The 2017 Election Briefing - Scotland

This series of briefings will cover the elections to be held across England, Scotland and Wales on 04 May, 2017.

There will be elections to much of the English shire authorities, the principal authorities of Scotland and Wales, the six mayoral contests in England and the Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster.

This part, of three, covers Scotland.

Scottish Authorities

There will be 1,223 seats up for election in 353 wards across all 32 Scottish authorities. Though not universal, a notable number of these wards have undergone boundary restructuring, making direct comparisons with 2012 a tad difficult. Elections to Scottish local authorities, unlike those in England and Wales, are conducted using Single Transferable Vote.

The 2012 elections for Scotland were the last set of national Scottish elections where Labour came away nearly tying with the SNP for seats. In 2012 they took 393 seats to the SNP’s 425; the Tories took just 115. With major changes in Scottish public opinion since, and with a snap general election on the horizon, significant changes in the political composition of Scotland’s councils are without question.

To recap, here’s the 2012 results:

2012 results mapped

Map: authorities by largest party. Yellow – SNP. Red – Labour. Blue – Conservative. Pink – independent grouping. Grey – two parties tied.

Though not a proportional system, STV in practice yields more proportional results than First Past The Post, and as a consequence only nine of the 33 authorities saw one party attain a majority to govern. Four of these are Labour (Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire), two are SNP (Dundee and Angus) and three are governed by independent groupings (the island authorities of the Eilean Siar, the Orkney Isles and the Shetland Isles).

Of the remaining hung authorities, ten saw Labour as the largest party, five the SNP, two the Conservatives, two for independent groupings and four with two parties tied.

Ipsos Mori has published a voting intention for the Scottish locals, though I would urge caution regarding its accuracy given the low share of support it affords to independents.

Having won a majority in Holyrood the year previous, 2012 was a disappointing year for the SNP, coming ahead of Labour by only 31 council seats (out of 1,223). It should be expected that the SNP will make major gains this year, mostly at Labour’s expense in authorities such as Aberdeen, Falkirk, Fife, North Lanarkshire, Midlothian and Glasgow.

Glasgow saw a Labour majority in 2012. Unless the divine intervention of the late Donald Dewar is the weather forecast for polling day, the SNP will either win a majority on the council or pip the reds for largest party. Though rumours did at one point circulate of Labour giving up on the city, it does seem that they are attempting one final showdown. Regardless, anything other than an SNP leap here will be a shock, but if in the instance they just miss out on an overall majority, it will be interesting to see if the Greens are willing to prop them up with a coalition.

Readers should note Glasgow will this year be featuring Gisela Allen, a UKIP candidate whose views, I expect, will make all the difference between last place and second to last place in Garscadden ward.

Edinburgh gave Labour the status of largest party in 2012, and it’s unlikely that this year they will retain it. The SNP should be the favourites to become the largest party here, and the Tories may just overtake Labour for second. The Greens won six seats here last time, and opportunities for further gains seem likely. Boundary changes which saw the number of seats in the city centre increase should bode well for them.
In terms of votes, it would be interesting to see how well the Liberal Democrats do in the western portion of the city. If there exists a persistent vote for the Lib Dems at a local level, their chances of retaking Edinburgh West at the general election should be good.

We know the Conservatives are going to do well in Scotland compared to 2012, but as to how well is yet to be seen. A good night for them would be to outpoll Labour in seats and votes, overtake them in Dumfries & Galloway, and become the largest party on a number of authorities north of the Forth. Angus, Aberdeenshire and Moray all seem candidates for this. Elsewhere, Perth & Kinross and Stirling are an outside chance. Most have within them constituencies the Conservatives are said to be targeting for the general election. If the Tories want to win more than just the three seats in the Southern Uplands on 08 June, it is vital they do well here. As has been said in the Welsh briefing, the overwhelming presence of independent candidates in some authorities may deny parties the gains they are hoping for and skew the results somewhat. What’s to say a disproportionate number of [X party] voters go independent in local elections?

A good night for Labour would be to retain the status of largest party on at least one authority and be best placed to go into coalition as a secondary partner in as many as possible. After their poor showing in 2016, 2015 and… the latest polls, if Labour wants to retain relevance in Scotland they must do so by showing it somewhere in this year’s council elections. East Lothian could be their saving grace. Though they may lose the status of largest party, they and the Tories could retain enough seats to keep the SNP out and continue a coalition.

2012 results, by council:

To summarise: what should we expect for Scotland?

