes on Scotland. For one thing, the two “lost” MPs are both absorbed by the Lib Dems, as their slender majorities over the SNP in North East Fife and in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross evaporate after adding more voters to those seats. At the same time, the SNP and Conservatives engage in a direct trade in terms of who holds the Moray and Gordon centred seats. Whilst I was confident that this would be the case, it was nonetheless a slight relief to have expert confirmation I’d made the right calls on those! That means the following seat composition is fully confirmed:

What we do get here though is a firm estimate of the exact vote share for each party in each constituency – or at least, for the four Westminster parties. Due to the Greens and Brexit (as Reform UK were known then) only standing in a limited number of seats, they can only be estimated in the areas they did stand, which means they notionally have very tiny, fragmentary shares in some constituencies.

Overall though, this has given us a few interesting bits and pieces we didn’t have before. For example I’d assumed the new Angus and Perthshire Glens would be clearly marginal when in fact it’s not quite, whilst neighbouring Perth and Kinross-shire is much closer than I’d realised it would be. I’ve captured the notional winners, vote shares, and majorities in the interactive map below.

We can also look at some of the stand-out seats now that we’ve got figures for them all.

Largest Majority: Dundee Central, SNP over Labour, 32.6% (15221)

Under the previous boundaries, Aberdeen North had been the SNP’s safest seat with a mighty 33.9% majority. That put it slightly ahead of both Dundee seats, which were each on 29.5%. Aberdeen North has absorbed some of the slightly more Conservative-friendly northernmost parts of the city, whilst the new Dundee Central encompasses pretty much the whole of the city bar the most Conservative-friendly bit. That’s flipped the placing, making Dundee Central the SNP’s stronghold, though Aberdeen North still has a very healthy 28.3% majority.

Smallest Majority: North East Fife, SNP over Lib Dem, 1.4% (728)

North East Fife displaces the similar SNP-Lib Dem marginal that was East Dunbartonshire as the tightest marginal, though somewhat less so than truly razor-thin 0.3% margin that old seat had. What looks like a geographically tiny addition Fife actually includes over 6,000 new voters, in an area that in the 2022 locals had a more than four-to-one advantage for the SNP over the Lib Dems. That’s enough to have overcome their narrow 1316 majority in notional terms, though I’d be flabbergasted if the Lib Dems didn’t easily win this on the day regardless.

Safest Labour Seat: Edinburgh South, over SNP, 20.4% (10795)

Labour’s safest Scottish seat is, of course, their only seat in 2019 terms – last year’s Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election allowed them to double their tally, but we compare with full elections, not by-elections. Ian Murray has however turned his seat into such a fortress that it’s easily the safest non-SNP seat in the country, albeit a smidge less so under the changes.

Safest Lib Dem Seat: Orkney and Shetland, over SNP, 10.8% (2507)

Historically, Orkney and Shetland was pretty impenetrable, but over the last few elections it’s been rather shakier for the Lib Dems. Although not as close as their 2015 near-loss, when rumour has it the SNP won in the Shetland end but lost Orkney more significantly, this was the third closest the seat has been since WWII. As a protected islands seat, there were no boundary changes to impact these figures.

Safest Conservative Seat: Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, over SNP, 9.7% (5148)

The Conservatives may be the only party other than the SNP to have more than two seats in Scotland, but they are also the only competitor where every single one of their seats is a marginal. Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, which didn’t get any boundary changes, very nearly escapes the realms of marginality but doesn’t quite get there. It would however be something of a surprise if the Conservatives lost this, given how central the Borders have been to their revival.

