The Brexit Election Battleground: Scotland

The Brexit Election Battleground: Scotland

The electoral landscape in Scotland has changed radically in recent years, with voting decisions defined increasingly by the issue of Scottish independence. Indeed, the matter of whether or not Scots want to be governed from Westminster very much overrides the question of EU membership.

At the 2015 general election, held less than a year after Scots rejected independence in a referendum, an electoral earthquake occurred with the pro-independence SNP winning 56 of the 59 seats – up from just six at the 2010 election. This was on a voteshare of 50%, up an eye-watering 30% from five years previously.

The dispersed vote of the unionist parties saw the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems win just one seat apiece at the 2015 contest. This was a particular blow to Labour, given that 40 of the SNP’s gains were at their expense in seats that they had relied upon for decades to form part of Labour’s core representation on the green benches.

While the SNP remind us at every opportunity that Scotland voted to Remain in the EU, it should not be forgotten that 38% of voters did nonetheless vote to Leave – including, no doubt, hundreds of thousands who also backed Scottish independence. The 38% Leave vote was all the more remarkable given that the leadership of the entire Scottish political establishment backed a Remain vote with only a few figures sticking their necks out to back Brexit.

But a few weeks before the referendum we had also seen elections to the Scottish Parliament in which the political tectonic plates had continued to shift. While the SNP lost their overall majority, they retained power, but Scottish Labour’s woes continued: they lost more than a dozen seats as the Conservatives more than doubled their representation – going from 15 seats to 31 – which enabled their leader, Ruth Davidson, to become the Leader of the Opposition at Holyrood.

This general election could well see big changes in how those opposed to Scottish independence cast their votes, with an expectation of increased tactical voting for the unionist party best placed to challenge sitting SNP MPs. This increasing domination of the constitutional status of Scotland as the issue primarily informing voters’ decisions at the ballot box has been termed by some as the ‘Ulsterisation’ of Scottish politics. However, it has not yet reached the point where any of the main parties withdraw candidates to back another better placed to win – although the minor parties will be absent from most ballot papers, with UKIP and the Scottish Greens contesting just ten and three seats respectively.

Well-known Brexiteers standing in the region
Ross Thomson (Con, Aberdeen South)
David Coburn MEP (UKIP, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath)

MPs seeking re-election who voted against triggering Article 50
Every MP for a Scottish seat voted against triggering Article 50 except David Mundell (Con, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale)


Aberdeen South (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 32.1%)
Con: Ross Thomson MSP
Lab: Callum O’Dwyer
LD: Jenny Wilson
SNP: Callum McCaig (sitting MP)
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate

SNP: 20,221 (41.65%) – Maj: 7,230 (14.89%)
Lab: 12,991 (26.76%)
Con: 11,087 (22.84%)
LD: 2,252 (4.64%)
Green: 964 (1.99%
UKIP: 897 (1.85%)
Ind: 139 (0.29%)

The seat called Aberdeen South (albeit on different boundaries) was the constituency that was actually gained by the Tories from Labour in 1992, causing a net increase in Conservative representation in Scotland at that general election – when the party had eleven seats north of the border. Although on paper the Tories start in third place here, given Scottish Labour’s continuing decline, and the respective Tory revival, local MSP for North East Scotland Ross Thomson is widely deemed to be making the running here. He was also a committed Brexit supporter at last year’s EU referendum and has occasionally written for BrexitCentral.

Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 38.5%)
Con: Andrew Bowie
Lab: Barry Black
LD: John Waddell
SNP: Stuart Donaldson (sitting MP)
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate

SNP: 22,949 (41.58%) – Maj: 7,033 (12.74%)
Con: 15,916 (28.84%)
LD: 11,812 (21.40%)
Lab: 2,487 (4.51%)
UKIP: 1,006 (1.82%)
Green: 885 (1.60%)
Ind: 141 (0.26%)

The Conservatives won the West Aberdeenshire seat (the nearest equivalent, though not identical constituency) from the SNP at the 2016 Scottish Parliament election on a swing of some 12%. Barely half that swing would capture this seat for them at this Westminster election.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 43.3%)
Con: John Lamont
Lab: Ian Davidson
LD: Caroline Burgess
SNP: Calum Kerr (sitting MP)
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate

SNP: 20,145 (36.60%) – Maj: 328 (0.60%)
Con: 19,817 (36.01%)
LD: 10,294 (18.70%)
Lab: 2,700 (4.91%)
UKIP: 1,316 (2.39%)
Green: 631 (1.15%)
Ind: 135 (0.25%)

This is the fourth general election running that John Lamont has fought this seat for the Tories, increasing his voteshare on each occasion, and he came within less than 350 votes of winning it in 2015. He has represented this part of the borders as an elected constituency MSP since 2007, but dramatically quit the Scottish Parliament when this election was called into order to focus on the battle for the Westminster seat. It is the SNP’s most vulnerable seat of the 56 it is defending.