We should expect the SNP to be the largest party in more authorities than ever before; we should expect Labour to suffer losses to a point where they are at risk of coming third; and we should expect the Tories to stage a comeback in the more rural parts of Scotland as well the borders region.

As a final note, it should be said that Scottish local government elections – as with those being held in Wales and England – will not necessarily reflect how public opinion is when it comes towards Westminster voting intentions. It provides a pointer/a direction of travel/a gauge of strength and nothing more.

Now that these briefings are complete, I will most likely be producing a forecast for the local elections in the final few days before polling day.

Polls will be open on 04 May from 0700hrs to 2200hrs. Results for Scotland will be counted and declared the day after. It is our intention to ensure vote and seat totals of the results are made available to you on our site and social media. If you would like to help with providing election results to our sheets on the night, do get in touch!

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The 2017 Election Briefing - Wales

This series of briefings will cover the elections to be held across England, Scotland and Wales on 04 May, 2017.

There will be elections to much of the English shire authorities, the principal authorities of Scotland and Wales, the six mayoral contests in England and the Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster.

This part, of three, covers Wales.

Welsh Authorities

There will be 1,254 seats up for grabs on all 22 authorities of Wales. This is unlike 2012 when the Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Mon) was not up for election.

When analysing the coming results for Wales and what it might mean in a general election, it needs to be noted that in local elections independents play a major role. 24 per cent of the Welsh seats up for election this year for instance are held by independent candidates, higher than the share for the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru put together.

It also needs noting that a woeful number of these council seats in 2012 went uncontested, with a repeat in the more rural parts of the country likely this year. 98 seats in 2012 saw the candidate elected unopposed.

Labour will be defending the lion’s share of seats this year, at 46 per cent (581 seats). Plaid Cymru will be defending the second largest number (party-wise), at 14 per cent (170). The Conservatives 8 per cent (104), and the Liberal Democrats 6 per cent (73). UKIP’s performance in 2012, a time before their ‘surge’ to the teens in the opinion polls, was negligible. They won just two seats and as far as I’m aware have already lost both of them in a defection and council by-election.


Of the 22 councils, just 10 are majority run – all of which by Labour in the nation’s south. Were you to judge authorities based on largest party, however, Labour are the largest in 13 of the 22, Plaid Cymru 5 of the 22, independent groupings in 3 of the 22, and the Tories only one: Monmouthshire. Until 2012, though, the Tories had majorities in Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan. Plaid Cymru also previously had a majority in Gwynedd.

Map: Authorities up for election

Red indicates a Labour majority; grey an authority with no overall control.

It may be the case, though, that hung authorities will be run either by groupings of independents, a party in the minority, or a coalition between parties.

After netting over 200 seats in 2012 and gaining overall control of eight additional authorities, Labour seems to have hit its ceiling in Wales, with the only way being down.

Cardiff will be one to watch. The Tories, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru are all in contention to make gains in the city this year. While doubtful Labour are on course to lose the 33 seats they netted here in 2012, seat losses, regardless, are likely. Council by-elections in the city do show opposition parties are on a pretty successful war footing. 

If the Conservatives fancy a good night, they should expect to retake overall control of Monmouthshire and build on their numbers in Denbighshire, Conwy and Wrexham. The Vale of Glamorgan was Tory until 2012, but their collapse from 25 seats to just 11 in that election may seem a step too far for the blues to retake this time round.

I expect Plaid Cymru are targeting Gwynedd in the hope of re-taking the authority, but the strength of the local opposition in the area, Llais Gwynedd, may just deny them that desire. Local council by-elections in Gwynedd do suggest the local party is active (as in they’re… standing for election) though in decline, but we should wait to see whether they still have the organisation to put up a decent number of candidates before coming to conclusions here.

Following Leanne Wood’s constituency win in last year’s assembly elections, we should expect Rhondda Cynon Taf to produce some gains for Plaid, but it can’t be said for sure how much of Mrs Wood’s win was personal or partisan.

Ceredigion seems likely to go Plaid made with gains from independents, but a Lib Dem resurgence may offset a couple of these.

Gains for UKIP seem limited, but my knowledge of where their organisation is strong, relatively speaking, suggests we could see some surprises in Caerphilly and Torfaen. Then again, their national decline in the polls does raise the question as to whether they will win any seats in Wales at all.

