26 March 2014

Europe in the Magic Lantern

Giddy with constitutional politics, we seem to have forgotten that there is a real darn-tootin' election in these parts in just a few months time. 

I've blogged a couple of times before about about May's elections to the European Parliament. Scotland sends six MEPs to Strasbourg and Brussels - depending on whatever day of the week it is.  To keep the public suitably bamboozled by the wealth of electoral systems we employ in this country, Europe offers yet another variation on the theme.  Like Holyrood's regional seats, parties rank their candidates in order and we use the d'Hondt mechanism to allocate the European jobs.  Unlike elections to the Scottish Parliament, however, for Europe, we're treated as one big, single constituency, and the votes are added up from Aberdeen to Auchinleck and from the isle of Skye to the eastmost edge of the Orkney islands.

So what do the portents tell us? For scallcrows, who enjoy cackling over the spent cadavers of Liberal Democrats, the European poll looks likely to throw up another victim in George Lyon, who has been buggered by the general collapse in Scottish support for his party.  So who looks likely to benefit from his electoral evisceration? 

Not the Tories, who look well placed to retain their European seat, but are still in no danger of threatening another.  Nor Labour.  Given the level at which the SNP is polling, the election of a third Labour politician looks damn near impossible.  Holding their two MEPs is a more modest, but eminently more achievable aspiration. By contrast, both the Greens and UKIP are hopping about enthusiastically, as are the SNP who fought an uncharacteristically lively fight for third place on the European last, after the current incumbents, Alyn Smith and European old-timer Ian Hudghton.  So what are Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh's chances?

If Monday's ICM poll is anything to go by, Tasmina can begin anticipating the Belgian moules frites. While my pals in the Greens continue to argue - not without credibility - for strategic Green voting in the May's poll, this week's poll confirms the earlier assessment that an SNP gain at the expense of the Liberals may be more likely than Scotland despatching its first Green or UKIP parliamentarian to sit in the European parliament. 

ICM's full tables break down voting intentions in a range of different ways, collating the opinions of all those who say they will vote, and providing a second table, weighted by ICM for turnout. As it happens, this weighting doesn't make a substantial difference to the overall numbers, nicking a percentage point from the Greens and Labour, and bumping SNP support by a point. Overall, using the unweighted numbers to give the smaller parties the greatest look in, ICM found the following levels of support for each party:

So how does that shake out in terms of outcomes, it we run those figures through the d'Hondt allocation system?

The lesson? The Greens and UKIP will have to significant outperform the current polls if either party is to stand the proverbial snowball's chance in hell of prying the sixth European seat from George Lyon's cold dead hands. That's not an impossibility. Turnout in European elections in Scotland is notoriously poor. It may be also that Nationalist support is rather over-egged here, and the party's actual performance on polling day will throw Ahmed-Shiekh's hopes and ambitions of taking a third European seat in doubt. As Gary Dunion notes in a recent piece in the Scottish Left Review, every vote for the SNP will have just a third of its value come the fifth and sixth stage of the allocation, having already been significantly reduced by the d'Hondt divider (seats already won + 1).  A window of opportunity then for Maggie Chapman and the ghastly David Coburn -- however narrow.


  1. Think it was someone at Better Nation who first flagged the possibility of UKIP taking a Euro seat in Scotland - a possibility hailed with general derision but which doesn't look impossible.

    As you say, it will all depend on how feeble the turnout is and the effect of any tactical voting - should SNP supporters vote just SNP to try to get the Tasmanian Flake a Brussels berth, or should they throw the Greens a life jacket to help deny UKIP?

    Gerry Hassan is being very witty lately on how the real Scotland differs from the fantasy Scotlands on offer, a difference ably illustrated by your pie chart - can UKIP really be Scotland's 4th party? If they get people to vote for them, then yes - as Billy Connolly observed, we are getting the Scotland we deserve.

    1. I think my pal Gary Dunion is right about the impetus behind any UKIP enthusiasm for much of the Better Together crowd -- a UKIP MEP from Scotland, however unwelcome in some ways, would usefully chip away at the tale that Scotland is by current political disposition more inclined to Euro-friendly social democracy than our neighbours furth of the jurisdiction. As it stands, I'd be surprised if we see a UKIP surge. But it'd be an incautious political analyst who entirely ruled out the possibility. Given my personal connection to Maggie Chapman, the Green -- I've known and very much respected her since I was an undergraduate as a serious-minded, decent, smart, good woman -- there is a serious temptation to take the punt and give them my ballot. We'll see.

    2. I would say go for it, give her your vote - I don't know Maggie Chapman but I do know other Greens such as Councillor Martha Wardrop and we could do with more like them at the 'higher' levels. I'm Labour normally, but I'm probably voting Green in May as the most useful deployment.

      I can see the temptation to aim for three Euro SNP seats but it is my impression that the SNP are performing less well at the ballot box than in the opinion polls.