Dumfries and Galloway (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: x%)
Con: Alister Jack
Lab: Daniel Goodare
LD: Joan Mitchell
SNP: Richard Arkless (sitting MP)
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate
ND: Yen Hongmei Jin

SNP: 23,440 (41.41%) – Maj 6,514 (11.51%)
Con: 16,926 (29.90%)
Lab: 13,982 (24. 7 0%)
UKIP: 1,301 (2.30%)
LD: 953 (1.68%)

Another borders seat where Leave achieved one of its better results at the EU referendum and the Tories hold the nearest equivalent seat in the Scottish Parliament. The SNP would lose it on a swing of less than 6% to the Conservatives.

Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 44.7%)
Con: David Mundell (sitting MP)
Lab: Douglas Beattie
LD: John Ferry
SNP: Mairi McAllan (SNP)
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate

Con: 20,759 (39.82%) – Maj 798 (1.53%)
SNP: 19,961 (38.29%)
Lab: 7,711 (14.79%)
UKIP: 1,472 (2.82%)
LD: 1,392 (2.67%)
Green: 839 (1.61%)

In 2005 then MSP David Mundell won this seat for the Conservatives and has been re-elected at every election since with an increasing share of the vote that nearly touched 40% last time. However, he was the sole Tory MP in Scotland elected on each of those occasions and while it was a Tory/Labour battle in 2005 and 2010, the SNP came from fourth place to nearly snatch it in 2015. Mundell served as a Scotland Office minister in the Coalition Government under Lib Dem Secretaries of State but secured the Cabinet job for himself in 2015. While on paper it is the SNP’s top target seat, one imagines they will be investing time and energy in defending their current haul rather than seeking unreasonably to extend it.

Dunbartonshire East (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 26.9%)
Con: Sheila Mechan
Lab: Callum McNally
LD: Jo Swinson
SNP: John Nicolson (sitting MP)
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate

SNP: 22,093 (40.26%) – Maj 2,167 (3.95%)
LD: 19,926 (36.31%)
Lab: 6,754 (12.31%)
Con: 4,727 (8.61%)
Green: 804 (1.47%)
UKIP: 567 (1.03%)

This is the SNP’s second most vulnerable seat in Scotland, currently held by former BBC presenter John Nicolson. Jo Swinson, a Lib Dem minister in the Coalition Government, returns to avenge her defeat two years ago in the seat she held for the previous decade. If the unionist vote coalesces behind her, she could well be returning to the green benches, if not to government.

East Lothian (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 35.4%)
Con: Sheila Low
Lab: Martin Whitfield
LD: Elisabeth Wilson
SNP: George Kerevan (sitting MP)
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate
Ind: Mike Allen

SNP: 25,104 (42.54%) – Maj: 6,803 (11.53%)
Lab: 18,301 (31.01%)
Con: 11,511 (19.51%)
LD: 1,517 (2.57%)
Green: 1,245 (2.11%)
UKIP: 1,178 (2.00%)
Ind: 158 (0.27%)

If there were any signs of a Labour revival in Scotland, this would be one of the places which the party would expect such an advance to be evident, given that the party did cling on to the equivalent seat in the Scottish Parliament in 2016 (with a slightly increased majority). Indeed, some commentators deem it the only viable prospect of a Labour gain.

Edinburgh South (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 22.2%)
Con: Stephanie Smith
Lab: Ian Murray (sitting MP)
LD: Alan Beal
SNP: Jim Eadie
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate

Lab: 19,293 (39.14%) – Maj: 2,637 (5.35%)
SNP: 16,656 (33.79%)
Con: 8,626 (17.50%)
Green: 2,090 (4.24%)
LD: 1,823 (3.70%)
UKIP: 601 (1.22%)
SSP: 197 (0.40%)

This was the one seat that Labour did manage to retain at the 2015 general election and they will have been moving heaven and earth to try and hold onto it and avoid the risk of a total wipeout north of the border. Sitting MP Ian Murray was hastily made Shadow Scotland Secretary by acting leader Harriet Harman after the 2015 election and served Jeremy Corbyn in that role until June 2016 when he was among the many who quit the shadow cabinet, despondent about his leadership. He will be pushing the message to local Tory-inclined voters that a vote for anyone but him could yet gift the seat to the nationalists – and will take succour from the fact that Labour gained the nearest equivalent seat at Holyrood from the SNP last year.

Edinburgh West (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 28.8%)
Con: Sandy Batho
Lab: Mandy Telford
LD: Christine Jardine
SNP: Toni Giugliano
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate
Referendum: Mark Whittet

SNP: 21,378 (38.97%) – Maj: 3,210 (5.85%)
LD: 18,168 (33.12%)
C: 6,732 (12.27%)
Lab: 6,425 (11.71%)
Green: 1,140 (2.08%)
UKIP: 1,015 (1.85%)

In their 1997 rout, the Tories lost this seat to the Lib Dems, who held onto it under the stewardship of three different MPs until the SNP nabbed it in 2015. However, within months the new SNP MP, Michelle Thomson, resigned the party whip amidst allegations over previous business dealings and was not approved as an SNP candidate for this election. So there is an open race in a seat where the equivalent constituency in the Scottish Parliament saw a Lib Dem gain from the SNP in 2016, with Lib Dem Christine Jardine strongly fancied to triumph. The new SNP candidate, Tony Giugliano, is a former President of the Young European Movement and Vice President of the Young European Federalists.

