Friday, December 12, 2014

How are the SNP faring on the transfer market?

Craig Murray suggested the other day that I should take a look at how people who vote for unionist parties are using their lower preferences in local council elections.  There's probably not much point in examining what's been going on over a long timescale, because a) it would be an enormous undertaking, and b) what we're really interested in is the pattern since the referendum, to see if there's any clue as to who might benefit from tactical voting next May.  So let's concentrate for now on the most recent by-elections.

Probably most interesting is how Labour voters are behaving, because even in these darkest of days for the party they still have considerably more voters out there than the Tories or Lib Dems do.  At the Elgin North by-election yesterday, the Labour candidate was the last to be eliminated, so his votes could only be transferred to either the independent candidate or the SNP.  This is how they split -

Independent 98
SNP 77

Given that the SNP won the election, it's clear there was a disproportionate anti-SNP (or pro-independent) leaning among Labour voters as compared to the ward's electorate as a whole, but the difference was fairly mild.  They certainly weren't going against the SNP as a bloc.

The Troup by-election in Aberdeenshire two weeks ago was effectively an SNP-Tory battle (which the SNP won comfortably), but the Labour candidate was eliminated at an earlier stage of the count, so his votes were transferrable to the SNP, the Tories, the Lib Dems or an independent.  This is the breakdown -

Liberal Democrats 31
SNP 22
Conservatives 16
Independent 8

Given the unpopularity of the Lib Dems these days, it's probably significant that Labour voters preferred the party of Clegg to a winning SNP candidate.  On the other hand, there's no evidence here that they preferred the Tories to the SNP - albeit we can't be sure where the greater number of transfers would have gone if the Lib Dems hadn't been an option.  The North Coast and Cumbraes contest may help in that regard, because Labour votes were only transferrable to the SNP, Tories or an independent -

Independent 177
Conservatives 122
SNP 111

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this suggests that many Labour voters don't like either the SNP or the Tories very much, and are happy enough to find any sort of alternative to both.  To the extent that they did exercise a preference, it was for the Tories - just - but again we don't know what would have happened if there had been a straight choice.

It's also worth remembering that Labour are very much down to their core vote at the moment, so the numbers above aren't telling us much about the behaviour of Labour voters from the 2010 general election, many of whom will have given their first preference vote to the SNP in these contests and had done with it.  I also very much doubt if Labour sympathisers who voted tactically for the SNP in the last general election in places like Perth to keep the Tories out will suddenly find that they now prefer the Tories to the SNP.

As for Tory voters,'s a somewhat clearer picture.  Here's what they did in Elgin North -

Independent 96
Labour 52

And in Oban North and Lorn -

Independent 183
Labour 91
SNP 12

And in North Coast and Cumbraes -

Independent 589
SNP 123

And in Midlothian East -

Labour 100
Independent 83
SNP 27

So Tory voters consistently prefer Labour to the SNP by some distance, and in one case even prefer Labour to the convenient option of plumping for neither of the traditional "enemies".  Unlike Labour voters, then, Tories have enthusiastically fallen into line with their party leadership in viewing the other main unionist party as an ally.

OK, there are any number of people out there who once upon a time would have been considered "natural Tories" and who now vote SNP - but they're likely to have made the jump a long time ago, not since 2010.  (We know that because the Tory vote hasn't slumped any further in recent years.)  So the above numbers do tell us quite a lot about the attitudes of people who voted Tory in 2010.

By the way, if I'd done a post specifically about Elgin North, the headline would have been either 'Lousy Labour Earn Elgin Earbashing as Serene SNP Slide to Success' or 'Sturgeon Steals the Elgin Marbles', but I decided to spare you.


  1. If you are a right-wing voter in Scotland, Labour are the most obvious choice in terms of being able to win a seat.

    Problem I see for Labour chasing the Tory vote is Tories are very loyal to their party, what's left of them anyway. I mean they've polled pretty much the same in every election since 1997 even though they've had a snowball's chance in hell of getting a seat.

    Then there's the problem of 'Vote Labour to keep out the Tories' (which Labour just can't resist as its their only real policy) on leaflets and stuff, but yet on the doorstep advising Labour voters to vote Tory, or Tories to erm, vote Labour. Not sure how this assortment of circles can be squared.

  2. South Kintyre - the SNP got over 60% of the first preference vote so were elected at the first count. Does that mean that the second preferences don't have to be referred to and are ignored?

    1. Thanks, Barney, I was being thick - I've deleted that bit to spare my blushes!

  3. I would consider myself a Lib Dem, but I'm not here for an argument. As a genuine comment (given this is a post essentially about how people on the No side think about other parties) my honest order of preference if I couldn't vote Lib Dem would be Labour, Tory, Greens, SNP, UKIP.

    If I happened to live in England, I'd vote Green before the Tories and possibly before Labour, but I can't vote for them in Scotland because of their stance on independence. In practice I would never vote Tory, but they're third in that list for the sole reason that they're not presently proposing some fundamental constitutional change (independence, leaving the EU) that I bitterly disagree with. If they actively started campaigning to leave the EU that would change.

    Again, I'm not saying that to start an argument, merely to illustrate that for people like me the referendum really has changed fundamentally how we think about politics. I have no love of Clegg or the Lib Dems particularly, they're just the least worst choice for someone who has my set of political views: i.e. someone who doesn't support independence, supports socially liberal laws (end the war on drugs etc.), who is hugely pro-EU, hugely pro-immigration, hates populism and wants evidence based pragmatism rather than an ideological approach to the economy.

    1. Don't you see, that if you could get over the anti-independence mind set that you could potentially reach the rest of your goals. Would you rather not get there with UK or reach it in Scotlans?

    2. You should have a look at the Lib Dem voters for Independence facebook page. If we still believe in the values of the Lib Dems, unlike Clegg, then Independence is our best option.

      Remember us Lib Dems support home rule, it's one of our core values.... Even if Carmichael, Alexander and co have forgotten this. We also support ending the house of lords etc. In other words we are meant to be all about constitutional change.

      Ideological we are much closer to the SNP and Greens than anyone else.

  4. @Landers

    You should not worry about getting into an argument on here, it has been known for us independence supporters to argue with each other on occasions! :D

    More seriously though, what is your constitutional preference for Scotland, is it status quo, Devo max?

  5. Thanks James, interesting analysis. I suspected the supposed tactical voting amongst unionist parties was a bit inefficient, but this goes into quite some detail and suggests a pattern that seems plausible.

    It takes a very big knee-jerk for Labour voters in rural seats to go from decades of "vote LD / SNP to keep the Tories out" to suddenly now being told "vote LD / Tory to keep the Nats out". Indeed, their message is still very mixed in this respect ("vote Nicola wake up with Dave" as Mr. Sarwar put it).

    I suppose you'll be starting another post about the YouGov poll...

  6. I noticed that Elgin Greens were giving their votes to a mix of parties. 3 of them even transferred their vote to UKIP. Making me think that an SNP Green electoral pact would not work.