GE24: Shares and Swings are Fascinating Things

After a long wait for Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire to finally declare, yesterday I published a longform analysis of the headline results of the 2024 General Election in Scotland, which were certainly dramatic. This wouldn’t be Ballot Box Scotland without a much deeper look beyond those headlines though. The big, eye-catching headlines always disguise a lot of nuance and intrigue going on at individual constituency level, and there’s plenty to glean from how each of the major parties performed this year.


Highs and Lows
  • Best seat: Edinburgh South (53.3%)
  • Worst seat: Orkney and Shetland (7.2%)
  • Best swing: East Renfrewshire (+31.3%)
  • Worst swing: Orkney and Shetland (+0.5%)

The map of Labour vote shares looks exactly as you would expect it to: deepest red across the urban Central Belt, and pale to the point of anaemia in most of rural Scotland. That most of the seats they won sit within the 40-50% band explains exactly how Labour beat the SNP so thumpingly despite only winning 5% more: it’s all about that vote distribution! Unlike the SNP, Labour simply didn’t need to compete for votes in places like Argyll, Bute and South Lochaber or Angus and Perthshire Glens, and could focus their efforts instead on urban Scotland.

If you dig into some of the numbers though (the vote share bands are necessarily broad for ease of visualisation), there’s quite a lot that’s worth talking about. In Glasgow for example although Labour once again have every seat in the city, their support is much lower than in their heyday. Back in 2010, only one of the Glasgow seats saw the party below 50% (about 44% in North, facing a strong Lib Dem challenge) whilst in three they were over 60% (a mind-boggling 68% in North East).

Their total across the city this year is about 44%, against 32% for the SNP and 10% for the Greens, so very far from their peak. On the other hand, seats like Lothian East, Midlothian, and Dunfermline and Dollar all show Labour shares nigh-on identical to 2010, but they were already generally lower than seats in the west back then. That’s a reminder that this is a story of Labour recovery, but not necessarily one of truly re-established dominance, even though the bare seat totals may have looked like it.

That Glasgow is not all that much more Labour than in recent years is evident from the map of swings, where we can see that only Glasgow West ended up with a higher swing than they got nationally. Where you can see Labour really grew though was in seats where the Conservatives had displaced them for second place at the last election. They were coming from third in every seat in Ayrshire, in Stirling and Strathallan, Falkirk, East Renfrewshire, and Alloa and Grangemouth, and they won every single one of those. They also delivered one of the biggest swings of the night in Edinburgh South West, another place they had been third behind the Conservatives.

Even where they didn’t win, there are a few seats where they are now well positioned for next time. Both Aberdeen seats saw significant growth, as did Dundee Central, and the Dumfries and Galloway seats are now effectively three-way marginals. I also have to admit to being astonished at how much they gained in Arbroath and Broughty Ferry, where I assumed the Arbroath component was unlikely to go all that heavily for Labour, but enough must have to have put the whole seat on a knife-edge.


Highs and Lows
  • Best seat: Angus and Perthshire Glens (40.4%)
  • Worst seat: Edinburgh South (16.5%)
  • Best swing: Perth and Kinross-shire (-7.5%)
  • Worst swing: Na h-Eileanan an Iar (-24.0%)

As if you needed any more data to help explain the scale of the SNP’s defeat, this map is it. The SNP’s vote continues to be relatively evenly distributed across Scotland, clustering not so very far off the 30% they won nationally, with the largest outliers mostly coming from the core Lib Dem seats plus Edinburgh South, where their vote was already much lower. At the other end of the scale, just two constituencies make it into the 40% band, and only by the skin of their teeth. An even vote share works absolute wonders when your vote is high, which is what enabled the SNP’s dominance to far eclipse Labour’s. Yet when it slumps like this, dozens of seats fall like dominos.

Again, if we look more granularly than the bands in the visualisation above, there’s a story to be told. Support for the SNP across large parts of the Central Belt, where they were wiped out, isn’t massively different from their vote share across the seats they did hold. In Glasgow the party managed 32.3% of the vote, and in North Lanarkshire about 31.7%, compared to 33.6% across the Aberdeen seats (which include Westminster group leader Stephen Flynn’s patch). What did their Central Belt MPs in was that the vote there coalesced overwhelmingly around Labour, whereas in Aberdeen it was split between them and the Conservatives, allowing the SNP to cling on. Voters might be a lot wiser next election as well, leaving those seats on a very shoogly peg.

