Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Scotland Votes: Mid Scotland and Fife Part 1: Fife

This simply covers the Fife seats. The Mid Scotland seats are here and Regional Seats are here.

Mid Scotland and Fife is a rather heterogeneous region. It covers four council areas: Fife, Clackmanshire, Perth and Kinross, and Stirling. The latter three are all quite small in population terms, and so have four seats between them, whereas Fife, as the third most populated council area in Scotland, has five seats all to itself. The region also demonstrates a significant mix of party loyalty with all four main parties having areas of some strength, only the Conservatives do not hold a constituency seat in the region, but this is more due to the traditional Conservative Party problem of inefficient voter spread than anything else.

For the purposes of our analysis I’ll be doing the five seats of Fife first and then doing the other four seats later. Fife is a notable region at Westminster because it is home to two former party leaders, both Gordon Brown and Ming Campbell have their seats in the area, with Brown representing Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath and Campbell representing North East Fife. Indeed, from 24th of June 2007 until 15th October 2007 two out of the big three party’s leaders represented Fife constituencies! Fife is more Labour leaning than the rest of the region, likely reflecting a stronger British identity due to the fact that the area is largely coastal. It is a rural region, however, with Kirkcaldy, population 40,000, being the largest settlement. Fife also contains St. Andrews University and the local presence of students from across the UK likely makes for a more ‘British’ in identity, not to mention the effect of students at the University themselves. Nonetheless the SNP do have areas of strength, and the Lib Dems also hold their own here.



Notional Majority

Swing Required

First Elected



Helen Eadie




LAB Safe


Jim Tolson




Too Close

Mid Fife & Glenrothes

Tricia Marwick




SNP Lean

North East Fife

Iain Smith





LD Lean


Marilyn Livingstone




LAB Lean

Cowdenbeath MSP Helen Eadie has been a fixture in the Scottish parliament since 1999. Originally elected to the Dunfermline East constituency, her new seat is Cowdenbeath. Her new seat is covered, partially, by Gordon Brown’s Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency so she may get a bit of a hand from the big clunking fist. Either way it will be a big ask for the SNP’s Ian Chisholm, a councillor in Fife, to get the 7.3% swing necessary to unseat the long-time incumbent. A safe Labour seat I’d say.

Dunfermline MSP Jim Tolson is an impressive fellow. The Lib Dems came a distant third to Labour’s Scott Barrie in this constituency in 1999, and fourth behind the SNP and an independent in 2003, when Tolson was a candidate. So it was a total shock when Tolson came from fourth to take this seat in 2007, more than doubling his party’s vote and defeating Barrie on a 10.8% swing. A surprise only increased by the fact that 2007 was the ‘year of the SNP’, where the great SNP wave unseated Labour, and the SNP were ahead of the Lib Dems in the seat. Clearly Tolson worked the seat extensively between 2003 and 2007, and won a strong personal vote. Labour’s candidate is Alex Rowley, their leader on Fife council. Tolson won what was, then, Dunfermline West by just 476 votes in 2007. Boundary changes to his new Dumfermline seat reduce his notional majority down to an achingly tight 77 vote notional majority. Normally if someone presented me with a constituency with such numbers, considering the national polling situation, I’d pop it straight into the ‘Labour lean’ column and move on my way, but Tolson’s 2007 result gives me pause. Generally speaking when a candidate manages that kind of swing against the national picture in opposition they gain sizeable majorities when they are tested as incumbents. This is especially true of Lib Dems who gain seats on tiny majorities (step forward please Mark Oaten, Tim Farron and Norman Lamb). It will take a lot to turn the local tide against the national Lib Dem picture, and I’m sure Labour are dragging up the fact that Tolson claimed his 2009 remembrance day poppy on expenses, so it is not like he is unblemished. This seat could really go either way in my opinion.

UPDATE: I originally called this as a seat as a 'too close' based on the factors I mentioned above. Based on the comments on this article, however, it is clear I made a bad call here, and the seat should be considered a fairly clear Labour lean. I would like to thank everyone who commented for their comments.

