After months of fevered work, the Boundary Commission for Scotland have emerged with revised proposals for Scotland’s Westminster constituency boundaries. They kicked off this process in 2021, and have until the 1st of July 2023 to come up with final proposals that should take effect before the next UK General Election. I say should, as it does appear the Government have managed to stave off collapse after a catastrophic October, but you’d be a fool to confidently predict anything about UK politics at the moment.
Ballot Box Scotland did a quick run through the initial proposals when they surfaced last October, boundary changes always being a neat little distraction when there isn’t an actual election on. Since there isn’t, as yet, one on at the moment either, it makes sense to do the same again.
I’m not going to repeat the entirety of the explanation in the previous piece, but I’ll quickly summarise. The 2023 Review of Scotland’s Westminster boundaries is working towards 57 seats, down from 59 at present. This isn’t in any way sinister, it’s a simple consequence of (most) seats having to fall within 5% of a target electorate, when London and the southeast of England have the most rapidly growing population. Northern England and Wales are also experiencing reductions.
The Boundary Commission for Scotland is an independent, impartial body that does its job very well. It is not engaged in gerrymandering, and it isn’t deliberately drawing weird boundaries. We get weird boundaries because Scotland doesn’t divide into 57 equally sized seats in a natural way, as that’s not how human geography works. This is another one of the many flaws with FPTP.
If you’re still itching to shout abuse at the Commissioners for how little thought you think they’ve given the proposals, I invite you to read their meeting minutes and discussion papers and find out how wrong you are.
Overview of Changes
As before, I’m going to quickly summarise changes rather than attempt to do so exhaustively. The map below gives a visual of the revised proposals (coloured) versus both current boundaries and the initial proposals. You can find more detailed maps of each constituency on the BCS website.
No Changes At All
Despite dramatic changes elsewhere, there are some seats that have survived both the initial and revised proposals totally unchanged from present. Notably, this includes the entirety of Ayrshire! In addition, both Islands constituencies are “protected” and don’t have to meet the usual quota for number of voters. The 11 unchanged constituencies are:
- Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock
- Central Ayrshire
- East Renfrewshire
- Edinburgh South West
- Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Protected)
- Kilmarnock and Loudon
- North Ayrshire and Arran
- Orkney and Shetland (Protected)
- West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine
Initial Changes Maintained
A number of constituencies underwent changes in the initial stage of proposals, but haven’t been modified again before publication of revised proposals. The 12 constituencies that remain as initially proposed are:
- Aberdeen North
- Aberdeen South
- Airdrie (renamed from Airdrie and Shotts)
- Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
- East Kilbride and Strathaven
- Hamilton and Clyde Valley
- Inverclyde and Renfrewshire West (renamed from Inverclyde and Bridge of Weir)
- Motherwell and Clydesdale North
- North East fife
- Paisley and Renfrewshire North (renamed from Renfrew North)
- Paisley and Renfrewshire South (renamed from Renfrew South)
Revised and Resubmitted
That means there are a mighty 34 constituencies which have been shaken up since the initial proposals. I won’t list each of these, since you can get that by process of elimination, but I would summarise as “mild changes to Argyll, Edinburgh and Dumfries and Galloway, quite dramatic changes elsewhere.” Changes around Fife, Tayside, Highland and Grampian areas in particular reflect the significant reaction to the initial proposals there.
The perceived over-sizing of the initial “Highland North” constituency has been addressed, whilst Kinross-shire is merely licked gently by Fife rather than bitten in half. However, other issues such as the pairing of bits of Dundee with surrounding countryside or splitting Moray are effectively completely unavoidable. Indeed, I wrote a couple of threads about Moray in particular following initial proposals. Attempts have nonetheless been made to lessen the impacts.
Of course, the thing political anoraks are most interested in when boundaries change is what it means for the political makeup of parliament. Just as with initial proposals, given all of Scotland is “the SNP vs Someone Else”, I’ll go through key seats for each of the three other parties. Since the initial proposals, we have of course had the 2022 Local Elections – and my unparalleled collation of detailed data, including right down to polling district level.
