Scotland Votes

Scottish Parliament Chamber

On Thursday the 5th of May 2011 Scotland will go to the polls to elect its Parliament. Britain-Votes will be covering this election. This Guide seeks to serve as a primer for that election. Whereas we cannot seek to cover every single element of Scottish politics, this should hopefully act as a basic introduction. Please do not feel you have to read every section of this at once. Each section is designed so it can be read separately, so feel free to dip in and out.

1.      Brief History and Context – the Origins of the Parliament. 1
2.      Electoral and Political System.. 1
3.      Political Parties and Party System.. 2
4.      Government Scenarios. 3
5.      Major Issues. 4
6.      Prior Election Results. 4
6.1.       2007 Local Elections. 4
6.2.       2009 European Parliamentary election. 4
6.3.       2010 Westminster election in Scotland. 4
6.4.       2007 Scottish Parliament Election results. 5
7.      Current MSPs. 5
8.      Resources

1. History and Context - the Origins of the Parliament

Scotland and England were unified in 1707 by the Acts of Union. As part of the Acts, Scotland was allowed to maintain a separate church, a separate legal system and, eventually, a separate education system. Scotland always maintained a low-level separate political and legal identity and there were occasional attempts at rebellion, particularly in support for the ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. By the 20th century the Scots had become dominated by the Unionist Party. The Unionists were a separate party who operated in a sort of coalition with the Conservatives. The party found its base with the Protestant working classes and while it was ‘Unionist’ what this truly meant was British Empire unionist. The party maintained a clearly Scottish identity and spirit. With the end of the Empire its raison d’etre ended too and it went into decline, merging into the Tories. A combination of this, poor economic conditions and a parallel shift in the popularity of Welsh Nationalism and Plaid Cymru, led to an increase in support for the Scottish National Party. The SNP briefly held a seat for a month in 1945 but established itself when it gained a seat with the Hamilton by-election in 1967. Hamilton was, on paper, a Labour safe seat, and the SNP had not even stood a candidate in the seat in the 1966 election but Winifred Ewing won it on a 37.9% swing. Ewing lost her seat in 1970 but in February 1974 hit the party 7 seats, and in October 1974 hit 11 (still a high point for the party even now). With successes for Plaid Cymru in Wales too (together PC and the SNP had one more seat than the Liberals), the Labour Party responded by moving to a position in support of devolution. Opposition amongst South Wales MPs (including Neil Kinnock) led them to institute a rule in the referenda where not only would a majority of voters have to approve the bill but 40% of all registered voters would have to agree. Devolution was defeated by 4:1 in Wales anyway but the Scottish result showed a slight majority (51.6% in favour) but failed to pass this hurdle. In 1979 too, the Conservatives came to power. Opposed to devolution, a low-level ‘Scotland said yes’ protest campaign simmered away and support for devolution increased as the Thatcher government became more and more unpopular North of the border as industry closed and the much hated poll tax was introduced one year previous to its introduction in England. Devolution was seen as a way to protect Scotland from governments it did not support and when Labour won power in 1997 not only was devolution put to the ballot again but so were tax-varying powers in a separate referendum. Tax-varying powers did not mean that the Scottish Parliament could levy its own taxes but rather that it could change tax rates levied by the Inland Revenue. ‘Yes-Yes’ passed strongly in 1997, with the parliament passing with 74.3% in favour and tax varying powers passing with 63.5% in favour despite a campaign against such powers on the basis that they could result in a ‘Tartan Tax’ in Scotland, taxing Scotland more than the rest of the UK. The first Scottish election was held in 1999.

Scottish Parliament ballot paper. Votes vote for a candidate
for their constituency on the right and a party list for their
region on the left.
2. Electoral and Political System

