New constituency boundaries in Scotland: the impact on the Lib Dems

Last month it was the turn of English MPs to look nervously at the proposals of the Boundary Commission’s re-drawing of constituencies — Scotland’s turn has now come, with its national Boundary Commission yesterday publishing its proposals for public consultation.

The Financial Times has undertaken a quick reccy to work out what it might mean:

… both Coalition parties are likely to lose out, with the only Scottish Tory and three of the 11 current Scottish Liberal Democrat MPs likely to lose their seats as a result of the boundary changes.

Among the Lib Dems, this could provoke a tussle between party grandees Charles Kennedy and Danny Alexander, whose adjacent constituencies could be merged into a new “Inverness and Skye” constituency. Alternatively Kennedy, Alexander and John Thurso could all compete for the new seat of “Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty”, which has boundaries cutting across all three MPs’ existing constituencies.

The opposition parties fare little better: Our analysis suggests that Labour will lose three of its current 41 Scottish MPs, and SNP will remain level at six, or, if using a different methodology, possibly lose one new constituency (Dundee East and the Glens).

The paper has also produced an interactive map which illustrates its (self-confessedly crude) projections of the impact of the changes…

The current political map of Scotland (FT.com)

The proposed political map of Scotland (FT.com)

Only one Lib Dem MP’s seat is entirely unaffected by the proposed changes: Alistair Carmichael’s vast Orkney & Shetland was protected in recognition that, though small in numbers, it would be practically impossible to enlarge.

Here’s how our Scottish MPs are affected by the proposals:

  • Robert Smith – current seat: Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine – new seat(s) including current seat: Angus East and Kincardine (projected SNP); Deeside and Gordon (projected Lib Dem).
  • Alan Reid – current seat: Argyll and Bute – new seat(s) including current seat: Argyll, Bute and Lochaber (projected Lib Dem).
  • Malcolm Bruce – current seat: Gordon – new seat(s) including current seat: Deeside and Gordon (projected Lib Dem); Banff and Buchan (projected SNP); Aberdeen North (projected Labour).
  • Charles Kennedy – current seat: Ross, Skye and Lochaber – new seat(s) including current seat: Argyll, Bute and Lochaber (projected Lib Dem); Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty (projected Lib Dem); Inverness and Skye (projected Lib Dem).
  • Menzies Campbell – current seat: Fife North East – new seat(s) including current seat: Cupar and St Andrews (projected Lib Dem); Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes (projected Labour).
  • Jo Swinson – current seat: Dunbartonshire East – new seat(s) including current seat: East Dunbartonshire and Kilsyth (projected Labour); Glasgow North East (projected Labour); West Dunbartonshire and Bearsden (projected Labour).
  • Mike Crockart – current seat: Edinburgh West – new seat(s) including current seat: Edinburgh West (projected Lib Dem); Edinburgh Central and Leith (projected Labour); Edinburgh South West (projected Labour).
  • Danny Alexander – current seat: Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey – new seat(s) including current seat: Inverness and Skye (projected Lib Dem); Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty (projected Lib Dem); Moray and Strathspey (projected SNP.
  • Michael Moore – current seat: Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk – new seat(s) including current seat: Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (projected Lib Dem); Midlothian and Tweeddale (projected Labour).
  • John Thurso – current seat: Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross – new seat(s) including current seat: Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty (projected Lib Dem).

The FT projections come with a health warning: ‘[they] redistribute the votes of the 2010 general election according to the proportion of the electorate of each existing constituency that falls within each new constituency. This assumes a uniform geographic distribution of the party support within each current constituency. In reality this will not be the case.’

We also know that much has changed since the 2010 general election, and that the Lib Dem decision to go into coalition at Westminster with the Tories has hit the party’s support hardest in the north, especially Scotland. There are probably few if any ‘safe’ Lib Dem seats any more. That said, most Lib Dem MPs have good potential options under the proposals, notwithstanding the potential Alexander/Kennedy/Thurso tussle, or Jo Swinson’s seat being carved up into three notionally Labour seats.

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15 Comments

  • I expect the Lib Dems will struggle to win FPTP seats in Scotland for the foreseeable future, however the boundaries are set. In fact, going on the latest polls, if there was an election tomorrow they’d have an uphill struggle just saving their deposits.

  • LondonLiberal 14th Oct '11 - 10:05am

    danny alexander loses seat after implenting deal with the tories which brought this about .

    so there is at least a sense of irony at westminster!

  • Richard Gadsden 14th Oct '11 - 10:27am

    So John Thurso, Charles Kennedy, Danny Alexander and Alan Reid have their four seats compressed into three, and Malcolm Bruce and Robert Smith have their two seats combined into one. Menzies Campbell, Mike Crockart and Michael Moore each have successor seats that are notionally Lib Dem. That much was widely anticipated

    Jo Swinson comes out worst off by miles; splitting Milngavie from Bearsden makes it almost impossible for her to defend a seat that doesn’t include both. It also makes very little sense in terms of bringing communities together.

    At least the others have a selection contest to look at, and it’s entirely possible that one of the four Highland MPs and/or one of the two Grampian ones will decide to retire in 2015 or run for the Lords (if there is an election).