Fife North East (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 36.3%)
Con: Tony Miklinski
Lab: Rosalind Garton
LD: Janet Riches
SNP: Stephen Gethins (sitting MP)
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate
Sovereign: Mike Scott-Hayward

SNP: 18,523 (40.92%) – Maj: 4,344 (9.60%)
LD: 14,179 (31.33%)
C: 7,373 (16.29%)
Lab: 3,476 (7.68%)
Green: 1,387
Ind: 325 (0.72%)

From 1987 until his retirement in 2015, this was Sir Menzies Campbell’s political home. It was then gained by the SNP in their general election landslide north of the border, but it is their fifth most vulnerable seat across Scotland. Sitting MP Stephen Gethins is the SNP’s Europe spokesman and has cause for concern given the Lib Dems’ gaining of the equivalent seat at the Scottish Parliament election last year.

Moray (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 49.9%)
Con: Douglas Ross MSP
Lab: Jo Kirby
LD: Alex Linklater
SNP: Angus Robertson (sitting MP)
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate
Ind: Anne Glen

SNP: 24,384 (49.48%) – Maj: 9,065 (18.39%)
C: 15,319 (31.09%)
Lab: 4,898 (9.94%)
UKIP: 1,939 (3.93%)
LD: 1,395 (2.83%)
Green: 1,345 (2.73%)

Those hoping for a Scottish Michael Portillo or Ed Balls moment at this election are keeping their eyes firmly on Moray, seat of the Westminster leader of the SNP and party depute leader, Angus Robertson, despite there being, on paper, 21 more vulnerable SNP seats. It has been held by the SNP since 1987 but there is a not inconsiderable Tory vote here and former local councillor and now MSP Douglas Ross is fighting Roberston for the third election running (having also come less than 3,000 votes off winning the equivalent constituency in the Scottish Parliament last year. For a Scottish seat, it had a notably large Leave presence, with Remain only prevailing with an estimated 50.1% of the vote at the EU referendum.

Orkney and Shetland (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 40.3%)
Con: Jamie Halcro-Johnston
Lab: Robina Barton
LD: Alistair Carmichael (sitting MP)
SNP: Miriam Brett
UKIP: Robert Smith
Green: No candidate
Ind: Stuart Hill

LD: 9,407 (41.39%) – Maj: 817 (3.59%)
SNP: 8,590 (37.79%)
C: 2,025 (8.91%)
Lab: 1,624 (7.15%)
UKIP: 1,082 (4.76%)

Former Cabinet Minister in the Coalition Government, Alistair Carmichael, just held off the Scotland-wide SNP advance in 2015 to retain this remote seat comprising the Northern Isles. The party’s only seat in Scotland, it has been held by someone of the Liberal tradition longer than any other of the seats the party is defending, having continuous Liberal/Lib Dem representation since 1950. He will not want to break that record at this election.

Perth and North Perthshire (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 39.9%)
Con: Ian Duncan MEP
Lab: David Roemmele
LD: Peter Barrett
SNP: Pete Wishart (sitting MP)
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate

SNP: 27,379 (50.51%) – Maj: 9,641 (17.79%)
Con: 17,738 (32.73%)
Lab: 4,413 (8.14%)
LD: 2,059 (3.80%)
Green: 1,146 (2.11%)
UKIP: 1,110 (2.05%)
Ind: 355 (0.65%)

Former rock musician Pete Wishart is the only MP to have performed on Top of the Pops and at first glance he looks safely ensconced in this seat, having increased his majority each time he has fought it: he currently enjoys a majority of nearly 10,000, having won more than 50% of the vote in 2015. But the Tories are targeting the seat, having massively cut the SNP majority in the equivalent seat in the Scottish Parliament last year and done better than expected at the local government elections here in May. The Tory candidate, Ian Duncan, is Scotland’s Conservative Member of the European Parliament, having previously been Head of the EU Office and EU Advisor for the Scottish Parliament.

Renfrewshire East (Estimated Leave vote at June 2016 referendum: 25.7%)
Con: Paul Masterton
Lab: Blair McDougall
LD: Aileen Morton
SNP: Kirsten Oswald (sitting MP)
UKIP: No candidate
Green: No candidate

SNP: 23,013 (40.57%) – Maj: 3,718 (6.55%)
Lab: 19,295 (34.01%)
Con: 12,465 (21.97%)
LD: 1,069 (1.88%)
UKIP: 888 (1.57%)

This seats covers what used to be very safe Tory territory to the south of Glasgow but, as Eastwood, was gained by Jim Murphy for Labour in 1997, who held it – later renamed East Renfrewshire – until he went down to the SNP in 2015. On paper, Labour begin as challengers, with the red rosette being donned by Blair McDougall, a senior figure in the anti-independence Better Together campaign. However, in the equivalent Eastwood seat in the Scottish Parliament election last year, the Tories were victorious in a tight three-way fight against both Labour and the SNP. A similarly close race is on the cards at this general election too.

Estimated Leave votes by constituency have been calculated by Chris Hanretty of the University of East Anglia

Photocredit: Sandy Stevenson