The Scottish parliament is elected by the Additional Member System in 129 seats. Essentially voters have two levels of representation. The first is a simple FPTP constituency. There are 73 of these, each electing one MSP (Member of Scottish Parliament) by First Past the Post as standard in a normal Westminster election. Originally these were exactly the same as the 72 Westminster constituencies Scotland then had, with one addition – the Westminster constituency of Shetland and Orkney was split into two seats: one for Shetland and one for Orkney. Since the original establishment of these constituencies the Scottish Westminster constituencies have been reduced to 59 as prior to devolution Scotland was purposefully overrepresented. With devolution this makes less sense, and so Scotland has legally been brought into line with the UK. There are then eight Scottish regions, each electing seven MSPs. Voters have two votes – a constituency vote and a regional vote. The constituency votes are added up as normal – the candidate who wins the most votes, whatever the conditions, wins the seat. The regional vote is, in theory, proportional. Constituencies are counted as part of the region, and seats are then assigned on the basis of the regional vote, using the proportional d’Hondt method, as to ‘top-up’ the constituency seats to ensure proportionality from lists of candidates defined by the parties. However if a party does well in the constituency seats it may therefore gain no additional seats, especially if it already has more seats from the constituencies than it should strictly earn under d’Hondt. Here, for example, are the results for Glasgow, including the seats a party would have gained under strict d’Hondt proportional representation. For example, see the following table of Glaswegian regional results in 2007. There were ten constituencies and then seven regional MSPs to assign.
Vote share
D’Hondt Entitlement
List Seats
Total Seats
Lib Dems


As you can see, Labour actually gained an additional MSP through the constituencies than their strict entitlement under the d’Hondt method, a seat which should have theoretically gone to the SNP.
So now we understand the system, what are its effects? Well firstly, results are vaguely proportional, but not as proportional as they could be. Secondly there is an opportunity for minor parties to gain representation. As the regions are small to gain a seat one just needs to qualify for one in one region. Professors Rallings and Thrasher of Plymouth University have calculated that the threshold to achieve a seat in a Scottish region is between 5.6% and 6.3% (however due to quirks of the system lower and higher numbers may apply depending on conditions), so if you can gain about 6% of the regional vote in one region you are likely to gain representation. Several minor parties have benefitted from this. First you can see the Greens in our example above there. The Greens first gained a seat in 1999 in the Lothians region, their single MSP allowed them to gain enough press to become a regular fixture in the Scottish Parliament, going up to 7 MSPs in 2003. Similarly the Scottish Socialist Party gained a single regional MSP in Glasgow in Glasgow in 2003, and the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party held a single seat from 2003 to 2007 despite having gained only 1.5% of the regional vote because it cleared the effective threshold in the Central Scotland region. On the other hand it also makes it impossible for a single party to gain a majority – this is by design, having been put into place to make sure the SNP never gained a majority and hold an independence referendum without support from one of the three unionist parties, which it could have done under FPTP. The system nonetheless is slightly biased towards Labour, though not markedly so.  

After an election the Scottish Parliament has twenty eight days to nominate a First Minister to head a Scottish Executive, who then appoints ministers in the Scottish Executive.  As no party will hold a majority parties must usually forge deals in order to gain votes for the First Minister nomination, though when no majority could be assembled after the 2007 election the Lib Dems and Conservatives abstained which allowed Alex Salmond to become First Minister. The twenty eight days target means that parties must forge deals quickly, in theory at least. As normal in a parliamentary democracy blocking budgets or a vote of no confidence will bring the government down, however to dissolve the parliament and force an early election two-thirds of the legislature must be in favour of dissolution.

Scottish parliamentary powers are limited to law-making and executive control of most public services. While it has tax-varying powers the Parliament has no ability to levy taxes of its own. This means that the job of the parliament and the executive is largely restricted to deciding how to spend the large block grant given to Scotland. While the parliament can do things like make tuition fees free the money for this must come from somewhere else in the Scottish budget. This tends to mean that if a Scottish party wants to do something populist it cannot simply implement a tax cut, and as such there is a tendency to engage in things like free university tuition which may be costly but which are populist and attention grabbing.

3. Political Parties and Party System

Unlike the UK as a whole Scotland has a multi-party system, with a multitude of parties. Broadly speaking parties can be divided into several categories – major parties capable of becoming the largest party and winning the first ministry of which there are only two – Scottish Labour and the SNP, medium-sized parties large enough to be fairly influential and of providing decent coalition support of which there are a further two – the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Liberal Democrats and finally minor parties, capable of gaining seats, and having minimal influence of which there is currently one: the Scottish Green Party. The three ‘British’ parties, Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems all have regional autonomy and their own sets of policies and manifestos which may or may not clash with those of the national party. Broadly speaking Scottish wings of the parties tend to be to the left of their national parties. They also have unique Scottish leaders as well. This section will outline the major parties, which you will be familiar with, but I will try to outline some information about their leaders, performance and policies, north of the border.
It is commonly stereotyped that Scottish voters lie to the left of their English counterparts. Academic evidence, however, does not support this claim. However, the party system has come to be dominated by the SNP and the Labour Party, which are both broadly centre-left.