    Any notional boundaries in East Dunbartonshire are likely to be notionally Labour, but if Bearsden and Milngavie are combined in a single seat, then Jo has a pretty decent shot at winning in any reasonable political environment. Of course, Scotland may not be a reasonable political environment for Lib Dems in 2015.

  • Don Lawrence 14th Oct '11 - 12:57pm

    Our best MPs like Charles must stand again if we are to survive in Scotland. If Danny had to go, it wouldn’t wouldn’t be a great loss. If they tried to shove Charles into the Lords to save Danny’s blushes, we would lose the seat definitely.

  • Stuart Smith 14th Oct '11 - 1:50pm

    I agree with Dan, the Scottish Party should be looking to get its big guns in Holyrood not Westminster next time around and certainly not in a reformed (?) HofL.

  • Don Lawrence 14th Oct '11 - 2:39pm

    Dan, interesting point, I would differ in so far as I regard both as equally vital.

    However, the problem with a move over by one of our MPs or many would be a lot of “Cut and Run” type of headlines to be run by the press across the UK, especially if was a big hitter like Charles who stood down to let in Danny. I believe we will need to defend based on our individual MP’s reputation next time. Taking on a Scot Nat MSP with his or her own incumbency factor would be a very risky strategy for a party as weak as we are likely to be in 2015.

  • @Don – remember though that the Scottish Elections are only in 2016, so for much of that time Charles would be able to have the incumbency factor. I’m also pretty confident that the SNP won’t do as well in 2016 as they did this year, so some of the seats we lost will be up for the taking. However, how Charles would adapt to the Scottish Parliament and sitting on the backbenches is a different matter…

  • I’m Scottish and live in Aberdeen and can promise that the Lib Dems are finished in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire for AT LEAST a generation, possible forever.

    Scots general saw the Liberal Democrats as a centre left liberal alternative to Labour and they feel betrayed by coalition deal. That’s what happens when you go around the country telling different people different things, sooner or later you’re found out.

    As for FPTP seats there are only three seats that I think the Lib Dems have any real chance of keeping, the seat in Orkney and Shetland, Charles Kennedy’s seat and Ming Campbell’s seat. But they could very well lose all of those seats too.

  • One other point, nearly all of the FPTP seats the Lib Dems lost in the Scottish Elections they feel from first place to thrid place, even if the SNP don’t do so well in 2016 the Lib Dems will struggle to get those back. Those two horse race leaflets won’t look so good.

  • If the fairly recent Council election results are in any way replicated, I would say that the Liberal Democrats in Scotland will lose the majority if not all of their seats to the SNP. The effect of the boundary changes are fairly immaterial in the scheme of things.

  • coldcomfort 18th Oct '11 - 9:28am

    Looking at the glee with which some postings relish the prospect of the LibDems being obliterated makes me, as an Englishman, feel that full Scottish independence cannot come soon enough. There are far too many Scots in Westminster – many representing English constituencies. I wouldn’t have had to see my taxes bail out RBS & much else besides whilst being relentlessly blamed for every disaster in Scottish history most of which were, in fact, the fault of the Scots themselves.

  • Peter MacDonald 18th Oct '11 - 10:48pm

    I don’t think anyone is particularly happy with the Scottish proposals as the maths of dividing 52 Westminster seats into 73 Holyrood seats and 32 local authorities has meant a proliferation of changes.

    Jo Swinson will be aghast at the proposed changes – she will have the Labour voting Kirkintilloch and Twechar lumped into the newly created East Dunbartonshire seat and that will almost certainly be enough to swing this to Labour. No doubt she will make a good fight of it if she decides to stay and fight but it will take a miracle to swing the vote in her favour.

    Meanwhile on the Labour side, Gregg McClymont – newly elected and rising Labour star – sees his Cumbernauld based constituency carved up entirely. No doubt Gregg will be deciding if he has better future prospects standing in Jo’s seat as the nearest “local” Labour candidate or challenging Tom Harris for his safe seat.

  • uglyfatbloke 11th Dec '11 - 12:30pm

    All rather depends on there being a UK general election in the future does n’t it? Latest opinion poll (Ipsos/Mori) has the Gnats at 50%. Convention would suggest that they would have lost ground since May, but clearly they have not. Whether they can maintain that until the next Westminster election is open to question, but their target is the referendum, not the next Westminster GE and polls seem to indicate a modest but steady trend toward a ‘yes’ vote. If the referendum produces a ‘yes’ vote (probably in 2014 since the gnats capmpaigned on the basis of a referendum in the latter half of the session)) there won’t be a Westminster GE for the Lib-Dems to contest..
    If the referendum produces a ‘no’, since the Lib-Dems are currently hovering at 8% in opinion polls they would have to make up an awful lot of grouind over the next few years to have any chance of saving anything but Orkney and Shetland…and Shetlanders are obviously not too wild about the Libs given that a local independent gave Tavish a bit of a run for his money in May despite the fact that the local guy did n’t have a clue about running a campaign – not to mention no money, no party infrastructure, no national press and a hell of struggle just to get on the platform at hustings. Ming might be the exception – well-known incumbent and all that, but has it occurred to no-one that he might want to retire? If so, the Libs will lose the seat regardless of who stands in his place.

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