Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2015: May and everything after

For the last few years I have got into the habit of making predictions about the coming year.  I do so not because I think that I'm particularly prescient (I'm not, as I showed yesterday) but because I want a record of what my thoughts were at a given point and to see how those assumptions were confounded or met over the year.

The last few years have been trial runs, but 2015 is a big year in British politics.  What's going to happen?

Where we are now

The first thing we need to do to find out where we are going is to establish where we are now.  At the end of 2014, I summarise the current state of British politics as follows.  Labour seem to have a tiny lead over the Conservatives: however, both are languishing at lower polling levels than either is accustomed to or would have hoped at this stage.  Labour seem to have gone backwards over the last year, shedding votes to the SNP, the Greens and UKIP, while the Conservatives are flatlining:

From the barrage of constituency polls that we have had this year, it seems that the swing from Labour to the Conservatives in the marginals is of the order of 2 or 3% at present.  That raises the question how trustworthy constituency polls are, of course.

The Lib Dems remain nailed to the canvass in the national polls, though they are bearing up a bit better in some of the constituency polls where they are incumbents, at least where the Conservatives are their main opponents.  UKIP have had a very good year, picking up two MPs by defections and currently tallying something like 15% in the polls.  Meanwhile, the SNP have responded to their defeat in the referendum by gaining a huge wave of support and are currently miles ahead of Labour in the Scottish polls.

The public remain disdainful of politicians.  George Osborne is reckoned on balance to be doing a good job but the public don't like him.  David Cameron and Nigel Farage have their fans (but more detractors), while Jacques Cousteau would be needed to investigate the popularity ratings for Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg this year.  Incredibly for a Labour leader, Ed Miliband has lower popularity ratings in Scotland than David Cameron.

With the public thinking so little of politicians, they're making up their own minds about what they think about things.  It's like watching a convoy of rubber ducks floating on the ocean, being carried by currents in different and not immediately predictable directions.

What of the economy?  The economy has done pretty decently in 2014, certainly by international standards, and employment rates are at a record high.  This has not yet flowed through into wage increases, so the public is not yet getting any benefit from any economic upswing.  Meanwhile, the deficit remains obdurately high.  Oil prices are coming down, which is starting to flow through to the price at the petrol pumps.  But the Eurozone looks set to be plunged into renewed uncertainty with the pending Greek general election, and nothing good looks likely to come out of the confrontation with Russia any time soon.

Public services to date have been bearing up surprisingly well, given the pressures on public finances.  The NHS seems to be struggling more this year than last year, however, and there's still plenty of time for a full-blown health service crisis to erupt.


Isaac Asimov set his short story Franchise in 2008, so by now it should be possible for one man to determine the election, right?

1. The next election will produce a hung Parliament

This is a long-standing prediction and I'm sticking to it.  Right now, I'm pretty confident about this prediction - I wouldn't bet against it at anything less than 5/1 and even at 5/1 I wouldn't be racing to bet on either party getting an overall majority.  The chances for the Conservatives of securing an overall majority look ethereal, while those for Labour look flimsy.  In fact, I'm not expecting either to get 300 seats as matters stand now.

The last year has failed to show any upswing in Conservative fortunes at all.  Will the coming months of 2015 be any different?  I expect they will see some upswing, as voters start focussing on the decision at hand.  But I doubt it will be all that much - a very few percentage points that will come primarily from UKIP and Don't Know.

Ed Miliband has had an awful end of the year, with his conference speech proving to be a turkey.  Given his success in previous conference speeches and the importance of the last before an election, this was both surprising and devastating for his credibility.  He seems to have been recovering his poise for the end of the year, but he is poorly placed to rally the troops.

I currently expect Labour and the Conservatives to be neck and neck for most seats.  Right now I'd give Labour the edge.  But I'm not very confident about this.

2. It will be neck and neck between the SNP and the Lib Dems as to which is the third party

I expect the SNP now to break through in Scotland.  The referendum has produced a decisive realignment in Scottish politics and Labour has not yet caught up with this.  It has just over four months to do so, and while I regard Jim Murphy as a capable politician, even the most inspirational player is going to struggle to turn round a three goal deficit with ten minutes to go.  I expect that the SNP will get upwards of 30 seats in Scotland. 

