Analysis: Is tactical voting a real force in Scotland in #GE17?


Labour and SNP are fighting over leftwing votes in the General Election

ONE IN FIVE voters across the UK will vote tactically in this General Election, a surge from less than one in ten in 2015, according to Electoral Reform society polling.

Yet in Scotland, the same poll found just 8 per cent of voters will use their vote in the same way.

The growth in tactical voting reflects a determination to oust the Conservatives among leftwing voters, regardless of party loyalty, and the campaigns by various groups to encourage tactical, anti-tory voting.

With polls putting the headline election race between Labour and the Conservatives far closer than most predicted before the General Election, Scottish votes could be pivotal in deciding the make-up of the government after the 8 June vote.

CommonSpace looks at the issues around tactical voting in Scotland.

What’s going on with tactical voting in England and Wales?

In England and Wales, voting is polarising sharply around the Conservative and Labour parties.

Smaller parties traditionally associated with the left and right have suffered. The Greens are standing fewer candidates than in 2015, and targeting fewer seats. The Liberal Democrats are as low as seven per cent in some polls, re-enforcing the image of a party still struggling to recover from 2010-15 Lib Dem-Tory coalition government. The Ukip vote has melted down to 3 per cent in the wake of Brexit and the Tories moving to the right to cover their ground.

So tactical voting is the expression, not of a greater pluralisation in politics, but a greater polarisation between a leftward moving Labour Party and a rightward moving Conservative party.

Why are Scottish voters different from rUK?

Scotland has been on a different political journey in the last few years. The Scottish Parliament’s proportional voting system has made it easier for smaller parties to challenge the big two, and the SNP outmanoeuvred New Labour in the 2007 and 2011 Scottish Elections, by pitching to the party’s left.

The referendum campaign in 2014 largely became a proxy for leftwing and rightwing political disagreements. This dynamic helped to deliver a gargantuan 56 of 59 seats in the 2015 election.

But now Corbyn’s campaigning success, which has seen him move from 26 per cent in the polls near the start of the campaign to 40 per cent at its height according to Ipsos Mori, appears to be tempting some leftwing voters back. In a recent YouGov poll, Scottish Labour had risen to 25 per cent against the SNP’s 43 per cent.

This isn’t a problem the SNP needed at a time when the pro-union vote seemed to be consolidating around the Scottish Conservatives. Some fear the combination of a divided left vote and a solidified right may allow the Conservatives to break in to seats they otherwise couldn’t claim.

What are the parties saying?

The SNP have responded to the Labour threat by marshalling its leftwing figures, notably Tommy Sheppard, candidate for Edinburgh East and Paisley candidate Mhairi Black, to call on voters to back the SNP as the most effective opposition.

Sheppard has gone so far to say if Scottish voters really want to aid Corbyn they have to back the SNP in Scotland.

Black, who was elected as the UK’s youngest MP in 2015, made an appeal to young voters to back the SNP, as polling shows that Labour now outpoll the SNP among the young.

Labour have repeatedly said that there are only two outcomes from the election – either a Labour Government or a Tory Government and that “voting SNP will just risk letting Theresa May back into Downing Street.”

The argument is no more heated than among Scottish Labour and SNP’s youth wings, which have outlined their own polemics in the fight for leftwing votes.

How would tactical voting work?

Having dominated the 2015 General Election, the SNP now have the pleasure of trying to defend all its gains.

There are a number of seats where the Labour are hoping for a breakthrough, and others where the Tories can take seats.

Among the targets for Labour are: East Lothian, Edinburgh North and Leith, Glasgow South West.

Tory targets include: Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, Dumfries and Galloway, Aberdeenshire West, Stirling and possibly even Moray, SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson’s seat.

Campaigners from various groups, including the Compass think tank are calling on left voters to back candidates most likely to beat the Tories.

The increase in tactical voting has led to the proliferation of tactical voting websites, showing voters how to cast their vote to optimum use. The pioneering version is this one from Compass.

Pictures courtesy of David McKelveyDavid DrexlerEwan McIntosh, Rico S

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