SP21 – Swings and Roundabouts

Last weekend, we took a look at how each party’s vote was spread around the country. That’s useful for informing us where each party did best (and worst) at this election, but it isn’t the whole story. This time, we’ll look at how their results related to their performance back in 2016 – where they gained (and lost) support. Often we expect to see this kind of thing most dramatically shown via what seats changed hands. That of course didn’t really happen this year, so the votes are even more essential to understanding than usual.

Obviously, for this measure we’re only looking at the five major parties that won seats.  Unlike the previous piece, this will look at both votes, because whilst spreads follow a broadly similar pattern, swings can be very different between the two. Again this is mostly using a “natural breaks” approach to segmenting the vote, though I made a few tweaks in some cases to make sure it centred correctly on zero.

(Note: I know these are coming out quite slowly – as you can imagine, I was a bit knackered after the election itself and how busy I’d been in the run up to it, and of course I’ve still got my full-time job to do! There are still a couple more pieces to do looking at the results in depth, so bear with me.)


Two very different maps here for the largest party, which makes sense when you consider they went down in one vote and up in the other. In the regional element, they were down in 54 constituencies, and up in the other 19. The latter are quite scattered, but there are four apiece in the Highlands & Islands, Lothian, and South regions, which reflects those regions having their lowest vote share decreases overall – indeed, H&I was a marginal increase overall. By contrast, we can see particularly strong decreases in the (north east of the) North East and much of the western Central Belt.

Over on the constituency vote though the SNP largely reinforced their position, gaining ground in 46 seats, versus dips in the other 27. These gains were strongest in Edinburgh Central, Coatbridge & Chryston, and in Shetland where they pushed the Lib Dems to a marginal victory for the first time. Where they lost votes, it does mostly map to their larger decreases in the regional vote, in that particular corner of the North East and across the Central Belt.


Though you might expect the second placed party to be something of the inverse of the first, that’s not entirely true.

There are hints of that for the Conservatives for the regional vote, growing in the North East and parts of Lanarkshire the SNP were worst off in, whilst going backwards in most of Lothian. On the other hand, they also lost modest amounts of support in Perthshire and Angus, the kind of areas they’d have hoped to make up ground on the SNP, whilst strengthening in the Highlands & Islands and in South where the SNP also did relatively well, swing-wise. In total, 46 constituencies gave the Conservatives a list vote bump, 26 swung away, and one had no change.

In their constituency vote, we can perhaps see the shape of the tactical voting at this election, as they dug in strongly to most of the constituencies they held, whilst making headway across the North East, South and Highlands & Island, gaining in a total of 36 seats. That means they lost ground in 37, these mostly being urban central belt seats where Labour were the clearest competition to the SNP, plus a particularly sharp decline in Lib Dem held North East Fife.


2021 proved much less grim for Labour than they feared, but these maps are unlikely to instil much hope either – especially that regional vote. They only boosted their vote share in 16 seats, stayed static in one, and went backwards in the remaining 56. Gains came mostly from the urban central belt, especially Glasgow and Dunbartonshire. Oddly enough, they also went up a bit in the two main Aberdeenshire seats and Orkney. Everywhere else was a continued tale of Labour decline, with Mid Scotland & Fife most notable for complete lack of any pink areas, though the Highlands & Islands and Central proved most detrimental to their seat count.

The constituency vote was a bit rosier (if you’ll pardon the pun), and this does mostly look like the opposite of the Conservative constituency swing map. The 28 constituencies with increases here are overwhelmingly again in those urban central belt seats where they were the only party with any hope of beating the SNP, though with scattered outliers in the Western Isles and even in the Borders and Aberdeenshire. Declines in the other 45 were most severe in Dumfriesshire and Eastwood, seats Labour had won in 2011 but which have swung Conservative since.


It’s just the regional vote for the Greens here – remember, they only contested 12 of those constituencies, so a whole map for the 2 they also contested in 2016 would be a bit much! If you’re wondering, they were up marginally in Glasgow Kelvin but down relatively substantially in Edinburgh Central. Reflecting their status as the party with the most growth in vote share this election, this is an almost entirely colourful map for the Greens.

They lost votes in just two constituencies, and held steady in three others – and were therefore up in 68 seats. Those decreases and two of the unchanged results came from the Highlands & Islands, which explain why this was the region they had least growth in overall. I’d expect we can attribute a large portion of this to the presence of former Green MSP Andy Wightman’s presence on the ballot as an Independent, plus the confusion of the inaptly named Independent Green Voice. The remaining stalled share was the Galloway seat in South, which is also the palest region overall, reflecting comparatively weak growth which narrowly failed to deliver an MSP.

Gains were strongest in the southside of Glasgow and also, in contrast to the mainland portion of the region, in the Northern Isles. The deepest shades of Green in general mostly map to the other regions where the party had MSPs in the last term, with the rest of Glasgow, Lothian, most of Mid Scotland & Fife and large sections of West showing solid increases for the party.

Liberal Democrat

In suffering their worst ever Holyrood election, in most cases it isn’t that the Lib Dems lost huge amounts of votes – in fact, the regional vote map looks quite colourful, just squeaking positive swings in a bare majority of 37 seats, so swinging negatively in 36. The problem for them however was that most of these gains were below 1%, and more than offset by other losses. This was especially true in the North East, with relatively steep losses in Aberdeenshire. Most of their other increases were in regions they already had an MSP, but nowhere near enough to gain a second.

Reflecting higher losses overall, their constituency vote only went up in 21 seats, and dropped in the other 52. Similar to the regional vote, they piled on support in their two mainland constituencies where it did no good, and lost support in other old strongholds. We see that most clearly in Shetland, which as noted above they only held marginally, the first time that’s ever happened. When you look at the decreases in four of the five mainland Highland & Islands constituencies, that also raises the prospect they could drop to a single MSP in the region in 2026, should they lose Shetland and fail to gain Caithness, Sutherland and Ross.

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