Scotland, Are EU Ready to Rumble?

Updated 16th of May

Back in March 2017 when the UK’s departure from the EU was triggered via Article 50, it seemed almost impossible the UK would be voting in EU Parliament Elections in May 2019. Yet that’s exactly what we seem on track to be doing as the UK Parliament sits paralysed in the face of Brexit. Scotland was expecting another elections-free year in 2019 but suddenly our parties have been kicked into election mode in anticipation of the likely vote on the 23rd of May.

As a reminder, in 2014 Scotland elected two MEPs each from the SNP and Labour, plus one apiece from the Conservatives and UKIP. That UKIP MEP was particularly notable as the only representative the party have ever elected in Scotland at any level.

Just for fun, I’ve also worked out how the seats would have fallen in a hypothetically independent Scotland on those figures. The EU Parliament apportions seats to member states on the principle of “degressive proportionality”, meaning smaller countries have proportionally more seats than larger ones. As part of a large member state, Scotland has 6 seats. Slovakia, Finland and Denmark which all have similar populations to Scotland have 13 seats. Those extra 7 seats would have went two each to the SNP and Labour, plus one each for the Conservatives, Greens and Lib Dems.

Rather a lot has changed in Scotland since May 2014. Five months after this vote, the red-tinted Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire areas on this map would vote Yes to Independence. In May 2015, the SNP would sweep Labour and the Lib Dems almost entirely off the map to win 56 of Scotland’s 59 UK Parliament seats with 50% of the vote. In May 2016, the Conservatives would surge past Labour to become the main opposition party in the Scottish Parliament. Then, of course, the UK narrowly voted to leave the EU the next month against overwhelming support for remaining here in Scotland. Finally, in a double whammy of Council-UK elections in May-June 2017, the SNP tide would be rolled back across rural Scotland by the Conservatives.

Whatever else may happen on the 23rd of May, a map of results by council area will look rather different. That Labour red could be eliminated from the map entirely, or confined to East and Midlothian. Meanwhile, having initially expected the Conservatives to sweep up through Perthshire, Angus, Aberdeen and Moray, the absolute cratering of their vote suggested in polling could instead mean the only blues are emotional. But of course these elections aren’t a game of flipping colours on the map – Scotland elects its MEPs from that single nationwide constituency.

There are three seats that are realistically up for grabs. Since 2014, UKIP have gone through a dizzying array of splits which have largely settled into UKIP themselves plus a new Brexit Party. It’s highly unlikely UKIP will manage to win the seat back, as the Brexit Party have largely supplanted them. Labour have also been polling appallingly in Scotland recently especially when PR is involved – both of the Holyrood List Vote polls this year have had them below 20%, which could mean their second seat is vulnerable. Finally, the Conservatives could go without a seat entirely, as their vote in these elections looks set to plummet to a historic low.

So who is in the running to pick up those three seats? With only a couple of Scotland-specific polls and none so far in May, it’s hard to say. The most recent Scotland only-poll, covered in full here, is a useful indicator but a lot has changed in the campaign since it was carried out.

Map of Scottish EU Election Poll by YouGov, 23rd to 25th of April 2019. Seats: 3 SNP, 1 Lab, 1 Brexit, 1 Con

Splitting the possibilities along the Brexit faultline, we’d be looking at the SNP, Greens, Liberal Democrats and the Independent Group/Change UK on the Remain side, with the Conservatives and the Brexit Party for Leave.

The SNP have polled strongly recently, so are definitely in contention to pick up a third seat, or even a fourth on a very good day. The Greens were also pretty close in 2014, and have grown substantially in membership and in MSPs since then, though Greens GB-wide have been quite variable in polling. They also picked up an endorsement from the Sunday Mail on the grounds of tackling climate change, a first for the party and the only explicit endorsement of a party in Scotland so far.

On the Lib Dem front, prospects are looking quite good for them to regain the seat they lost in 2014. They’ve been performing extremely well by recent standards in GB-wide polling, and may be hoping to make something of their support for both the UK and the EU. However, Change UK are deeply unlikely to come to anything here, especially given they are onto their third lead candidate of the election – effectively, I’m mentioning them for completeness.

When the campaign started, it seemed the Conservatives’ recent surge in Scotland could stand them in good stead – but in those GB-wide polls they have been faring extremely poorly, with one poll as low as 10% and none above 15% this month. On past performance it seems unlikely the Scottish Conservatives would outperform their English counterparts, but this may be their year. Meanwhile the Brexit Party looks like it is picking up the overwhelming majority of the old Brexit vote plus a lot of the Conservative vote, and are in with a very good chance.

As the EU Elections approach, Ballot Box Scotland will be keeping tabs on any developments. If there are any Scotland-specific polls of EU voting intention, I’ll project those into seats and take a guess at what that map may look like. However, I will not touch subsamples, nor will I sum up the subsamples. This is a subsample free website!