Conversely, I expect the Lib Dems to be reasonably resilient against Conservative opponents and as a result to get something towards the top end of their expectations in seat tallies - maybe as many as 35.

3. UKIP will get a good poll rating and few seats to show for it

The kippers are not going to go away before the next election.  They have successfully kept in the public eye throughout.  They have a fervent core that passionately believes in their party a (nd their leader.  They haven't got the slightest interest in voting tactically.

In seats which are safe for the main parties now, no one will try to dissuade them.  So UKIP will get sizeable vote shares in those seats.  Unless, however, they have a further polling advance, they are not going to have seats to show for those sizeable vote shares.

Kippers are going to be put under pressure to vote tactically in marginals where they are not in contention.  This will have limited success with soft kippers (kedgerees?), but rather less than the main parties might hope, given the fervour of the UKIP faithful.

What of UKIP's own prospects for seat gains?  I expect UKIP will get a handful - if I were forced to guess now, maybe as many as ten.  Beyond Clacton, it's hard to predict exactly which seats and I expect some surprises - as much for the seats that they don't take as the seats that they do.  And of course, we may yet see one or more defections to UKIP before May.

4.  The Greens will take precisely one seat: Brighton Pavilion

They'll put in a good effort in Norwich South and a decent effort in Bristol West, but I don't see them taking either.

5. The debates will take place, basically in the format put forward originally by David Cameron

When David Cameron originally put forward his 2:3:5 format for debates (Lab+Con; Lab+Con+LD; Lab+Con+LD+UKIP+Green), it was suggested by some that it was a spoiler to ensure that the debates wouldn't take place.  However, the broadcasters put forward a 2:3:4 format, with the Greens ending on the cutting room floor.  With the Greens perking up in some of the polls and the desire to get the debates taking place,  I anticipate that the broadcasters will accede to the original idea put forward by David Cameron.

This is rough on the SNP and on Plaid Cymru, and broadcasters will need either to ensure that the debates don't take place in the election campaign period or to ensure that the SNP and Plaid Cymru get their own chance to put their arguments to their publics.  But a way will be found.

6. The election campaign won't change very much, but a lot of people will try to persuade you otherwise

Election campaigns rarely change the result too much, except when a party's campaign implodes.  That is possible, but unlikely.

Last time round I persuaded myself that the Cleggmania was real, and placed speculative constituency bets accordingly.  If I'd simply gone away for a month and placed no bets, I would have made more money than I actually did.

I'm expecting the same to be true this time around as well.  My most confident prediction is that a lot of very excitable kippers will be predicting gains in all kinds of seats.  These claims will be hard to judge because it is UKIP's first time seriously contesting a general election.  Without the most compelling evidence, I shall be treating such claims with a lot of caution.

7. The next government will be a Labour minority government

Yes, I'm talking my own book here, but it does seem to me the single most likely outcome.  If  you agree with me that the next Parliament will be a hung Parliament, the Conservatives are going to need to be able to secure a majority with the support of the Lib Dems before they are in serious contention to form the next government (with one exception, which I will come back to).  That means that they need at least 290 seats, which looks a real stretch right now.

The one exception is the idea, floated this morning in the FT, of a grand coalition:

Numerically, it is likely to be by far the most stable government.  In cold logic, it would make short term sense (though Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage would swoon in ecstasy at all their soundbites being made flesh).  In reality, both sides are way too tribal to make it work.

So the government looks likely to be Labour-led.  Will it have any other component parts?  It is my assessment that the Labour leadership don't see the need to get a formal coalition together and have no wish to reward the Lib Dems for their perceived treachery in 2010 or the SNP for having taken substantial numbers of Scottish seats in 2015.  So they will go it alone.

8. All change at the top (mostly)

The election result will convulse all the main parties (with the exception of the SNP). 

If David Cameron is out of power, he is out of a job: the Conservative party is ruthless that way and anyway too many of his MPs hate him for him to survive.  Who will replace him?  Much depends on a man whose thoughts are hard to read: George Osborne.  In 2005 he declined to stand for the Conservative party leadership, recognising correctly that the public would engage much better with David Cameron.  He has established a large client base in the party, and if he stood he would certainly stand a good chance of getting the job.  Does he now want to do it? 