That goes right back to a point I made in my lengthy analysis of the headline figures about the risk of increasing disconnect between the MP group, now entirely northern and largely rural, and the MSP group, still rooted in the Central Belt. There isn’t any meaningful difference in support for the SNP, only in support for their opponents. Obviously that made the difference in this election, but it won’t be nearly as impactful in 2026 when a proportional system will ensure the Central Belt still has a hefty crop of SNP MSPs. That possibly creates competing incentives, with the MP group completely fixated on the north and east of the country, whilst the MSP group still has to put forward an offering to keep the Central Belt on-side. That issue has already been a difficulty for the party, and this may just make things worse.

The evenness of the SNP’s vote share is matched in their loss of support, which in relative terms doesn’t deviate enormously from their national decrease of -15%, almost entirely constrained to a band within half that value to half as much again. Indeed, only four constituencies experienced losses in vote share above 20%, all of which have ready explanations; Na h-Eileanan an Iar where former SNP MP Angus MacNeil was standing as an Independent (and won 10%); Falkirk; Alloa and Grangemouth, both of which cover parts of the scandal-hit Michael Matheson’s seat at Holyrood; and Edinburgh South West, seat of thoroughly marmite dissident (now-former) MP Joanna Cherry.


Highs and Lows
  • Best seat: Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (40.5%)
  • Worst seat: Orkney and Shetland (2.8%)
  • Best swing: Glasgow North (-4.9%)
  • Worst swing: Central Ayrshire (-19.9%)
  • Deposits lost: 16 (of 57)

If you’ve ever seen one of these maps before, the general shape of things for the Conservatives won’t be a surprise. Deeper blues across rural Scotland, separated by faint shades across the Central Belt. This time around though, things went so badly for the Conservatives that they actually ended up losing more deposits here than Reform UK did. It wasn’t completely unheard of for them to lose a deposit or two back in the day, but never as widespread as this. Were it not for saving it in the Motherwell, Wishaw and Carluke seat, they’d have lost their deposit in every seat across Glasgow, Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire.

Just like the SNP, even in their strongest seat they barely scraped their way above 40%. Perhaps worse than that, they win the informal award for “least popular MP in the country” through winning Dumfries and Galloway on just 29.6% of the vote, the lowest successful share of any winner in Scotland; though I’m pretty sure I saw a few lower in England when skimming results elsewhere. Not to take any opportunity to bash First Past the Post (moi?), but it’s beyond laughable to claim it properly represents voters when we’re electing MPs on not even a third of the vote.

Looking at swings against the party, one of the big stories here is how they crashed badly in several seats they’d won in 2017, and others where they’d either established themselves as the second placed party or a close third. Their vote completely collapsed in East Renfrewshire and Stirling and Strathallan, and they cratered across Ayrshire where in 2019 they’d pushed Labour into a pretty distant third place.

Least surprisingly, their strong shares in Lothian East and Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire couldn’t possibly hold with Labour and the Lib Dems, respectively, gunning hard to retake those seats. And don’t be fooled by the small size of the swing against them in Glasgow North: that reflects the fact that was their worst seat in 2019, and represents the loss of most of what they had.

Lib Dem

Highs and Lows
  • Best seat: Orkney and Shetland (55.1%)
  • Worst seat: Coatbridge and Bellshill (1.7%)
  • Best swing: Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire (+22.3)
  • Worst swing: East Renfrewshire (-5.3%)
  • Deposits lost: 30 (of 57)

One of the undoubted winners of the election this year on the face of it, as ever the second you dive into the detail there’s a much more nuanced picture for the Lib Dems. Again referring back to a point I made in my initial results analysis, just look at how utterly feeble the Lib Dem share is across the western Central Belt and the southwest though. They lost their deposit in a majority of seats, they continue to basically not meaningfully exist in most of the country. That didn’t matter one bit this election, but it may have consequences further down the line.

