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A look at the Scottish marginals: Can the SNP win a constituency-only majority?

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For all the talk of the SNP’s route to a majority closing up, the makeup of the Holyrood marginals will offer Sturgeon huge encouragement in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections.

Since Alex Salmond’s surprise entry into the 2021 Scottish election, much has been made of how the nature of the Scottish voting system – namely the ‘regional seats’ – might deny the SNP a majority.

There are 129 seats in the Scottish parliament, of which 73 – around 57% – are elected through the first-past-the-post ‘constituency vote’, the same system used for every seat in UK parliament elections.

However the first-past-the-post system does not always allocate seats fairly, particularly for smaller parties, such that UKIP won 4 million votes in the 2015 General Election yet gained just one seat. So with Scotland’s Additional Member System, the other 43% of seats – the ‘regional’ or ‘list’ seats – are allocated through a compensatory system based on the vote share in a particular regional area.

In the 2016 election this compensatory system was the SNP’s downfall. The Party won 42% of the regional vote, but because of their success in the constituencies they only took 7% of the regional seats – four in total.  This, combined with Alex Salmond’s party inevitably eating into the SNP’s regional vote share this year, means that Nicola Sturgeon cannot afford to rely on the regional seats for a majority as she did in 2011.

But there is another route to a majority for Sturgeon – one that would represent an unprecedented feat in British electoral history. The SNP could win 65 of the 73 available constituency seats: an outright majority obtained through the constituency seats alone.

The system is simply not designed to produce such a thing; a constituency-only majority would require the SNP to win 89% of the available first-past-the-post seats. It’s never been done in devolved British elections, and rarely ever in recent European history using a comparable voting system – the last time being in Albania in 2001.

And yet remarkably, it is a possibility in this election.

The SNP won 59 constituency seats in 2016, so to hit the 65 mark for a majority, the party needs a net gain of six.  Simple though it sounds, that is a big ask with no margin for error. The SNP didn’t even come close to it in their historic 2011 win.

So what’s different about this election?

The state of play in Holyrood’s most marginal constituencies offers some indication.  As indicated in the graphs below, only one of the 10 most marginal constituencies in Scotland is currently held by the SNP.   It is thus the Conservative and Labour Party who are sitting on the most vulnerable electoral assets.

If just six of these marginal seats turn yellow, then the SNP will be in a strong position for a constituency-only majority.

Which seats can the SNP gain?

In political terms, the last election at Holyrood was held in a different political epoch.   That election was two Prime Ministers ago, and prior to the 2016 Brexit referendum.

So to get a sense as to how the SNP may fare in these marginal seats in 2021, it’s helpful to look at how the same areas have voted in the subsequent 2017 and 2019 General Elections. This is not an exact science, as Westminster and Holyrood constituencies are drawn up slightly differently, but it still highlights some significant patterns.

Since the last Scottish election, the SNP have won in five equivalent UK parliament constituencies, which they didn’t win in the last Holyrood elections in 2016:

Labour-held Dumbarton, a strong pro-independence area, and Tory-held Edinburgh Central, where the popular Ruth Davidson is standing down, both seem winnable targets for the SNP this year. The party will also be hopeful of securing Eastwood, Ayr and East Lothian, all three of which flipped back to yellow in the 2019 General Election.

However even if the SNP win all five of these and hold onto all of their current seats, they would still be one short of a constituency-only majority.

The hardest task for the SNP will be flipping the one further seat they need.   This would be the one which they haven’t won in any of the previous three Holyrood and Westminster elections:

Edinburgh Southern and Dumfriesshire would appear less likely targets for the SNP, but keep your eyes on the results in Aberdeenshire West and Edinburgh Western, both of which the SNP won in 2011. Voting in these seats has fluctuated widely in the past decade, and if either flip to yellow this year, that will be a troubling omen for the SNP’s rivals.

With a potential electoral improvement for the SNP now compared to the 2016 result, the SNP gaining the six additional seats they need, seems more than possible. But that’s only half of the task.