My guess is that he has not changed his self-assessment and that he would prefer to be a power behind the throne.  If he is wise, he will not have changed his self-assessment - he is too disliked on a visceral level by the public and too associated with David Cameron to be able to take the party forward.  If he throws his weight behind Sajid Javid, he would immediately become the man to beat.  The Conservatives like making unexpected choices and Sajid Javid would tick a lot of boxes that the Conservatives would dearly love to tick.  He's also a pretty orthodox Conservative.

If George Osborne jumps the other way, I expect Boris Johnson would get the job.  It would be entertaining, at least.

If the Lib Dems are not in government, as I expect, then I expect Nick Clegg to make way in 2015 for someone that the public would listen to.  If the Lib Dems were wise, they would choose Steve Webb, who is a minister who has personally achieved much in office, is personally charming, comes from the left of the party but has shown he can work well even with the most Thatcherite of ministers and could articulate a fresh vision of liberalism.

However, I expect that the Lib Dems will choose Tim Farron.

Labour would not be immune from turmoil.  While it would be in government, the many in the party who are unimpressed with Ed Miliband would find ways of giving voice to their unimpressedness.  So long as Labour get most seats,  Ed Miliband is probably safe enough.  If, however, Labour fall behind the Conservatives in the seat count, there must be a significant chance that Ed Miliband would face a leadership challenge, even if Labour led the government.  I do expect Ed Miliband to stay on if Labour are in power.  But I don't see it as a certainty by any means.

Oh, and Nigel Farage better win his seat in Thanet South.  It's hard to see how he could remain leader of the party if he was not part of its Parliamentary representation.  Though Lord Farage has a certain ring to it, I suppose.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

My predictions for 2014: a retrospective and an exercise in humility

For the last few years I have made predictions for the year ahead.  I have done so not because I expect to be right but because I want a record of what seemed plausible at the start of the year and so that I can judge at the end of the year what was right and wrong and why.

Tomorrow I'll make my predictions for 2015, but first of all I need to look back over 2014.  I'm bracing myself.

So what did I predict for 2014?  I put my thoughts on politicalbetting here (near the very bottom of the thread):

For convenience I'll repeat them here


2014: coming to conclusions
2013 was a relatively quiet year for British politics. No big elections were planned and none came unexpectedly. The same cannot be said for 2014, where the EU elections assume an unusual importance in the minds of political obsessives and the interminable Scottish independence referendum reaches its denouement. And we draw ever closer to the general election scheduled for May 2015. By the end of the year, the likely result of that should be clear.

Where are we now?

To work out where we are going, we first of all need to work out where we are now. At the end of 2013, the economy looks in far better shape than even George Osborne would have dared to hope at the end of 2012. We've had a year of growth and if the economists are to be believed, we can expect better growth in 2014. This has no doubt contributed to the appreciable shrinking in Labour's lead over the last year and the appreciable improvement in the Government's ratings.

In the UK as a whole, no politician commands much respect. Nick Clegg remains deeply unpopular, while Ed Miliband is not faring much better. David Cameron performs better than both, but still has negative ratings. The public dislike both George Osborne and Ed Balls a lot. Alex Salmond does a bit better in Scotland, mind. Nigel Farage does better than the three main party leaders, but largely because he is still not that well-known by the public.

The public remain in a surly mood. In an important though misreported ICM poll, the great majority of the public professed themselves to be angry or bored with politics and politicians, with nearly half choosing anger as the dominant reaction.

The importance of this is that the public are not being led. So they are heading off in their own direction, with little leadership. They won't change their minds unless some event happens to change them. It's unlikely to be the words of a politician that they don't respect, unless that is someone who they were reluctantly thinking of voting for who says something to lose their vote. Ed Miliband, as leader of a party which outstrips his own popularity, and Nigel Farage, as leader of a party of protest, have particular need to be careful about what they say and do in 2014.

What's coming up in 2014?

It's impossible to know what is coming up with any certainty. For example, who would have thought at the beginning of the year that we would have a horticultural theme to our scandals, with both a Bloom and Flowers hitting the headlines? But we can make a stab at some things.

When the public aren't being effectively led by politicians, the economy will be disproportionately important. Is it going to do as well as expected? Personally, I have my doubts. But since I'm not an economist, I shall take my cue from the experts. If they're right, we can look forward to steady growth, at last exceeding the 2008 peak (a potentially important landmark). The deficit should continue to come down. Unemployment is expected to reduce – though with productivity at unexpectedly low levels at present, employers might instead address this first before recruiting. And earnings might - might - start outstripping inflation again.