The Scottish National Party (SNP). The Scottish National Party currently forms the Scottish Executive as a minority administration, having beaten Labour by a single seat in 2007. It has been a long road to power for the SNP. It was formed in 1934 from a merger of the left-of-centre National Party of Scotland and the more right-of-centre Scottish Party. Both parties can be said to have broadly supported Scottish nationalism though the National Party was much more ambiguous about what form and the Scottish Party was in favour of Dominion Status within the British Empire, comparable to what Canada and Australia had at the time. As covered above it first started to gain popularity during the late 60s and gained further popularity in the 1970s particularly with the discovery of oil and gas in the North Sea, claiming “Its Scotland’s oil”. Originally the party had attempted to represent all Scottish nationalists (and still does more or less) but during the 1980s the ’79 group’ of left-wingers began to argue that the party would gain popularity if it shifted to the left. Alex Salmond was a leading member of the group. The party thus began to take on more centre-left stances, and it became more social democratic, akin to the Labour Party. Salmond first became party leader in 1990, and in many ways the party and its leader have become inseparable in a way in which can be said of few other parties. Devolution produced new opportunities for the SNP; for the first time it could win an election and govern something other than a local council. At Westminster its vote has always been depressed by the fact it can never govern. Its only electoral tactic, therefore, was to argue to elect MPs for a ‘Scottish voice’ in Westminster. Devolution gave it new opportunities, and the party has benefitted electorally, winning power in 2007 under Alex Salmond.

Alex Salmond, SNP leader and Scottish First Minister
An economist by training, Salmond worked as an economist for the British government and for the Royal Bank of Scotland before entering politics. He has also taught as a visiting Professor at Strathclyde. Salmond is an intelligent, skilled, politician, with an excellent grasp of economics, a decent grasp of political theory, an excellent strategic mind (he was given the Spectator award for Political Strategist of the Year in 1998, and Parliamentarian of the Year in 2007 for the SNP’s Holyrood win, high accolades for a Scottish politician), and a blokey, populist appeal. Salmond famously likes football, horse racing (he writes a column on it in The Scotsman) and Star Trek, giving him an aura of normality. He is also good at the odd attention gaining stunt. After a 1998 appearance on Call My Bluff he attended a charity lunch where Tony Blair made a speech, as Blair attacked Scottish independence Salmond held up his ‘bluff’ card. His appeal often passes by English people, who, in my experience, are often ready to write him off purely for his support of Scottish Independence. Lines like his 2005 statement that “Scotland supposedly has a choice between two Tories – one who gave us the poll tax, and the other who took us into an illegal war in Iraq.” (Referring to Michael Howard and Tony Blair respectively) are not likely to endear him to Labour and Conservative supporters south of the border but play brilliantly in Scottish pubs.

Besides from Scottish independence the SNP’s policy priorities are vaguely centre-left and decentralist in direction. The party passionately opposes nuclear weapons and nuclear power. While the Scottish Parliament technically does not have authority in this area the SNP uses the planning system to block nuclear builds and expansion. Recently the party has shifted its attention to more ‘bread and butter’ issues and this has paid dividends for the party, helping it to win in 2007. Particularly important policies in this area are more police on the streets, abolition of the council tax (to be replaced with a local income tax) and a minimum price for a unit of alcohol (designed to stop the selling of cheap alcohol).

The party tends to be seen as divided between a ‘gradualist’ wing and a ‘fundamentalist’ wing. The fundamentalist wing wants independence as fast as possible and tends to view devolution cynically. The gradualist wing argues that independence has to come gradually. The gradualist wing supports a strategy of step-by-step decoupling from the UK. First devolution, then SNP government to prove that the party is competent and capable, and the next step is ‘full fiscal autonomy’, that the Scottish parliament should raise its own taxes. The gradualist wing is currently in the driving seat, and all the main leadership positions are filled by gradualists, however the fundamentalist wing is still strong and the party often seems confused in whether it desires independence now or fiscal autonomy first.

The SNP no doubt wishes to continue in government. While it has solid leadership in Salmond and a decent policy platform arguments within its fundamentalist and gradualist wings threaten to destabilise it, particularly with reference to its questionable opposition to Westminster’s Scotland Bill which promises to give Scotland the ability to raise half its budget from taxation in line with the Calman Commission recommendations. All three Unionist parties support it but while it gives more powers the SNP opposes it on the basis it does not go far enough. It may also suffer from its refusal to signify its plans for cuts over the next term, forced into cuts in its most recent budget the SNP minority government opted to write a budget which only went up to the next election and keep quiet about cuts after that. The party has also received criticism for releasing the Lockerbie Bomber, and for allowing Scotland’s tax-varying capabilities to expire.