This time around then, we can use this data to help gauge the impact of boundary changes, after Independents and candidates outside the Holyrood 5 parties and Alba are eliminated and their votes redistributed. Note that this is not a projection of either 2019 or next election vote shares. Instead, it’s about seeing what the partisan balance is like. If a new boundary is 3% worse for a party in May this year than the current boundary, we can reasonably assume it would have also been worse for them in 2019.
It’s not the most difficult task to estimate how Labour would have done in 2019 on new boundaries, given they just didn’t do very well at all. 🔴Edinburgh South changes only very slightly, taking in the Prestonfield area, and since it wasn’t anywhere near marginal in 2019, it’s quite safe. We can also say that since 🟡Midlothian hasn’t changed, the SNP victory there stands.
Moving on to 🟡Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, relative to the current constituency it adds outlying bits of the two towns that weren’t included, plus Crossgates, Inverkeithing, and North Queensferry. It’s lost Lochgelly and Ballingry though, and whilst Kelty was in the initial proposal, it’s gone from this one, though West Wemyss was further added. This actually makes the seat slightly more favourable to the SNP, hence expecting they’d still have won in 2019. What happens next time, given this is one of the seats where the MP left to join the ill-fated Alba Party, could be interesting.
Speaking of seats where the SNP incumbent defected to Alba, 🟡East Lothian lost Musselburgh west of the Esk in the initial proposals to a redrawn Edinburgh East, and has further lost most of the rest of the town to the east of the river after being revised. Although Musselburgh is the strongest SNP ward East Lothian, it has surprisingly little impact removing it. It’s slightly less favourable, but not to the degree they’d have failed to win the seat in 2019. Again though, it could be an odd one to watch by the time an election comes around.
🟡Glasgow North East disappeared on the initial proposals, split between reformatted Glasgow Central and Glasgow East constituencies. It’s back on revised proposals though, but it’s traded areas like Milton and Possil for Springboig and Easterhouse. This makes it a touch more favourable to the SNP, and thus likely they’d still have won in 2019.
🟡Rutherglen loses “and Hamilton West”, but it does trade in Uddingston and Bothwell without adding them to the name. Although that makes the seat less favourable to both the SNP and Labour, the SNP’s decrease is sharper, which could give Labour a little boost at the next election. In 2019 though, still SNP.
🟡Coatbridge and Bellshill is another one that drops an area from its name, waving goodbye to Chryston (and thus Stepps and Moodiesburn). It does however expand to include all of Bellshill, by adding Orbiston and Mossend. It’s a few buildings bigger than the initial proposal, but that’s basically inconsequential. Indeed very little changes in partisan terms anyway, so you guessed it, obviously SNP in 2019.
🟡Glasgow South East is perhaps not very well named, given Glasgow doesn’t really have a south east, being the southern side of the current Glasgow East (including Baillieston and Shettleston), plus parts of Glasgow Central around Calton, Merchant City and crossing the river to Gorbals and Govanhill. I’ve suggested “East Centre” to the BCS instead. The initial redrawn East proposal had instead lost much of Parkhead but gained Blackhill, Riddrie and Ruchazie.
Nowhere in Glasgow except North East was marginal in 2019, but I thought this one was worth looking at because Labour did well here in May, it’s the only new constituency not to include any ward where the Greens won more than 20% of the overall vote, and contains the two remaining wards with Conservative councillors. I reckon that makes it Labour’s next best shot at a Glasgow seat at the next election, but it’s less favourable than the current East is to them.
🟡Airdrie loses “and Shotts” from the name but not from its geography, changes instead being the loss of Newmains and gain of Cleland, Carfin and New Stevenston. At a by-election last year this saw a narrowing of the SNP’s lead, and I wondered if these changes might impact vote shares, but basically… no. Obviously SNP in 2019, but very likely one to watch next time, especially given the heavily pro-Union bent of the Shotts portion.