Can the SNP keep hold of all of their seats? 

Although nine of the top ten most marginal constituencies in Scotland are held by the SNPs opponents, the party will still need to hold all of the constituencies that it won in 2016.

Two danger zones for the SNP are Moray and Caithness and Sutherland & Ross; though neither majority was particularly thin in 2016, the SNP have performed poorly in both areas in more recent general elections.

Nevertheless, there is good news for the SNP in both cases. Tory leader Douglas Ross, who claimed SNP scalps in both of the previous Westminster elections in Moray, will not be challenging the seat this time.   Meanwhile, the challenge in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross comes from the Liberal Democrats – whose current constituency polling average is almost two points down from their 2016 result.

The SNP have clear reasons to be optimistic about the constituency vote this year. Their current constituency polling is 4% higher than their actual result in the last election.  To win an outright majority at Holyrood based on the constituencies alone, all they need is 4,628 votes to change across six marginal seats.

Although the SNP polling has fluctuated in recent months during the Salmond inquiry, the party still has a genuine chance of making British electoral history by winning a majority without the need for a single list seat.  If they did so, they would send a signal to Westminster that Boris Johnson may find harder to ignore.

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Harvey decorates new Astrazeneca lab

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Henley-in-Arden-based Harvey UK worked in the development laboratories, restaurant and staff facilities at the new centre on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, on behalf of contractors Overbury.

The new centre shares the Cambridge campus with Cambridge University’s School of Clinical Medicine, Addenbrooke’s Centre for Clinical Investigation, Cancer UK’s research facility, and the Heart and Lung Research Institute as well as several other medical research centres.

Harvey UK managing director Tony Harvey said: “We have considerable experience in the medical and clinical sectors, and it’s a privilege to be involved in preparing a facility which will carry out such important work.”

Harvey UK has also carried out work at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge.

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‘Fur and foie gras bans must follow animal sentience legislation’

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Some events can really renew your optimism as an animal rights advocate. Hearing the commitment to bring forward new legislation to “ensure the United Kingdom has, and promotes, the highest standards of animal welfare”, in the Queen’s speech during the state opening of parliament this week, was one of them.

The significance of the government’s recognition that, as our understanding of other animals has evolved, our laws must evolve, too, can’t be overstated. The simple and glaringly obvious acknowledgment that animals are like us – with families, intelligence, emotions, and their own cultures and languages – means we must provide them with greater legal protection from human exploitation, abuse, and neglect. And delivering on its commitment to recognise animal sentience in law and put it “at the heart of policy making”, as the government has pledged to do, is a vital step in our society’s moral evolution.

In addition to the introduction of the much-anticipated animal welfare (sentience) bill, animal protection groups are expecting to see several other important bills brought forward during this new parliamentary session as part of the government’s “ambitious and wide-ranging plan for driving forward reforms in the … Action Plan for Animal Welfare”, including, we hope, a ban on fur imports.

Fur farming has been illegal in the UK for almost 20 years, but bizarrely we have continued to import around £55 million worth of fur, including from countries where animals still spend their miserable lives frantically circling in cramped, filthy cages, being driven mad by the confinement. For the fur trim adorning Canada Goose’s parkas, sold in its Regent’s Street shop and by a small handful of other unscrupulous retailers, including Harvey Nichols, coyotes are caught in steel traps that would be illegal here and can suffer for days while enduring blood loss, shock, dehydration, frostbite, and gangrene.

The bears still being gunned down to make the Queen’s Guard’s caps are often mothers whose cubs are left to starve or die from predation without her to protect them – utterly indefensible when their namesake, the Queen herself, refuses to purchase fur. Surviving bear cubs are known to wail when hunters shoot their mothers in front of them and will moan and cry for weeks afterward in apparent grief. And of course, bears are not alone in mourning the loss of loved ones, just as we do.