The Scottish Labour Party (SLP). The SLP is the Scottish branch of the UK Labour Party. Up until 2007 it was the largest party in the Scottish Parliament but in 2007 it lost this position to the SNP in 2007, albeit by the thinnest of margins, with 46 seats to the SNP’s 47. From 1966 until 2007 it was a hegemonic party, winning every election in Scotland. It also governed the Scottish Executive in coalition with the Scottish Liberal Democrats from 1999 to 2007. During this period the party has suffered from frequent changes of leader. First it was led by Donald Dewar who, as Tony Blair’s Scottish Secretary was responsible for much of the devolution settlement, and who was a popular figure in Scotland. He sadly died just over a year into his first term. He was replaced by his former right-hand man Henry McLeish, who resigned a year later due to a financial scandal. From late 2001 until 2007 the party found stability under the leadership of Jack McDonnell but after it lost the 2007 election he resigned from his position and was replaced by Wendy Alexander, sister of Douglas Alexander, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. She resigned in 2008 over another financial scandal.

Iain Gray, leader of the Scottish Labour Party
The party is currently led by Iain Gray. Accused of being dull and uncharismatic, Gray has been nicknamed the ‘Invisible Man’ by Alex Salmond. Gray’s policies include cutting down on bureaucracies and centralising local services, and ending the SNP’s freeze on council tax. The party has also concentrated on youth unemployment and public services.

The party is generally seen as more left-wing than its Westminster counterpart and it is divided between those who lean towards a modernising New Labour sort of thought and the traditionalist Old Labour fiefdoms. For a time the party was so dominant in local government that councils often resembled an arm of the party but since the introduction of the Single Transferable Vote to elect councils its control has been massively weakened. However Labour was not dominant in the sense that it received 50%+ of the vote, indeed arguably the Tories have only ever achieved this feat. Rather FPTP meant the party could gain 40% of the vote and remain dominant as the opposition was divided between three parties. There is a faction of the party which is largely cynical and predisposed against devolution and this is sometimes reflected by internal tensions.  After the 2001 UK election then First Minister Henry McLeish was taped referring to the then Scottish Secretary John Reid as a “patronising bastard”. It is also hard to disagree with the political scientist Gerry Hassan’s claim that the party “has long prided itself on its radical traditions and a romantic view of itself... but it has increasingly become a conservative party, the political establishment.”

The party may benefit from opposition at Westminster. With cuts in the Scottish budget due Labour may be able to gain credibility as better equipped to cut fairly, to protect the Scottish budget and to oppose the Coalition government at Westminster. However, it suffers from what can possibly be described as poor leadership, a seeming dearth of ideas, and an establishment image. That said it is polling well currently, but how much this is down to the popularity of the party or disenchantment with the SNP is questionable.

The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. Technically the full name of the Conservative Party is the ‘Conservative and Unionist Party’ but for historical reasons Scotland is the only place the full name is used. The Scottish Tories were once Scotland’s dominant party, then the Unionist Party. However this has since unravelled as I described in a recent blogpost. The party has an interesting dualism with regard to devolution. On the one hand the UK leadership has often been seen as, in Scotland, adopting negative views towards Scotland and of treating devolution with contempt (the party’s positions on the West Lothian Question are a particular bug bear), while the Scottish party has also been given a serious level of autonomy and pursued a significant re-brand. The manifesto in 1999 for the first Scottish parliamentary election optimistically declared that “This is a new party.” The party has been pragmatic with its approach to the Scottish Parliament. Former leader David McLetchie, leader from 1999-2005 was seen as a good performer in the early parliament, often seen as providing superior opposition to the SNP. However McLetchie had to stand down in 2005 over an expenses scandal. His replacement as leader was Annabel Goldie.

Annabel Goldie, Scottish Conservative leader
Goldie has received mixed reviews. On the one hand a leaked memo in 2006 from Scotland’s sole Conservative MP David Mundell criticised her leadership, but the SNP minority government has provided the party with fresh opportunities. As the third largest party in the parliament the Tories are often called upon to negotiate legislation with the SNP, and they have done so effectively and respectably. Goldie is said to have gained personal popularity but she still has internal critics. Rumours persist that after the party failed to move forward in 2010 election north of the border the Scottish Tories have been cut off from the mother party.

