Result in 2016: SNP 9 seats (9 constituency, 0 list), Labour 4 seats (0 constituency, 4 list), Conservatives 3 seats (0 constituency, 3 list)

WHEN people say “the SNP don’t take any list seats in my region”, what they often really mean is that the SNP didn’t take any list seats last time around.

It’s by no means always clear that history is bound to repeat itself.

However, the reason the SNP don’t have any list seats in Central Scotland is that they won all nine constituency seats in the region in 2016. It would take quite an imaginative leap to suppose that the situation will change dramatically in this election, because Labour are in a reasonably distant second place in every one of the nine. The closest thing there is to a marginal is Coatbridge & Chryston, but even there the gap between SNP and Labour is 13.3%, meaning on a uniform swing that Labour would have to get within around ten percentage points of the SNP nationally to make the gain – and there’s no sign of anything like that in the opinion polls so far.

Even if Labour defy the odds and pick up a constituency seat, it’s still possible that the SNP won’t be awarded any list seats in the region. What that means in practice is that there’s a significant danger that all seven list seats in Central Scotland will be awarded to unionist parties. That’s exactly what happened in 2016 – Labour took four and the Tories three. The Greens were unable to replicate the success they enjoyed in other regions, although admittedly they did practically double their vote share to 4.7%, bringing them within touching distance of the 5-6% that will typically be enough to win a seat for a party that hasn’t taken any constituencies.

It’s impossible to judge whether the list-only Alba party are within reach of the required percentage, because as a “new entry” there are no baseline figures from 2016 to look at for them. However, they do have the advantage of reasonably well-known candidates: Jim Walker is a renowned economist, Lynne Anderson is a former SNP equalities convener, and topping the list is the former Westminster MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. However, Ahmed-Sheikh may not get the full benefit of name-recognition given that her former constituency of Ochil & South Perthshire lies in a different electoral region.

The recently departed Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard was allegedly assured of top place on his party’s Central Scotland list as part of the grubby process that led to his resignation. That should virtually guarantee him re-election to the Parliament, unless there are several surprise Labour gains in the constituencies. Monica Lennon in second place should also be safe.

It’s even more straightforward for the Tories, because they don’t even have any long-shot prospects in the constituency seats, ensuring that all of the seats they take in the region will be on the list. If they can replicate their 2016 result, the existing MSP Graham Simpson will be joined at Holyrood by Stephen Kerr, the former Westminster MP for Stirling, and Meghan Gallacher, who would be an atypical addition to the Tory parliamentary party in the sense that she’s young, female and working-class. However, it’s Gallacher who will have the most nervous wait as the votes are counted, because she’s ranked third on the Tory list. In many ways the Tories were defying gravity by winning three seats in Central Scotland in 2016 – they had never previously taken more than one seat, and in 2011 they didn’t trouble the scorer at all.

The LibDems scraped one seat in the region in the first three Holyrood elections in 1999, 2003 and 2007, but their safety margin was almost non-existent. That made it all but inevitable they would start missing out once their national vote collapsed due to the unpopularity of their involvement in the David Cameron government. They were well behind the Greens in the popular vote in 2011 and 2016, and on both occasions suffered the further indignity of being pushed into sixth place by a fringe party. Their chances of a seat this year look remote.


Result in 2016: SNP 8 seats (8 constituency, 0 list), Conservatives 4 seats (0 constituency, 4 list), Labour 2 seats (0 constituency, 2 list), Greens 1 seat (0 constituency, 1 list), Liberal Democrats 1 seat (1 constituency, 0 list)

THE SNP won no list seats in Mid-Scotland and Fife in 2016 due to winning eight of the region’s nine constituency seats. However, in contrast to Central Scotland, it’s possible to construct a semi-plausible scenario in which the SNP constituency dominance ends and list seats begin to come into play. There are a couple of constituencies where the Tories are in with a shout, and two or three where Labour have a small outside chance.

Those sceptical about the idea of gaming the voting system to produce a pro-independence “supermajority” would say that voters need to play it safe in case the wheels come off on the constituency ballot. But the supermajority proponents would reply that the risk of a constituency meltdown is relatively small, and the greater risk is that Unionists will continue to take the vast majority of the list seats due to SNP list votes being wasted. So you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Pro-indy parties didn’t draw a complete blank on the Mid-Scotland and Fife list five years ago, though – Mark Ruskell managed to sneak a seat for the Greens. He’s in first place on the Greens list again this year, and will hope to be joined in Parliament by the second-placed Mags Hall – although that may be a long-shot – Green vote share last time was only 6%.

The Alba Party’s biggest selection headache for the whole election probably occurred in this region, because for top spot in their list they had to choose between serving MP Neale Hanvey, former MSP Jim Eadie, and the person who was top of the SNP’s list before her defection, Eva Comrie. They’ve plumped for the latter, which means that Hanvey and Eadie will require the Alba percentage vote share to be in double digits if they’re to be elected.

One of several reasons Comrie cited for her defection to Alba was that she felt uncomfortable about owing her place at the top of the SNP list to the controversial “reserved places” rule intended to increase representation for disabled and BAME people. Because of that rule, the SNP haven’t replaced her with the second-ranked John Swinney, but instead with the former para-athlete Stefan Hoggan-Radu. He will now have a fighting chance of becoming an MSP, but it means Swinney won’t have much of a safety net if he loses his constituency battle with the Tories’ Murdo Fraser.

There are many quirks and paradoxes in Holyrood’s voting system, and one of them played out in Mid-Scotland and Fife in 2016. By gaining the North-East Fife constituency seat from the SNP, Willie Rennie ensured that the LibDems were no longer entitled to the list seat they would otherwise have taken with their 7% of the vote. That freed up a list seat for other parties, which was the one grabbed by the Greens. As a result, the Greens ended up with six seats in the Parliament, one ahead of the LibDems on five.

In other words, Rennie’s constituency win was responsible for pushing his own party into fifth place nationally.