Lib Dem Seats/Marginals
The Lib Dems were the big losers on the initial proposals, so they might have been hoping for more favourable changes. As we’ll see, those hopes were in vain. To start with since 🟠Orkney and Shetland is unchanged, so is the 2019 result there. 🟠Edinburgh West has some minor changes and since it was marginal in 2019 I did scope them out, but to be honest, they are so minimal as to not take the minute to add the chart, it’d have been slightly less favourable but still Lib Dem.
🟡North East Fife hasn’t changed since the initial proposals, which are to add the remainder of the Leven, Kennoway and Largo ward to the constituency. That brings in the rest of Leven, plus Kennoway and Windygates, Largo having already been present. It may not geographically look like much given the size of the constituency, but it’s a relatively dense area, with thousands of votes, that heavily favour the SNP over the Lib Dems (48% to 11% in May).
Adding it is effectively a 3% swing to the SNP, who would have needed 1.5% to win in 2019 – thus, narrowly winning it on these boundaries. At the next election however, the Lib Dems have clearly dug heavily in to the core of the seat in the last few years, and I’d have them as clear favourites to win it.
It’s not getting any better for the party from here on out though. 🟡Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is less huge than the initial Highland North, going without most of Wester Ross, though at the cost of further southwards expansion to Kirkhill, joining the already added Beauly, Black Isle, Dingwall and Stratpeffer. It’s still a jumbo seat, and adds tens of thousands of voters to a seat the Lib Dems had a majority of 204 in. Or, in other words, it fires directly into the SNP column for 2019. It’s better for them than Highland North was though, so it’s doable next time.
🟡Bearsden and Campsie Fells is where things get pretty disastrous. This is the replacement for East Dunbartonshire, which was the site of the Lib Dems’ worst loss in 2019, the first unseating of a major party leader in decades. It loses the affluent Lenzie area and western Kirkintilloch, and in both reform proposals gained Lennoxtown and Milton of Campsie. The initial version included Kilsyth and was dubbed “Kelvin North”. The revision gives Kilsyth back to a Cumbernauld seat, but takes in Stepps, Chryston and Muirhead instead.
Both proposals were roughly equally bad for the Lib Dems chances, knocking a big chunk off their vote – there just are not Lib Dem voters, well, anywhere in North Lanarkshire. Although I’ve already said these figures are about partisan balance rather than direct predictions, remember the Lib Dems do much better at Westminster level than local. They’ll likely do better, even with the assumed loss of Jo Swinson’s personal vote, based on tactical vote habit at the first election. But then, when the reality of the new boundaries are made apparent, expect Labour in particular to argue they are the only party with a true shot at unseating the SNP.
We can actually quite quickly rush through four of the Conservative seats. The three border seats all mostly trade between one another – 🔵Dumfries and Galloway takes in more of Dumfries town itself, 🔵Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweedale adds Clovenfords which is the sole subtraction from 🔵Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk. DCT also picks up Carnwath in Clydesdale. I’ve not bothered with change calcs here as a result – they’d all still be Conservative. So too for 🔵West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, given it has no boundary changes.
🔵Aberdeenshire North and Moray East is the replacement for the current Banff and Buchan, and one of the ways to resolve the previous three-way split of Moray into just a two-way – though, strictly, most of what is gained from Moray is historic Banffshire anyway. The initial version already lost Turriff in exchange for Keith and Cullen and Buckie, and the revised version ejects Central Buchan and further takes Fochabers Lhanbryde from Moray. The balance of this favours the SNP, though not to an extent they’d have won the seat in 2019. Looking ahead to the next election though, it’s a much shooglier peg.
