Labour 'will lose councils' under new voting system

By Hamish Macdonell
Published June 4th 2005 in
Labour's grip on Scotland's town halls will be broken at the next council election, with the party on course to lose more than 100 councillors and control of seven authorities, according to research published yesterday.

Two experts, Professor John Curtice and Stephen Herbert, have worked out what is likely to happen to every council when the proportional representation system is introduced.

Under the single transferable vote (STV) system, which the Executive has adopted for council elections in 2007, Labour is forecast to be the big loser and the SNP the main beneficiary.

Prof Curtice and Mr Herbert based their research on the 2003 election, but it provides a guide as to what might happen in 2007.

They calculated that if the 2003 election had been fought under STV, Labour would have won 405 council seats - 104 fewer than it actually achieved.

Labour would also have lost control of seven councils: Clackmannanshire, East Lothian, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Renfrewshire, Stirling and West Lothian.

These would all have become "hung councils" - not under the control of any one party.

Indeed, the majority of Scotland's local authorities would have become hung councils with only six remaining under Labour's control and six run by a majority of independents.

Labour's six remaining councils would have been: East Ayrshire, Glasgow, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire.

"It is bad news for Labour councillors but not quite as bad news for the Labour Party as people imagined," said Prof Curtice.

The SNP would have picked up most of the Labour seats, gaining an extra 127 councillors under STV. Yet, despite this success, the Nationalists would not have control over any more councils, and would actually lose control of their only council, Angus.

This is because the STV system does not often deliver any one party a clear majority.

It usually spreads the seats so evenly among the parties that none emerges in control of the council.

The Labour Party in Scotland was forced to push through STV for local-government elections by the Liberal Democrats who made it a condition of their support for the coalition Executive.

Labour accepted the plan despite the vocal complaints of many Labour councillors who knew they were going to lose their seats as a result.

Surprisingly, for such a key Liberal Democrat policy, the party is not expected to make great strides under the new system. The researchers concluded that under STV, the Liberal Democrats would have secured 162 council seats in 2003, 13 fewer than their total.

The Tories would have gained just six seats, taking them to 129, while the Scottish Socialists would have gained seven.

Prof Curtice stressed that his analysis was based on the result of the 2003 election and did not necessarily provide an exact picture of what might happen in 2007. He also warned that it did not take account of the possible rise in the Green or minor party vote, something which may well happen under a more proportionate system.

But it is the first piece of detailed research showing the national base in terms of seats from which the parties will start in the 2007 local election campaign.

A Labour spokesman said last night that the party would take a different approach to the election because of the change in the electoral system.

He said: "Obviously in 2007 we will fight to win every seat, and we will fight the campaign differently under STV."

David Alexander, the SNP's local-government spokesman, was delighted with the prediction of such an upsurge in SNP seats. He said: "These results reaffirm the SNP's calls for STV in elections.

"They clearly show that the single transferable vote would be a fairer and more representative system than the current, outdated first-past-the-post system."

A Tory spokesman said: "Win or lose, we are still fundamentally opposed to STV, particularly because it breaks the councillor-ward link."

No-one from the Lib Dems was available for comment.