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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 April, 2005, 07:57 GMT 08:57 UK
Election set to test new limits
By Professor David Denver
Professor of Politics at Lancaster University

Professor David Denver
Professor David Denver is an expert on the new Scottish constituencies

Since word slipped out that a general election was looming the opinion has been aired by some commentators that whatever the outcome not much will change in Scotland once the votes have been counted.

But since 2002, the Boundary Commission for Scotland has gradually put a plan in place for some significant changes.

The country's old constituency lines have vanished under this latest review and there will be 13 fewer Scottish seats for the parties to fight over come polling day.

Professor David Denver, of Lancaster University, is the leading expert on Scotland's new political landscape. He takes us through the implications for the politicians, parties and people of Scotland.

The coming general election will be fought in Scotland on new constituency boundaries.

Until now, the numbers of electors in Scottish constituencies have been significantly smaller than those in England but part of the devolution settlement was that they should be brought more into line with those south of the border.

As a result, the number of Scottish constituencies for UK general elections has been reduced from 72 to 59.

Achieving this has necessitated major changes in constituency boundaries.

Only three seats survive unscathed - East Renfrewshire (formerly Eastwood), Orkney and Shetland and Na h-Eileanan An Iar (formerly Western Isles) - and only two have had relatively minor changes to their boundaries (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine and North East Fife).

Biggest loser

The remaining 54 have changed very significantly and in many cases they have changed out of all recognition as compared with the constituencies in use in the 2001 election.

In 2001, of the 72 constituencies then in existence, Labour won 55, the Liberal Democrats 10, the Scottish National Party five and the Conservatives one (the remaining one being taken by 'The Speaker' without Conservative or Liberal Democrat opposition).

Estimates of how the new constituencies would have gone in 2001, if people had voted the same way in the new seats as they actually did in the old, suggest that Labour would have won 45 of them, the Lib Dems nine, the SNP four, the Conservatives nil and The Speaker one.

Labour is, then, the biggest loser from the new arrangements but, if party support was the same as in 2001, the Conservatives would once again be without a single Scottish representative.

In truth, however, the notional 2001 "results" in some of the new constituencies are so tight that it might be better to put them in a category of "too close to call".

Tactical voting has been a notable feature of recent general elections in Scotland and one of the consequences of the boundary review is that many voters will find themselves in a new tactical situation

This applies to Dumfries and Galloway - allocated to Labour but with the Conservatives a very close second - and also Dundee East and Ochil and South Perthshire, where the figures show the SNP running Labour close.

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey is another seat classified as "held" by Labour but the estimated majority over the Lib Dems in 2001 is only about 1,100 votes.

Finally, the estimates suggest that the new Angus seat would have been a very close run thing between the SNP and the Conservatives.

Conceivably, then, without very much change in voting from 2001 Labour could "lose" four more seats - taking them down to 41 - and the Conservatives, rather than being wiped out, could double their Scottish representation (even if only to two seats).

Tactical voting has been a notable feature of recent general elections in Scotland - especially outside the Labour dominated central belt - and one of the consequences of the boundary review is that many voters will find themselves in a new tactical situation.

Thus, it is not clear how the roughly 18,000 voters who have moved out of Angus (an SNP-Conservative contest) into Dundee East (a Labour-SNP marginal) will react to the different tactical position.

Close calls

Similarly, voters in Galloway have long been used to close fights between the Conservatives and the SNP with Labour and the Lib Dems trailing well behind.

Now they find themselves in a constituency (the new Dumfries and Galloway) which looks like a close contest between Labour and the Conservatives (with the SNP not too far away in third place).

A key campaign task of the parties in contention in different constituencies will be to try to make the electorate aware of the tactical position, hoping that voters can be persuaded to switch to them from parties that are not in the running.

The constituency boundary changes may make life more difficult for commentators, analysts and parties and may also cause some confusion among voters but they will also make election night in Scotland even more interesting and intriguing than usual.




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