Professor of anthropology Barbara J. King shares many other devastating accounts in her book How Animals Grieve. Only the animals born with it need fur, especially when we have so many humane, eco-friendly options that no one has to die for. A bill banning fur imports is absolutely necessary if the government is to fulfil its promise that “our high animal welfare standards are not compromised in our trade negotiations”, and with 95% of Brits opposed to wearing real fur, it would also be an extremely popular piece of legislation.

Our new status as an independent nation outside the EU also provides the UK with the opportunity to close its borders to foie gras and earn our status as “a global leader for international advocacy on animal welfare”, something the government is said to be considering as part of its animals abroad bill.

There is no doubt that, of all the many cruel practices involving animals on today’s factory farms, foie gras (“fatty liver”) production is one of the cruellest. In order to get the liver to expand to up to 10 times its natural size, ducks and geese are force-fed using a procedure known as gavage, in which a long pipe is forced down their throat and a large quantity of food is pumped into their stomach three to four times a day for several weeks until their liver becomes so large that it presses on their lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

The inhumane product is illegal to produce in 17 countries, including the UK, with 79% of the British public in favour of an import ban as well, which makes perfect sense given that a product too cruel to produce here should logically also be too cruel to sell.

Eighty per cent of the British public want post-Brexit government trade deals to have clear requirements that imported animal products meet or exceed British animal welfare production standards. It boils down to this: there is simply no justification for fur, foie gras, hunting trophies, or any other products of gross animal abuse to be allowed into Britain nor for shipping British animals on hellish journeys to be fattened and slaughtered abroad.

In 1822, the UK became the first country in the world to introduce animal protection legislation, and as the bicentennial of that landmark law approaches, the Queen’s speech served to honour that legacy and define the type of country that we want to be in the future. While you can be sure that PETA and other animal protection groups will hold the government to its commitments to animals, new statutes on the books to help break down the false barrier between humans and other animals are not really necessary: we can already refuse to support industries that treat them as mere objects instead of the sensitive, complex, intelligent individuals they are – just by leaving their body parts off our plates and out of our wardrobes.

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Taziker lands HS2 jetty deal

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Taziker will be supplying, fabricating and installing the steel deck component of a temporary jetty structure which has been designed to provide access for the building of foundations for the new viaduct where it crosses a series of lakes.

The temporary jetty will consist of four separate structures with an approximate total length of 990m. The works will also include safety barriers, pedestrian walkways and guardrails.

Thirteen additional working platforms will also be built to enable the construction of the cofferdams within the lakes, which in turn facilitate the construction of the permanent piers for the viaduct.

Working on behalf of VolkerStevin for the Align Joint Venture, Taziker was awarded the contract following a competitive Invitation to Tender process.

Align JV comprises Bouygues Travaux Publics, Sir Robert McAlpine and VolkerFitzpatrick and is the main works civils contractor responsible for the delivery of the C1 section on HS2.

The C1 package of works consists of a 21.6km stretch of high-speed rail infrastructure including the 3.37km Colne Valley Viaduct; the 16.04km twin-bored Chilterns tunnel; and five ventilation shafts handling both intervention and tunnel ventilation facilities.

Jarrod Hulme, Managing Director of Engineering Solutions, Taziker said: “The construction of the viaduct in Colne Valley is a spectacular and essential part of the HS2 project.

“By supplying, fabricating and installing a major component of the temporary jetty, Taziker have the opportunity to show the quality and innovation we can deliver on major projects for major clients within our engineering division.”

Jason Worrall, Managing Director of Engineering Services, Taziker said, “Taziker has been working in the rail industry for many years now, and so we can appreciate the value that HS2 will bring to the country.

“By improving rail capacity, HS2 will enable better services to operate on local and regional networks, as well as improving freight services. I’m personally incredibly proud that our engineering abilities have been recognised for the Colne Valley Viaduct project.”

Engineers from HS2 Ltd’s main works contractor Align JV began work on the foundations earlier this year and Taziker is expected to begin work on site in June 2021.

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