Tricia Marwick was the SNP candidate in what was then the Central Fife seat in 1999 and 2003 and then gained it was then one of the gains on the night of the SNP’s victory. In 2003 she secured a 15.3% swing and was elected as a regional list MSP; in her 2007 victory she secured a 7.6% swing. Basically, Marwick succeeded in turning a Labour safe seat into a marginal into a SNP held marginal over the course of three elections, an impressive feat. Of course our old friend the boundary commissioner has struck again and she is now MSP for the new seat of Mid Fife and Glenrothes. Lucky for Marwick, her majority has been increased on the new notional boundaries. Her Labour Party opponent is Claire Baker, a regional MSP. By putting up Baker, Labour are clearly attempting to retake the seat and retaking seats like this is easily their best route back to power in Scotland. All things considered I think the edge is with Marwick, who, based on prior performances, appears to be a talented campaigner, but a 4.6% swing is far from out of the question for Labour and they have a decent candidate in Baker. Certainly a SNP Lean, in my view.

At Westminster the North East Fife constituency has been held by former Lib Dem leader, Ming Campbell since 1987. This constituency is slightly smaller, but broadly similar, and has similarly been held by the Lib Dem’s Iain Smith since 1999. He has maintained sizeable majorities in the range of 14-17% for all three terms in parliament. Yet this is a very different set of circumstances, with the Westminster coalition and all, as such a seat previously very much safe, is now in play. However, this is seemingly a slightly right-leaning affluent part of Fife (possibly connected to the presence of St. Andrews in the constituency) and the Conservatives are the second placed party here. However, I find it difficult to see Lib Dem voters switching to the Conservatives to punish the Lib Dems for going into coalition with the Conservatives, and while local by-elections are not necessarily reflective of nationwide trends, we at Britain votes have noted that the Lib Dems appear to perform much better versus the Tories than against Labour. Nonetheless the Conservative Party’s candidate, Miles Brigg, a political adviser who has previously worked in Canadian provincial politics, cannot be ruled out completely. The spanner in the works is the SNP who hold a reasonable third place. While it is difficult to see disaffected Lib Dem voters switching to the Tories, it is much easier to imagine them switching to the SNP. The SNP are running perennial candidate Rod Campbell who ran in North East Fife in the 2005 and 2010 Westminster elections and the 2007 Scottish Parliament election. On a uniform swing this seat would still be held by the Lib Dems due to the strong majority, and indeed this seat is their safest on mainland Scotland. That said the polls are as such that a uniform swing may not necessarily be the best guide (the Lib Dems are losing about 8% nationally, but in a lot of seats they have less than 8% already, so they must be losing more votes elsewhere). That said I think the three-cornered nature of the contest and the long-time incumbency of Smith will mean that the seat remains in Lib Dem hands. It is not out of question that either the Tories or the SNP could take the seat, but this is still a Lib Dem leaning seat in my view.

Kirkcaldy is partially covered by Gordon Brown’s Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency. Incumbent MSP Marilyn Livingstone has been a MSP for the seat since its creation in 2007. The changes in boundary have meant that her notional majority has increased by about 700 votes. Her SNP opponent is David Torrance, a councillor in the seat. The seat is within reach for the SNP, but the 5.9% swing will be a fair achievement on current boundaries and the SNP don’t really seem to focusing strongly on Kirkcaldy. As in Cowdenbeath the local Labour Party may also get a bit of help from the big clunking fist of Gordon Brown. Brown is still popular in Scotland as a whole, and in Fife I suspect he is even more liked. A strong Labour Lean then.


  1. Dunfermline,will go back to Labour,
    The ex mining villages are returning strong prefs for Rowley,much the same as last year(for Docherty) when all the Lib Dems thought that W.Rennie would hold on,he was beaten fairly easily by 5000+ votes.To be honest I think that it will pan out as 1st Lab,2nd SNP,and a battle for 3rd and 4th between CON and Lib Dem,i really dont think that folk down South realise how toxic the Lib Dems are (at the moment) are up here