🔵Aberdeenshire Central primarily substitutes for Gordon, becoming an even more rural seat than it already was with the loss of the Bridge of Don and Dyce areas of Aberdeen City whilst picking up Turriff. The initial proposal also included Speyside Glenlivet from Moray, but that’s been taken out and substituted with Central Buchan. The loss of Aberdeen City components in particular is bad news for the SNP, and takes what was a narrow win in Gordon for them in 2019 and would flip it to the Conservatives instead
🟡Nairn, Strathspey and Moray West is the counterbalance to Aberdeenshire Central. Most of Moray lies within this one, with Speyside Glenlivet reattached versus the initial proposal, joining Nairn, Ardersier and Badenoch and Strathspey. This new version also splits Culloden off from Inverness, which may cause some upset. Moray, the seat of Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, was only a very narrow Conservative win in 2019, so if you add a bunch of SNP-leaning areas from Highland to the bulk of it, the SNP would have won instead.
The current Perthshire seats are basically entirely wiped out, with no direct comparators either to current seats or initial proposals. 🟡North Tayside is one of the resulting seats, covering northern Perthshire including Aberfeldy, Pitlochry and Blairgowrie, plus northern Angus through Kirriemuir, Forfar and Brechin out to Montrose on the coast. There was actually a North Tayside seat in both UK and Scottish Parliaments for a while, held by one John Swinney, though it didn’t extend to Montrose. The rurality of this one would certainly be a help to Conservative chances, but given how well the SNP did in the relevant seats in 2019, I don’t see how they could have lost.
🟡Perth and Loch Leven is most of the remainder of Perthshire (and Kinross-shire), and covers the city of Perth itself plus the Carse of Gowrie, Bridge of Earn, Strathearn, and Kinross-shire less Scotlandwell. My initial instinct was the weight of Perth itself would make this quite easily SNP, but actually the rural components are quite strongly Conservative. As with North Tayside, the SNP did so well overall here in 2019 they’d certainly still have emerged as winners, but it could be competitive. Note too that in an opposite case to East Dunbartonshire, the Lib Dems do a lot better locally than at Parliamentary level in Perthshire, offering a possible boost to Conservative prospects relative to what the chart suggests.
The small chunk of Perthshire that isn’t in either of these two seats, most of Strathallan, remains tied with the bulk of Clackmannanshire plus northern Falkirk in a 🟡Clackmannanshire and Forth Valley seat. The lack of Dollar, the most Conservative portion of Clacks, and inclusion of that stretch of Falkirk would puncture the party’s chances in that seat. The other Conservative seats from 2017 are 🟡Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, 🟡East Renfrewshire and 🟡Stirling, none of which have changed, and thus no difference to 2019 results in them.
Simply due to the nature of the 2019 result, even where changes have been dramatic versus initial proposals, they are unlikely to have changed that was established then – the Lib Dems would absorb Scotland’s loss of two seats, halving their contingent. That said, they can almost certainly count on having worked North East Fife enough to hold it at the next election even on new boundaries, which would still leave them with a trio of likely MPs.
Though the changes don’t have any impact on the expected GE19 haul for the Conservatives, it does weaken them in the North East, with the split of Moray strengthening the SNP’s chances of unseating the current Banff and Buchan Conservative MP. Although the new Aberdeen Central would be more favourable than the current Gordon, it’d be a pretty shoogly peg, as is the unchanged West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine. By contrast, their seats in the South haven’t really changed, so each remains as likely (or unlikely) to be held as at present.
Finally, the scale of Labour’s losses in 2019 leave these boundary changes largely meaningless to them, with some areas becoming just a touch better for them, balanced entirely by those areas that’d get slightly worse. What may win Labour back some seats isn’t any tweaks to boundaries, but instead if they can sustain recent polling gains and, crucially, begin to eat into the SNP vote – which, as yet, they don’t appear to have done.
You now have until the 5th of December to submit your views on these proposals. I know I keep labouring this point, but “I don’t like this and you shouldn’t do it” isn’t helpful feedback. The boundary review is going ahead, and it has to be done to strict legislative requirements. The Commission cannot do anything about simple dislike. They can work with constructive critiques that lay out alternative proposals – though remember, changing one boundary can ripple out to many other seats. Barring another dramatic disruption to the process, whatever is settled on after this consultation should be in place by the end of next year.
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