If these things happen, you can expect George Osborne to make hay with this. It won't make the British public like him more – the public have already decided that they don't like him in the same way that they don't like Simon Cowell or Jimmy Carr. But that won't stop some of them grudgingly accepting that things might be getting better.

The result of the EU elections will set the tone for much of the rest of the year. Will UKIP remain a force to be reckoned with? Can the Conservatives secure their right flank? Can Labour get its vote out in a real election for once? Just how badly can the Lib Dems do? It's likely that all will have reasons to fret, almost regardless of the result.

We get two sporting events that might affect the politics of the nation. First, we get the World Cup. David Cameron and Alex Salmond will both be hoping for an England triumph. Neither is remotely likely to get their wish. Then (and with more plausible political consequences) we get the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Alex Salmond and the Yes campaign will be hoping for a well-run games to get the type of fillip that the Olympics gave the UK as a whole in 2012. If the games run into trouble, however, Scotland would visibly have failed on the international stage. The consequences for the Yes campaign would be dire.

It's going to be a year of anniversaries. Many have already noted that it will be 100 years from the outbreak of the Great War, and cynics have noted that we shall reach the 700 year anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn just before the Scottish independence referendum. An anniversary that has so far been less commented-upon is the 100th anniversary of the Government of Ireland Act. Ulster was on the brink of armed insurrection as a result, and it may well prove the launchpad for some fresh perspectives on unionism (both positive and negative) in the run-up to the Scottish referendum. At the very least, it might provoke some northern Irish unionists into discussing the impact of a hypothetical Yes vote on northern Ireland.

One wildcard: we may get the Chilcot report. That would almost certainly cause fireworks, but like a Catherine wheel these might spray out in all directions.

The future is unwritten, but I don't propose to sit on the fence. I shall put my tin hat on now, because a lot of people aren't going to like these.

1. UKIP will peak at the EU elections and then decline quite sharply in their polling

In many ways, UKIP were the story of 2013. Many political observers have forgotten just how recently they have shot to prominence. At the beginning of 2012, UKIP were going nowhere. Off the back of the omnishambles budget they built a support base of lower paid voters who felt abandoned by the main parties and who in turn rejected them. In 2013, they have built on this further.

But the party leader does not seem ready for the scrutiny that he is now going to get. The UKIP annual conference was derailed by Godfrey Bloom's gaffe and by Nigel Farage's panicky reaction to it. He reacted with a complete lack of humour to an ill-advised joke by Anna Soubry at his expense. Under a storm of protest from his support base, he partially retreated from an eye-catching policy in support of taking refugees from Syria to supporting only taking Christian refugees. He seems to make up policy on the hoof and to be unsteady under fire. Interestingly, Godfrey Bloom (a longstanding friend of his) has also made similar criticisms.

This is unlikely to impede UKIP's prospects for the EU elections, which the public by and large does not treat seriously. Few vote and many of those who do will do so without giving their choice much thought. UKIP may well finish top of the poll, propelled there on a wave of angry voters telling the main parties "up yours". Labour has struggled to convert its polling into success at the ballot box and there is no obvious reason why it should start outperforming expectations in 2014. The Conservatives lack a USP for the EU elections, though their voters do at least tend to turn up. I expect something close to a photo-finish between these three parties, and they could feature in any order.

But once the raison d'etre of the party, to cause trouble in the EU, has been fulfilled, it will struggle to find a reason to be more. While voters will cast protest votes, they will like to tell themselves that they are voting for a serious party. With a leader who simply isn't good enough, I expect that many of their current supporters will drift away.

2. Labour will be at best level pegging in the polls at the year end

It's the economy stupid. At present voters still don't feel the improvements in the economy and many still don't believe the economy has turned the corner. If the economy performs as we currently expect, this will change. Some voters will give the Government the credit and change their voting intention accordingly. Not many need to do this to bring the Conservatives back to parity. Don't be surprised if some of the UKIP supporters who came from Labour decide to take their allegiance to the Conservatives rather than to return to Labour, using UKIP as a conduit between the two main parties. But I expect most of any increase in Conservative support to come from "don't know".