The Scottish Tories diverge a fair degree from the UK party. The party places a high degree of concern on opposing radicalism, maintaining the status quo, and Unionism. In other words it is more traditionally Tory than Thatcherite and tends not to be as supportive of pro-market policies. The party has endorsed free university tuition and free personal care, something which some suggest is at odds with Conservative ideology. The party disputes this however.

Despite all the re-brands and policy differences, however, the Scottish Tories hover continually in the 14%-18% range, which suggests that the party is restricted to a small core vote. It neither significantly loses support, nor gains it, which suggests that it has a strong base but that it is unable to reach outside it. Views of the party and particularly its Westminster mother no doubt colour pre-conceptions of it as ‘anti-Scottish’. Some have suggested decoupling the party from the Conservatives altogether (an idea which I discussed in the same blogpost above), the most popular name being the ‘Scottish Progressives’ a label which was once used by right-leaning Scots in local elections.

One problem for the party is that it has no obvious route to government. It is unlikely, to say the least, that the Scottish Tories could actually win power in Scotland on their own popularity. However coalition is fraught with difficulties. On the one hand coalition with Labour would be completely bizarre given the Westminster situation, but coalition with the SNP would also be incredibly difficult considering the party’s position on the constitutional question. Until recently the party would not even countenance entering coalition, however recently it has opened itself to the idea. I am personally cynical of its ability to make such a coalition work however. The SNP has, in fact, already ruled out a Tory coalition deal, but a deal with Labour seems less likely, if anything. The Conservative’s best chance of influencing government policy would probably come from another minority government then, whether Labour or SNP.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats (SLD). Of all the parties in Scotland it was perhaps the Liberal Democrats who were most ready for devolution and who were initially most able take advantage of it. By working closely with Labour in the Scottish Constitutional Convention it was able to heavily influence the model of devolution which is one that suits the Lib Dems. A proportional representation system, which they have of course always desired, has allowed them to form coalitions, negotiate with parties and engage in the sort of consensual politics which they idolise. Due to their positioning the SLD are able to cooperate capably with all the other parties and enjoy an influence beyond its size. In addition the Lib Dems model of party organisation also meant that its party model was by far and away the party best prepared for devolution. Unlike the SNP whose gradualist/fundamentalist split gave it a split personality vis a vis party devolution, and Labour and the Conservatives who had to create new institutions the Liberal Democrats the Scottish Lib Dems have always had significant autonomy and in many ways the Scottish Lib Dems resemble a party within a party.
In contrast to Westminster the party enjoys a strong regionalisation of its vote and has the second most ‘efficient’ vote spread after Labour. At the 1999 and 2003 elections it managed to get the second highest number of constituency seats, beating the SNP. During the years when the Liberal Party had only six seats at Westminster one of their few areas was always the Scottish ‘Highlands and Islands’. This remains an extraordinarily strong area for the party and its safest seats in the country are here. The party is also strong along the border with England, the North East and in Edinburgh. For a while opposition parties (particularly the Tories) attempted to disparage it by nicknaming it ‘rural Labour’ and indeed its support is primarily rural and suburban middle class. The party is very weak in and around Glasgow, however, where much of Scotland’s population is.

The party is sometimes referred to as ‘centrist’. However due to the dynamics of the Scottish party system it, in reality, can usually be seen as being on broadly the same ideological plane as Labour and the SNP with whom it primarily competes for votes.

Tavish Scott, Scottish Lib Dem leader
Since 2008 the party is led by Tavish Scott. Scott is a capable politician, though he does not receive as much attention as the Scottish Lib Dems would perhaps like. Policy wise the party is currently concentrated on saving rural post offices (always a concern for a party with such a rural base) and localist campaigns such as opposing the centralisation of Scottish police. However, the party has almost been too successful with key issues such as university tuition, and proportional representation brought to completion. Other key Lib Dem policies – on civil liberties, on internationalism, do not apply to the devolved institution as such. As such it lacks a key message. In combination with this the coalition with the Tories at Westminster has impacted badly on the party’s reputation. Polling for the party is not promising.

On the basis of current polls it seems unlikely that the party will gain enough seats to make a reliable coalition partner. The party’s concern for public services and localism in its rural heartlands also clashes with the plans of Labour and the SNP who see such services as an easy cut to make in the wake of forced spending cuts. 