  2. To be fair these projections are purely short-term, I'll come back and re-evaluate them closer to the day. I certainly see where you're coming from. If Jim Tolson was standing down I might be tempted to call it as 'Labour Safe', my entire reason for calling it as 'Too Close' is entirely because of Tolson. His performance in 2007 was nothing short of spectacular and the Lib Dems get a huge incumbency bonus typically. To get elected in an area like that, as a Lib Dem, on that sort of swing is almost impossible so Tolson must have done something to gain a personal vote, and personal votes tend to solidy once you are in office. This is something Lib Dem's tend to be very good at. My feeling is that throughout the UK the polls are probably largely accurate, but that the Lib Dem vote is probably dropping off more in regions where they don't have incumbent MPs, MSPs, AMs or councillors. The Lib Dem record on incumbency is incredible - Lib Dem incumbent MPs often defy uniform swings to stay in office. The 1979 election is a good example of this actually - the Lib Dem vote halved but they lost only one MP. They have also historically been good at winning by-elections (something that appears to have changed now they are in government) but much less good at holding by-election wins, though I do see your point about Rennie, though I would note that while he was beaten by 5,000 votes he gained almost 15% of the vote. Statistical analysis of Lib Dem swings at the last election also show this incumbency bonus exists at a statistically significant level and is beyond any such factor in any other party.

    Lib Dem MPs and representatives create a large personal vote for themselves. In a sense there is no other reason a constituency would vote Lib Dem en masse. They are not going to form the government or have the premiership, so what you're left with is 'I like that guy, he seems like a good guy.' So you basically see a series of fiefdoms because Lib Dem MPs often campaign on totally different issues (and sometimes even in contravention of the party manifesto). What that means is that for incumbent candidates there is someone to identify with beyond the Lib Dem leadership. If you are an average voter living in an area like Central Scotland the only Lib Dem you will really see is Clegg. The majority of people don't like Clegg anymore, especially the sort of left-leaning Lib Dems you have in Scotland. You might have some vague knowledge of Tavish Scott, but let's be honest, Tavish Scott is not a man who impresses on anybody a particularly strong sense of self, you might have heard of Hugh O'Donnell, the party's one list MSP in the region but really who knows who their list MSPs are, and equally O'Donnell has now left the party to run as an independent. I watched the Lib Dem PEB and was very interested to note that Nick Clegg was not mentioned or shown once whereas Charles Kennedy delivered a monologue to camera for the last 30 seconds. Fife is different though. You have Tolson, you have Ming Campbell running around, and he's kinda popular in Fife from what I hear, you have Lib Dem councillors. Basically you have people to identify the party with who aren't Nick Clegg. In the seats that the Lib Dems don't hold I'm certain their vote will collapse, but in the seats they do its a harder call. This is ultimately why I called it as a 'Too Close'.

    Of course, Other Opinions Are Available, as it were.

  3. Tolson not as popular as you make out, the betting has got Lib Dems at 8/1 ... so on that basis they would be third.

  4. I agree. Chris seems to be forgetting that the Holyrood elections in 2007 were just a year after Willie Rennie's spectacular by-election win in the equivalent Westminster seat (kind of disproving the notion that the LDs have any real incumbency in this seat)and that this was what provided the basis for the Holyrood gain. Rennie lost his seat comfortably in 2010, and that was with the LDs polling around 18% nationally, so when they're polling 5-9% nationally then I don't see how on earth they can possibly retain Dunfermline. They look to me like being third, as the suburban vote that won this seat for them narrowly swings towards the SNP and also somewhat to Labour.
    And most of the longstanding Lib Dem councillors, along with Ming, are in the seat where I live, NE Fife, and even here they appear to be struggling to hold off a strong SNP challenge.

  5. Interesting what might happen on the Regional List if Rowley is the next MSP for Dunfermline. Even with the Libs losing a constituency seat, that doesn't guarantee their No 1 list person, a seat on the list as their support in freefall across both votes.

    It's complicated system to work out and I get lost with it sometimes , but anyone any idea what might happen on the list for Mid Scotland and Fife ?

  6. Basically the list vote decides the number of MSPs a party receives unless the party gets more than they should in constituencies. The LDs got 13% in 2007 and 12% in 2003 on the list and ended up with 2 MSPs and with such a swing away from them I don't see how they can get more than one seat in total. If they win NE Fife their list vote gets divided by 2 which would mean they have almost no chance of that vote being enough for another seat but if they don't win NE Fife they should probably just about have enough to get one on the list. In that instance, if they do lose NE Fife then it means the SNP is having a good night so probably couldn't squeeze out another list seat, so the lost LD seat on the list may go to Labour or even in the Greens.

  7. Considering the comments above I'll definitely be moving Dunfermline to 'Labour lean' at a later date. Thank you.

  8. I have edited my regional seat analysis and this post to reflect the comments on this. I would like to thank everyone once again, clearly I made a fairly bum analytical error. It happens.