Detailed Information

Having prepared everything else in advance, I just needed to slot the notional vote shares in to complete my detailed results pages for the 2019 election on the new boundaries. Due to the number of charts involved, I’ve split these across two pages:

These have a lot more depth than the interactive map above. In addition to the core numerical data about votes and majorities, each constituency also has a written summary of the boundary changes; a note as to whether the sitting MP is re-standing; and a map of the constituency with results of the 2022 local elections per polling district overlain. It’ll also include a complete list of candidates, but apart from adding sitting MPs that are re-contesting, I’ve left those for now even though lots of parties have announced candidates, as it’ll be easier to update it all in one go after close of nominations.

More on Marginals

On the old boundaries, a total of 22 seats had marginal results in 2019, defined as a majority below 10%. This has reduced to 17 under the new boundaries, mostly because expanding seats the SNP regained in 2019 to include areas they’d held in both prior elections pads out their majorities. That’s also how the most marginal seat (1.4%) under the new boundaries would only have placed fourth in the old, which had marginals of 0.3%, 0.6% and 1.1% majorities.

The old constituencies which don’t have marginal successors are Aberdeen South, Angus, Glasgow North East (only barely, majority 10.02%), and the seats centred on Rutherglen and Hamilton. Everything else effectively matches up to the old marginals.

As is now tradition, I’ll be looking at marginals plus some interesting bonus seats through a Ballot Box Battlegrounds series closer to the election. For the moment though, it’s worth a quick run through what the marginal seats are.

SNP Target Marginals

The SNP are the only party to be meaningfully competing with multiple other parties in the marginal stakes. Nonetheless, given the dearth of non-SNP seats otherwise, all bar one of these marginals is Conservative held, boundary changes having already tipped the two weaker Lib Dem marginals the SNP’s way. SNP-Conservative marginals overall could be one of the most interesting little bits of the election, as both parties are suffering in the polls at the moment, so any seat changes may be a case of who loses the least rather than who delivers stunning gains.

Conservative Target Marginals

The Conservatives are the only non-SNP party to have any of the unchanged constituencies in their easiest targets, as neither Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock nor East Renfrewshire are any different to their 2019 iterations. As mentioned earlier, I was surprised Angus and Perthshire Glens didn’t make it into marginality, but it only narrowly avoided it, as it’s sat at a 10.6% SNP lead.

Lib Dem Target Marginals

Although the Lib Dems were hardest hit by the boundary changes, they’ve also got some of the easiest gains from the SNP. Given the sheer extent of votes added to Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (a bit over 21,000) and how tiny (204) the Lib Dems 2019 majority there was, I’m actually surprised the SNP’s notional majority in the expanded seat isn’t higher. All of these would be easy Lib Dem gains purely from SNP declines, never mind their own bedding-in campaign work.

Labour Target Marginals

Finally, the expected big winners (or at least gainers) in this year’s election actually have very, very few marginals they are next in line for. Instead, they’re in the running to partly replicate the SNP’s stunning 2015 result, where they surge to take a bunch of constituencies that weren’t anywhere near marginal last time. Don’t expect that to be the most faithful adaptation of the SNP’s success though, as Labour have never been able to crack rural Scotland the way the SNP have. Oddly enough though, even if they weren’t surging in the polls, Labour’s chances in these two constituencies would be boosted by the fact these are seats hosting Alba defectors, who you’d expect to nibble on the SNP’s vote share.

What Next?

Well, like everyone else, I’m now just waiting for Rishi Sunak to announce when he’s actually going to hold the election. Once that happens, I’ll be able to spring into action with my usual array of coverage, including those Ballot Box Battleground pieces, party profiles, and my usual polling coverage. Everything related to the UK General Election will be available on the BBS GE24 Hub here.

I also intend on commissioning another poll closer to the election. At the moment, I plan on opening another crowdfunder for that in the new financial year, unless the Prime Minister decides he fancies a May election after all, in which case it’ll have to be rushed together faster. Until then however, you can donate directly to Ballot Box Scotland through the links below. I’m still not at, though approaching, the threshold at which I begin to directly add to my already existing poll fund from donations, so if you’re able to afford to donate now, you will be bringing me closer to that point!

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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