The prominence of independents in Welsh local politics, as written earlier, is not to be dismissed, and their representation in some authorities such as Merthyr Tydfil and Flintshire, which in general elections would be some of UKIP’s stronger areas, may actually deny the purples the opportunity for gains. The presence of independents as the domineering blocs on Powys and Pembrokeshire councils will likely prevail this year.

Table: Council compositions as of the 2012 and 2013 local elections

Blaenau Gwent03300090
Merthyr Tydfil02300172
Neath Port Talbot05208031
Rhondda Cynon Taf16019040
Vale of Glamorgan112206134
Isle of Anglesey031120140

Map: Authorities up for election

Red indicates an authority with Labour the largest party; green Plaid Cymru; blue the Tories and pink an independent grouping.

Hung authorities can produce interesting coalitions. Norfolk in 2013 for instance saw the council run by a rainbow coalition of Labour, the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP!

Polls will be open on 04 May from 0700hrs to 2200hrs. Results will be filtered through as the night progresses and the day after. If you would like to help with providing election results to our sheets on the night, do get in touch!

Help us improve our service. Consider a donation!

The 2017 Election Briefing - England

This new series of briefings will cover the elections to be held across England, Scotland and Wales on 04 May, 2017.

There will be elections to much of the English shire authorities, the principal authorities of Scotland and Wales, the six mayoral contests in England and the Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster.

This part, of three, covers England.

English Authorities

There will be 2,388 seats up for grabs for ~2,200 divisions (some of which being multi-member) on 35 authorities. 34 are county/unitary councils and one a metropolitan borough: Doncaster. 15 have undergone (mostly minor) boundary changes that have reduced seat numbers from 2013 by 26.

It needs to be noted that when passing analysis once the election results are known, the English shire authorities are not representative of England at large. The areas of which they cover are predominantly rural and more Conservative leaning than England in general. When many of these councils were up for election in 1997 for instance, the Conservatives won the most seats.

2013 results

Inds / Oth2051382,5856.8

The last time most of these authorities were up for election was 2013, considered the ‘breakthrough’ year for UKIP when they won 147 seats from 7 in 2009. This year they will be defending 149. The extra two coming from Labour controlled Doncaster which wasn’t up in 2013. The Conservatives will be defending the most seats, at 1,119 (46% of the total). Labour will be defending 570, the Liberal Democrats 347, the Green Party 20 and a smattering of independents and smaller more local parties 209.

Map: Authorities up for election

18 of the 34 authorities up in 2013 saw Conservative majorities. A further eight had them as the largest party. Three of the 34 saw Labour majorities and two had them as the largest party. Labour will also be defending Doncaster. The remainder bar one (Isles of Scilly: independent run) are hung.

Room for Labour gains seem limited as national polling at the present has them behind the Tories, whereas in 2013 Labour were running with a lead of 7-10pts, although there are a number of interesting cases to note.

Lancashire County Council looks set to prove an interesting contest for the state of Labour who are currently the largest party. The issue of fracking in the area may allow them to pick off a few independents and marginal Tories and take overall control, but the state and swing of national polling and the loss of a Pendle seat to the Tories in a recent by-election suggests things could in fact swing completely the other way.

The majority Labour won on Nottinghamshire in 2013 (though now recently lost due to defections) also looks at risk. Mark Pack reports the Liberal Democrats and Green Party have made an electoral pact in the Broxtowe borough of the county.

Derbyshire, while on paper looks comfortably Labour, is at risk of being lost hung. Lib Dem gains in Chesterfield and the Conservatives retaking seats they lost in Amber Valley and the South Derbyshire district are certainly not out of the question, especially for the latter party given the expected fallback in the UKIP vote. The scale of gains both parties would need to remove Labour’s hold, however, is a difficult one. This’ll be one to watch.

Cornwall, electing a hefty 123 councillors, is another one to keep an eye out for. Of the eleven council by-elections to the authority since 2013, nine changed hands, six of which to the Lib Dems. While very unlikely the Lib Dems will secure a majority on the council given the diverse and localised nature of Cornish politics where independents and smaller parties have robust bases of support, it’s almost certain they will retain and build upon their position as the largest party.

Other authorities may prove fruitful for the Lib Dems. The yellows have had a history of representation in much of shire England, notably coming second to the Tories (beating Labour) back in 2009. It can’t be said for certain how well the Lib Dems will perform in these elections, but we should expect them to make a comeback in authorities they once were strong in: Devon, Somerset, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Hertfordshire and the two Sussex authorities. Their performance in Cambridge proper, the southern half of Norwich, Eastleigh in Hampshire, Harrogate in North Yorkshire and some portions of the West Country are worth watching as they may indicate where the Lib Dems could, if they do, make a parliamentary comeback.