The remarkable success (on its own terms) of this pile ’em high strategy is especially visible in the swing map. Almost every constituency shows a loss in support, and in most of those that show any improvement it’s very modest. Yet in the six constituencies they won, it was up significantly. In an opposite case to the SNP, the Lib Dems are absolutely excellent at playing the FPTP game, but they’ve become so good at it that it’s very likely to be constraining the size of their possible recovery in the proportionally elected Scottish Parliament. Folk often forget that election success isn’t built solely in the short campaign, but over a long period, including at otherwise unwinnable elections. 

In my constituency I was treated to a freepost making out that my local Lib Dem candidate was some kind of local community champion, which in fairness I’m sure he is… In Dunfermline South. Where he is a councillor. On the other side of the country from Glasgow. There were plenty of random Edinburgh activists shipped into seats across Lanarkshire and Ayrshire as well, just to get a name on the ballot paper. At least, unlike Reform UK, they didn’t have to draft folk in from England, but it is another way in which FPTP creates some really bizarre incentives. Given the Lib Dems’ tendency to do worse at Holyrood than at Westminster, and 2026 starts to look like modest recovery rather than revival.

Reform UK

No vote change map for Reform UK due to their low rate of contesting in 2019. Combined with the nature of boundary changes, this means most measures of swing for them would be pretty much meaningless. One 2019 notional result included and estimated 1 (one!) Reform UK vote, due to a very small boundary change.

Highs and Lows
  • Best seat: Aberdeenshire North and Moray East (14.6%)
  • Worst seat: Edinburgh North and Leith (3.7%)
  • Deposits lost: 10 (of 57)

At this point, the banding on the map above shifts from 10% to just 2.5%, reflecting the fact that Reform UK were not in contention to win anywhere in Scotland. Even with those narrow bands though, you can see there’s a relatively narrow distribution for the party’s support, most seats falling either side of the 7% they won nationally.

Just as was the case in England, it was always going to be a mistake to assume that Reform UK support would map perfectly to Conservative strongholds. Whilst there is certainly a little bit of that, most notably in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East but also in Dumfries and Galloway, note their slightly above average performances in the sort of “mid Central Belt”, the areas in between but not part of Glasgow and Edinburgh. That’s likely rooted in a similar demographic to that which gave Reform UK and before them UKIP strong results in the North East of England.

Overall, they did worst exactly where you would expect a party born out of Brexit to: Edinburgh, North East Fife, East Renfrewshire, Mid Dunbartonshire, and parts of Glasgow. Voters there were very strongly opposed to Brexit, and very few would find a further right party particularly appealing. Nonetheless, the scale of Conservative losses was such that even in some of these weak spots, Reform UK still beat them.


Similarly, no vote change map for the Greens due to their low rate of contesting in 2019. Combined with the nature of boundary changes, this means most measures of swing for them would be pretty much meaningless.

Highs and Lows
  • Best seat: Glasgow South (13.1%)
  • Worst seat: West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (2.1%)
  • Deposits lost: 32 (of 44)

Last but not least, the Greens. They’ve always struggled at Westminster, but this was by far and away their best result so far, which bodes well for their prospects come 2026 and a more proportional system. Most constituencies still saw the party lose their deposit, but going from holding none in 2019 to a dozen this time around was frankly better than I would have expected. Almost all of those constituencies are within Glasgow and Edinburgh, with only Lothian East and Orkney and Shetland crossing the 5% marker otherwise.

In most cases, those deposits were actually quite comfortably held. Until this election the Greens had never placed higher than fourth in any constituency, nor had they broken into double figures, previously peaking in 2017 at 9.7% in Glasgow North. This year, they placed third in 10 constituencies, including every seat in Glasgow, and placed fourth across the capital, ahead of the Conservatives. They won over 10% of the vote in four seats (two in each of the big cities), and were just a whisker short of doing so in Orkney and Shetland with 9.9%.

That their shares nonetheless remain a fair bit more modest outside the aforementioned bright spots will come down to demographics, both in that those areas would be less likely to vote Green anyway, but also therefore home to fewer potential activists to drum up support. You can nonetheless map some of the higher shares to places with Green councillors, such as in Stirling and Strathallan, East Kilbride and Strathaven, Cumbernauld and Kirkintilloch, and Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire.

That’s about it for how each party’s vote was distributed – I’m afraid nobody else had enough votes to be worth bothering with this level of detail! The results of this year’s election continue to monopolise my time (and brain cells), so I’ll be back tomorrow or Wednesday with a run through how the list of marginal seats has changed after this vote!

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