The Scottish Green Party (SGP). The Scottish Green Party is not a part of the same party as Caroline Lucas. In 1990 the Scottish and English and Welsh Green parties split into two distinct parties due to the Scottish section’s wish to campaign for independence. The party argues that its separatist position is not as a result of nationalism but rather the Green commitment to decentralism. It has 2 MSPs, Patrick Harvie and Robin Harper, both elected on regional lists. Technically the party has no leader and is led by two ‘co-convenors’ but the party’s best known figure is Robin Harper. A long-running Green activist and candidate Harper was elected as the SGP’s sole MSP in 1999. He gained a strong reputation and the party gained six seats, hitting a high of 7 MSPs in 2003, putting it vaguely in line with other major European Green parties. In 2007 it lost five seats, returning to two. As a Green Party the SGP’s main concerns are listed as ‘ecology’, ‘equality’, ‘radical democracy’ and ‘nonviolence’. It claims these four principles give it a holistic policy view.

The party’s most distinctive policy viewpoint at the moment is to oppose spending cuts to public services, proposing to instead use the Scottish Parliament’s tax-varying powers to raise taxes to fill the budget shortfall. After the 2007 election it struck a deal whereby it would support Alex Salmond’s election as First Minister in exchange for control of the Climate Change committee and the passing of a Climate Change Act of their design. However this is not a coalition. Despite its two seats, the parliamentary mathematics is such that it can be vital. The addition of the SNP or Labour together with the Tories or the Lib Dems will often leave a bill one or two votes short of a majority, and so the Green’s two seats can be vital. Indeed in 2009 the SGP successfully blocked the SNP budget. Despite its deal with the SNP in 2007 relations between the two parties have cooled with the SNP in power.

The Scottish Green Party bounces around in the polls a lot and it is difficult to get an exact reading on such a small party using traditional polling techniques anyway. Therefore it is difficult to get a measure on how well it is doing, and in fact it may come down to how many left-leaning Scots feel on the day. Due to the quirks of the version of AMS the Scottish Parliament uses a relatively short movement in votes can have large ramifications for the SGP. A drop from 6.7% to 4.2% of the vote in 2007 led to it going from 7 to 2 seats as many of its candidates fell just short of the effective threshold.

Independents and Minor Parties There is a single independent MSP in the Scottish Parliament, Margo MacDonald. MacDonald is a former SNP MP and MSP who split from the party due to her fundamentalist principles causing the party to move against her. She ran as an independent and won a seat on the regional list. MacDonald suffers from Parkinsons and it she may stand down at the election. The far-left Scottish Socialist Party once held six seats at Holyrood but the private life of de facto leader Tommy Sheridan destabilised the party. It split into two, with Sheridan heading a new party called ‘Solidarity’ but neither the SSP nor Solidarity gained seats at the last election and it seems unlikely they will this time too, especially as Sheridan has managed to disgrace himself further since 2007. The Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party (SSCUP) won a single seat on the regional lists of Central Scotland in 2003, but lost this seat in 2007 despite gaining votes across Scotland as a whole. It may be able to regain its seat. Other notable minor parties are the Christian right Scottish Christian Party, the BNP and the Socialist Labour Party. None looks likely to gain seats, but no one predicted SSCUP gaining a seat in 2003. The AMS system can produce slightly unpredictable results from time to time, so it is not impossible that a party I have not even heard of may gain a seat.

4. Government Scenarios

Broadly speaking two government options exist: a minority or a coalition cabinet.
In a coalition two or more parties come together to establish an absolute majority. The Scottish Parliament was governed by a SLP/SLD coalition from 1999-2007. The advantage of this is that legislation can be far more easily passed, and the government can fulfil its promises easily. Coalitions are generally seen as more stable and more capable of getting things done.
In a minority government the government does not enjoy a majority in parliament and is dependent upon other parties tacit support or toleration to keep going. It is required in such a situation to negotiate support for bills on a bill by bill basis, which makes this a much slower form of government.
Considering the stated positions of the parties it seems most likely that the largest party will simply attempt to form a minority government.

5. Major Issues

The major issue is surely budget cuts. Due to cuts in the block grant from Westminster, the Scottish Executive’s grant is to be cut by 6.8%, a real term cut of about 10-11% by 2014-5. The Greens have the most original approach: wishing to use the Parliament’s tax varying powers to avoid cuts, but the other four parties are all wedded to reaching this goal, though they differ on the details. How to cut, and what cuts are and are not affordable are sure to be a subject of great contention.

