With just one month to go until the potentially highly consequential Scottish parliamentary election, the race for control of Holyrood is becoming increasingly interesting – and complicated. The main questions surrounding this election are whether the SNP can achieve an outright majority and whether pro-Scottish independence parties (SNP, Greens, and Alba) can combine for a majority. Most polls show seats changing hands, and with the new Alba Party entering the fray, it is far from clear what the answer to these questions will be. Here is a rundown of where every party stands as they enter the final sprint.
A quick note – 65 seats are needed for a majority. Scotland uses the Additional Member System by which there are 73 constituency seats elected by plurality. Additionally, 8 regions each elect 7 MSPs by way of a modified D’Hondt method through party lists. This system usually ends up with an approximately proportional makeup of the parliament.
The Scottish National Party (currently hold 61 seats) – Led by Nicola Sturgeon MSP
The pro-independence SNP are currently the largest party in the Scottish parliament by a 31-seat margin. There is absolutely no doubt that they will be the largest party in 2021, but for this election to be judged a success for them, they need to win an outright majority. Polls have them averaging in the low-40s for the regional list vote and high-40s for the constituency vote. This translates into a seat count of approximately 65 – exactly what they need for a majority. They have seen a sharp drop in support in recent months after a scandal involving party leader Nicola Sturgeon. She was accused of interference and breaking the ministerial code in an investigation into allegations into harassment against former SNP leader Alex Salmond. However, an independent report on her conduct recently cleared her and initial polling since then shows evidence of a comeback. The emergence of another pro-independence party in the shape of Alba at the end of March, led by the aforementioned Salmond, is unlikely to pose a threat to them. The SNP will win the vast majority of their seats in the constituency vote whilst Alba are only running candidates in the regional list.
The Scottish Conservative Party (30 seats) – Led by Douglas Ross MP
The Conservatives has never shared the same popularity of their English counterparts. Scotland has long been a left-leaning country. The Scottish Conservatives start off with a massive handicap in the shape of prime minister Boris Johnson. Johnson is very unpopular with Scot; his approval rating in a February YouGov poll was -52. They have been led by Douglas Ross MP since last summer. He replaced Jackson Carlaw, who had lasted just one year since popular moderate leader Ruth Davidson left her post. Ross has made the smart move of appointing Davidson as the conservative leader in the Scottish Parliament while Ross is the overall leader. The Conservatives led the calls for Sturgeon to resign over the Salmond scandal, but this ultimately proved fruitless. They are struggling to assert themselves, currently on track to lose around 5-10 seats.
Scottish Labour (23 seats) – Led by Anas Sarwar MSP
Labour have also been through leadership changes in recent months. Leader Anas Sarwar took over the helm in February. He replaces Richard Leonard, a left-wing loyalist to former UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He resigned with polls showing a loss of seats and reported pressure from donors for him to step down. Sarwar is cut from different cloth, describing former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as his hero. He is broadly on the right of the party, although he has expressed disdain for Tony Blair. Sarwar is using the bold tactic of changing constituencies to run against Nicola Sturgeon in the Glasgow Southside constituency seat. Labour stand to gain the most from any changes of hearts from SNP voters on independence. They sit in a similar area of the left-right spectrum and are solidly pro-union. They will be aiming to hold existing seats and hope to pick off seats on the regional list vote.
Scottish Green Party (5 seats) – Led by Patrick Harvie MSP and Lorna Slater
The Green Party are the other main pro-independence party and win their seats wholly in the regional list vote. Their votes usually come from SNP ticket-splitters. They are probably the party most optimistic about where they stand right now. Polls will have them hopeful that they can double their number of seats. An ideal scenario for them is for the SNP not to achieve a majority so that they can hold the balance of power whilst bringing in enough seats for a pro-independence majority. The emergence of Alba will have them looking over their shoulders. However, they do have advantages right now – better name recognition for their existing MSPs and an electoral infrastructure already in place. The greens fit the progressive nature of many voters in Scotland better than Alba who only have one policy, not to mention a much maligned leader.