UKIP’s poor ground organisation outside of a few choice strongholds and relative fall in the polls are likely to see them suffer net losses in council elections for the first time since 2007. The general trend that has been established for them in council by-elections does not paint a pretty picture for their 140-odd county councillors who will be defending their seats. With their newfound mission to target Labour voters, it would be interesting to see whether they can make a breakthrough onto the Ashfield and Mansfield parts of Nottinghamshire, the Burnley and Hyndburn boroughs of Lancashire, and within the Newcastle under Lyme boundaries of Staffordshire. Whether they can also defend and improve upon their strong performances in Lincolnshire (Boston, Skegness), Norfolk (Great Yarmouth), Essex (Basildon, Tendring), and the Thanet portion of Kent is yet to be seen. Organisation however, or their lack of, in my view, will be what will cost them come May. The party’s failure to win Stoke on Trent Central, a seat billed as the Brexit capital of Britain, may do harm to the motivation of UKIP leaning voters, and so only damage further their expected May performance.

As of the writing of this unbrief briefing, the Conservatives have a clear lead of more than ten points according to our national poll of polls polling model. This is in stark contrast to February 2013 when they were behind Labour by ten points. Although the polls narrowed slightly in the run-up to May (Labour’s lead was reduced to seven points), and though it’s yet to be seen whether that will be the case with the Tories this year, net gains for the government across the board do seem inevitable, regardless. It’s probably that losses from UKIP to the blues will see the Tories take back overall control of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.

Some of the areas to watch out for may, as with the Lib Dems, offer pointers to future general election performances. The constituency of Bishop Auckland in the southern parts of County Durham is one of the more fragile Labour seats in the North East region. North East Derbyshire, Newcastle under Lyme in Staffordshire and Allerdale as well as Barrow in Cumbria (of neighbouring Copeland fame) should also be paid close attention to.

English Mayoralties

As part of new devolution deals, there are six newly established mayoral positions to be contested and filled across England, most notably of which being Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region.

These elections will operate on the contingent vote system, where voters will have two votes to rank candidates according to preference (first and second). Second preferences are counted if no candidate on first preferences has an absolute majority.

So, of these six mayoralties…

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough – A region that covers two cities (Cambridge, Peterborough) with a lot of countryside in between (Huntingdonshire, Fenland, East Cambs, South Cambs). The Conservatives (James Palmer) should be the clear favourites here with the Lib Dems and Labour fighting it out for a distant second place.

Greater Manchester – Covers Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Manchester proper, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan. Greater Manchester is almost certain to go Labour (of which Andy Burnham is the candidate), though they may just fall short on first preferences. The other parties in this region are limited to a few small pockets of support to offer any meaningful challenge to Labour here.

Liverpool City Region – The mayoralty covers the authorities of Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool proper, Sefton, St Helens, and the Wirral. Steve Rotheram, the Labour candidate, can be safe in the knowledge that this is safe as houses for his party. The Conservatives and Lib Dems will slug it out for a very distant second place.

Tees Valley – Covers the authorities of Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland, and Stockton on Tees. Labour should win this after second preferences, but as to whether UKIP or the Tories take second place is something worth watching out for.

West of England – Covers Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset, and South Gloucestershire. While the Conservatives are likely to finish ahead on first preferences, it’s nip and tuck as to whether they can pull it off and take a majority of votes, leaving the potential for a Labour or even Lib Dem mayoralty to get through on second preferences. This will be one of the more interesting races to watch.

West Midlands – The West Midlands combined authority covers Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton. Because four of the seven authorities have Labour majorities, Labour’s Sion Simon (of Take Back Control fame) is the favourite to finish ahead on first preferences, but he’s likely to be below an absolute majority of votes cast. Assuming they pick up enough second preferences from Dudley-centred UKIP voters, the Tories — whose candidate Andy Street is understood to be running a very independent campaign — do have an outside chance of winning this, but I must stress outside chance, for Labour are likely to pick up as many – if not more – second preference votes from the Lib Dems and Greens.

Polls will be open on 04 May from 0700hrs to 2200hrs. Results will be filtered through as the night progresses and the day after. If you would like to help with providing election results to our sheets on the night, do get in touch!

Help us improve our service. Consider a donation!