Tying into this is sure to be the SNP ‘council tax freeze’. Council tax is unpopular North of the border, as the elderly, poorer population is much worse affected by it. The SNP wishes to remove council tax eventually and replace it with a local income tax, but attempts to get this past the Scottish Parliament failed as whilst the Lib Dems support this policy too, they disagreed on details. The SNP plans to continue the freeze if it wins the election, but Labour wishes to remove it, arguing that councils need the extra money.

Localism can be expected to play some part in the campaign with Labour and the SNP both eying local infrastructure for cuts. This will be a particular bug bear with the Lib Dems, who are ideologically localist but who also represent remote Highland and Island constituencies.

As always independence and Scotland’s relationship to the UK will play some role. The SNP, at a minimum, wants full fiscal autonomy for Scotland, but Labour, the Lib Dems and Conservatives are planning on backing the Scotland Bill which will mean that half of Scotland’s revenue will be raised through taxes levied by the parliament.

6. Prior Election Results

These results are here to provide a picture of the trends over the last few years. Scotland uses four different electoral systems, however, so there is quite a difference between results.

6.1 2007 Local Election

The 2007 local elections occurred under the quasi-proportional STV for the first time. I haven’t included the change in seats as most changes in seat count were as an effect of the electoral system changes.

First Preference Votes
Lib Dems
*Seat breakdown: 8 Scottish Greens, 1 Scottish Socialist, 1 Solidarity

The new STV councils were first elected on the same day as the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary election. This caused some confusion and to remedy this the local 2011 elections have been delayed until 2012.  While Labour won a slight plurality of the vote, the SNP won a plurality of seats. It should be noted that the high independent vote, 10.9%, is primarily in the Highlands and Islands region, where local government is typically nonpartisan, and where the Lib Dems tend to do well otherwise.

6.2 2009 European Parliamentary Election

Scotland’s seats in the European Parliament are elected under closed list proportional representation. Due to changes to the allocation of seats in the Lisbon Treaty, Scotland lost a seat, going from 7 to 6, in this election.

Lib Dems
Scottish Greens


The 2009 election was something of a blow to Labour, but the low turnout (28.5%) suggests Labour voters simply stayed at home. The Conservatives lost the lost seat, but had the seat remained it would have been lost to the SNP anyway, who enjoyed the largest gains.

6.3 2010 Westminster Election

As normal for Westminster, Scotland elects its MPs by FPTP.

Lib Dems


Not a single seat changed hands in Scotland, but the popular vote was interesting, showing a swing towards Labour. Several factors may explain this: a new Scottish leader (who has always been far more popular North of the border than South), a SNP government in its third year, the Lib Dems offering little distinctive to Scottish voters and fear of a Conservative government causing a mad rush to Labour have all been put forth as reasons.

6.4 2007 Scottish Parliamentary Election

Total Seats


Lib Dems
Scottish Greens
*The Scottish Greens do not stand in constituency seats normally, preferring to concentrate on the regional list seats, but in this election they stood in Glasgow Kelvin to oppose an 'Independent Green' candidate.**Margo MacDonald, an independent former SNP member.

While the 2007 election result was a major success for the SNP, gaining 20 seats they in fact only defeated the Labour Party by one seat, and Labour actually remained relatively stable in some respects. The primary victims of the SNP rise were in actual fact the minor parties as the competition for largest party produced a homogenisation of the vote into the SNP and Labour camps (unlike the prior two elections where the largest party was never in doubt). The Conservatives and Lib Dems both lost a seat a piece, but the Greens lost five of their seat seats, and 9 independents, and minor party MSPs, including all six Scottish Socialist Party members, lost their seats. Of the minor parties former SSP leader Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity came closest to winning a seat – just 300 votes short of a regional seat in Glasgow.

7. Current MSPs

The boundaries have changed for the 2011 election. As such the below results are notional. Incumbent MPs who have stood down are marked with a strikethrough. Where an incumbent MP holds a seat that is notionally held by another party this is marked by the other party colours highlighting the ‘notional majority’ box. In the List Seats sections where a box is empty it means that a seat is notionally held by the highlighted party, lower down incumbent MSPs are in italics.