Scottish Liberal Democrats (5 seats) – Led by Willie Rennie MSP
After the disastrous 2019 General Election, the Liberal Democrats have been undergoing some serious soul searching on a nationwide basis. The party in Scotland and the UK as a whole has lost its media attention. They now have a lack of elected representatives and lost credibility on Brexit. They do have the advantage of having a few strongholds left in Scotland and can be hopeful of holding their existing seats and hope to pick up more regional list seats.
Reform UK (1 Seat) – Led by Michelle Ballantyne MSP
Reform UK is the only other party with representation in the Scottish Parliament. Former Conservative MSP Michelle Ballantyne joined the party as its leader in Scotland in November. Formerly known as the Brexit Party, the infamous Nigel Farage founded it as a right-wing, anti-EU, populist party. However, he left in early March. Now, with no high-profile names to attract national attention, what little support they had in polls previously has evaporated. The conservatives have already hoovered up the small amount of right wing, anti-EU votes. It will be an uphill struggle for Reform to win any seats in 2021.
Alba Party (0 Seats) – Led by Alex Salmond
As mentioned above, the most recent spanner in the works of this Scottish Parliamentary Election is former SNP leader Alex Salmond and his new pro-independence Alba Party. It is difficult to see any rational reason for this party existing and it is largely viewed as an attempted grab for the limelight from Salmond, who left the political stage in 2014 after losing the last Scottish independence referendum. Their only policy is Scottish independence and they do not have official position on the political spectrum. They have managed to pick up to defections from two SNP MPs (the SNP are behaving as if they’re glad they left because they cause too much trouble for their worth), but no one from the Scottish Parliament. At this stage, the facts do not look good for Alba. Salmond is deeply unpopular, with just 14% of Scots approving of him. Even pro-independence voters put that number at 22%. Since they are only running on the list, they do not cause a threat to the bulk of the SNP’s seats. In the two polls since their launch, they polled at 3% and 6% on the regional list. If they do indeed reach 6% then that could translate into a 4 or 5 seats. The vote appeared to come from all three of the largest parties but did not result in a loss of seats for the SNP or Greens. This poll showed an ideal situation for Alba in which their presence increases the pro independence bloc without negatively affecting the other pro independence parties. The 3% poll would result in 0 seats for Alba. On this evidence, it seems unlikely that neither the SNP or the Greens have too much to worry about.
All for Unity (0 Seats) – Led by George Galloway
It’s worth mentioning the presence of the pro-union big-tent All for Unity party since they popped up in a recent poll with 4% of the vote which would likely translate into a seat. Although this poll from Panelbase threw up a few strange numbers, its still worth giving the party its own section. They are led by the well known maverick far-left former MP George Galloway, who has given the party some publicity that minor parties would not often receive. Accusations of racism are commonplace against Galloway and his supporters. Green party MSP Ross Greer described the party as “a band of racist misfits”. One candidate has received criticism for her support for the notorious Islamophobic neo-fascist and recently bankrupt Tommy Robinson. Another is the founder of the formerly mainstream right-wing, but now far-right UKIP. However, it is likely that he and his candidates will pull some votes in even if it is not as high as the Panelbase poll suggest. Their role is similar to Alba in that they want to attract votes on the regional list from voters who cannot bare voting for the other pro-union parties. They want the SNP out. However even if they do get into parliament, they will struggle to do anything given that the other pro union parties have rejected the idea of an electoral pact and are reluctant to even engage with the party.
Other Parties (0 Seats)
There are also a bunch of other minor parties running – UKIP, the Communist Party; the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition; Women’s Equality; and Scotia Future (pro-independence but anti-EU) amongst others. There are a huge amount of minor parties popping in various different constituencies. In the Glasgow region alone there are 13 parties running beyond the main parties already detailed above. None of these parties will attract a significant number of votes and will certainly not win any seats, but they may be the difference in a tight constituency race.
It is also important to note the presence of independents. On the local council level there is a long history of popular independents. This tradition can always lead to independents picking up notable amounts of votes and messing up previously unexciting constituency races.