Notional Majority
Swing Required
Central Scotland

Airdrie and Shotts
Karen Whitefield
Coatbridge and Chryston
Elaine Smith
Cumbernauld and Kilsyth
Cathy Craigie
East Kilbride
Andy Kerr
Falkirk East
Catty Peattie
Falkirk West
Michael Matheson
Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse
Tom McCabe
Motherwell and Wishaw
Jack McConnell
Uddingston and Bellshill
Michael McMahon
List Seats

Alex Neil

Linda Fabiani
Margaret Mitchell
Jamie Hepburn
Christina McKelvie
Hugh O'Donnell
John Wilson

Glasgow Anniesland
Bill Butler
Glasgow Cathcart
Charlie Gordon
Glasgow Kelvin
Pauline McNeill
Glasgow Maryhill & Springburn
Patricia Ferguson
Glasgow Pollok
Johann Lamont
Glasgow Provan
Paul Martin
Glasgow Shettleston
Frank McAveety
Glasgow Southside
Nicola Sturgeon
James Kelly
List Seats

Bashir Ahmad

Sandra White
Bob Doris
Robert Brown
Bill Kidd
Bill Aitken

Patrick Harvie
Highlands and Islands

Argyll and Bute
Jim Mather
Caithness, Sutherland and Ross
Jamie Stone
Inverness and Nairn
Fergus Ewing
Richard Lochhead
Na h-Eileanan an Iar
Alasdair Allan
Orkney Islands
Liam McArthur
Shetland Islands
Tavish Scott
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
John Farquahar Munro
List Seats

Peter Peacock

Mary Scanlon
Rhoda Grant
Rob Gibson
Jamie McGrigor
David Stewart
David Thompson

Almond Valley
Angela Constance
Edinburgh Central
Sarah Boyack
Edinburgh Eastern
Kenny MacAskill
Edinburgh Northern & Leith
Malcolm Chisholm
Edinburgh Pentlands
David McLetchie
Edinburgh Southern
Mike Pringle
Edinburgh Western
Margaret Smith
Mary Mulligan
Midlothian North and Musselburgh
Rhona Brankin
List Seats

Fiona Hislop

Ian McKee
Robin Harper
Margo MacDonald
Gavin Brown

George Foulkes
Mid Scotland and Fife

Clackmannanshire and Dunblane
Keith Brown
Helen Eadie
Jim Tolson
Fife Mid and Glenrothes
Tricia Marwick
Fife North East
Iain Smith
Marilyn Livingstone
Perthshire North
John Swinney
Perthshire South and Kinross-shire
Roseanna Cunningham
Bruce Crawford
List Seats

Murdo Fraser

Elizabeth Smith
John Park
Chris Harvie
Claire Brennan-Barker
Ted Brocklebank

Richard Simpson
North East Scotland

Aberdeen Central
Lewis MacDonald
Aberdeen Doneside
Brian Adam
Aberdeen South and Kincardine North
Nicol Stephen
Aberdeenshire East
Alex Salmond
Aberdeenshire West
Mike Rumbles
Angus North and Mearns

Angus South
Andrew Welsh
Banffshire and Buchan Coast
Stewart Stevenson
Dundee City East
Shona Robison
Dundee City West
Joe Fitzpatrick
List Seats

Richard Baker

Alex Johnstone
Marlyn Glen
Nanette Milne

Alison McInnes

Maureen Watt
Nigel Don
South Scotland

John Scott
Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley
Cathy Jamieson
Karen Gillon
Elaine Murray
East Lothian
Iain Gray
Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire
John Lamont
Galloway and Dumfries West
Alex Fergusson
Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley
Willie Coffey
Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale
Jeremy Purvis
List Seats

Jim Hume

Christine Graham

Michael Russell

Adam Ingram

Alasdair Morgan
Aileen Campbell
Derek Brownlee
West Scotland

Clydebank and Milngavie
Des McNulty
Cunninghame North
Kenneth Gibson
Cunninghame South
Irene Oldfather
Jackie Baillie
Kenneth MacIntosh
Greenock and Inverclyde
Duncan McNeil
Wendy Alexander
Renfrewshire North and West
Trish Godman
Renfrewshire South
Hugh Henry
Strathkelvin and Bearsden
David Whitton
List Seats

Stewart Maxwell

Gil Paterson
Ross Finnie
Annabel Goldie
Bill Wilson
Stuart McMillan
Jackson Carlaw

8. Resources

Scotland Votes maintained by the Weber Shandwick PR company features notional results, blogs, candidate lists, polls and a seat predictor.
BBC News Scottish Politics section is invaluable, I particularly recommend Brian Taylor’s rather excellent blog. The site also features guides to party frontbenches and the Parliament.
If you’re after a book Scottish Politics: An Introduction by Neil McGarvey and Dr. Paul Cairney is a good jumping off point.