I do not, however, expect Labour's vote share to decline all that much. With the Lib Dems in government and the Greens performing hopelessly, Labour will remain the repository for most of the progressive vote.

3. Lib Dem polling may pick up a bit, but it will still look dire at the end of the year

Some progressives may conclude that the performance of the economy vindicated the Lib Dems' decision to go into government with the Conservatives. This will be a niche segment and will not boost the Lib Dems' polling much.
4. We'll have another year of no major changes in political personnel...

This is a braver prediction than in previous years: if Nick Clegg is going to go before the next election, he will do so in 2014. He has the escape route of EU Commissioner if he wishes to take it or colleagues may seek to oust him before the 2015 election, which looks to be at best challenging for the Lib Dems. But a coup would be difficult - too many senior Lib Dems have been too complicit in the coalition to make it easy for them to participate. Nick Clegg has said that he is going to lead his party into the next election, and he's famously a man of his word. I believe him. I also expect the Lib Dems to see the coalition through to the end of the Parliament. Having got this far, there's no advantage for them in changing their minds.

David Cameron and Ed Miliband both look safe to the next election, excluding accidents. David Cameron doesn't like to reshuffle (it's too complicated in a coalition). Ed Miliband will probably stick with his present team as well.

5. ...except for Alex Salmond

After the result of the Scottish referendum, I don't see Alex Salmond carrying on. Unlike many politicians, he has a hinterland (he's already retired from politics once before) and after a once in a generation referendum, I can't see him wanting to stick around, because...

6. The Scottish independence referendum will be decisively lost

If votes were measured on intensity of feeling, the Yes campaign would win comfortably - its supporters are passionate to the point of monomania. But unless Alex Salmond can turn the referendum into a referendum on the Conservatives (something which he is now trying hard to do), it's hard to see how the Yes campaign can gather the support necessary to win. It is still floundering on the process questions. Until it has a cogent answer as to why Scots should take a leap in the dark, it will struggle. Since it hasn't found one in time for the White Paper, I expect it to lose and to lose convincingly this time.

That's not to say the No campaign has been much good. It has given no positive case for Britishness. But in the short term, spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt should be sufficient to see it home.


So how did I do?  In truth, not very well.  So this should be instructive.


I was correct that UKIP could win the Euro-elections and I was correct in expecting something close to a photo-finish between the three main parties.  But as for the rest, I could scarcely have been much wronger.  Far from fading after the Euros, UKIP finish the year stronger than ever and are enervating both main parties.  They now have Parliamentary representation and can reasonably hope to increase that in May.

Why was I wrong?  A few reasons.  First, I fell into the trap of thinking of the electorate as a single entity.  While many voters detest Nigel Farage, many other voters are either not bothered by his missteps or actively enjoy and identify with his image as a non-politician and his party's image as the naughty boys of politics.  Secondly, UKIP's fortunes were transformed by Douglas Carswell's defection.  If he and Mark Reckless had not defected to UKIP, it would be far from clear now that UKIP would have sustained the autumn momentum to stay in the public consciousness all the way through to May.  There is no chance of UKIP slipping from public view now.  Thirdly, both main parties but especially the Conservatives have chosen to respond to UKIP's rise by effectively admitting that UKIP is right - a strange way to persuade voters back.

Anyway, I got this seriously wrong. 

2. The main party polls

Labour remain slightly ahead of the Conservatives at the end of the year.  So I was wrong on this too.  And not only was I wrong on the headline, I was wrong on the detail too.  Far from only dropping a little, Labour dropped quite a lot, losing votes to both UKIP and the Greens.  But the Conservatives completely failed to recover in the polls, despite the economic upturn.  That is the single most surprising development in the polls for me over the last year, and is ominous for the blue team if they have eyes to see it.

3. The Lib Dems

Tick VG.  I was right on both the headline and the detail. 

4. Political personnel

Also tick VG.  OK, David Cameron had a reshuffle and Michael Gove was demoted, but I think I can give myself this one.

5. Alex Salmond

My best prediction.  Sometimes I get things right for essentially the right reason.  No matter that he seems to have changed his mind within a month, I'm giving myself this one.

6. The Scottish independence referendum

OK, I got the result right.  But I'm not giving myself this one.  I was expecting the margin to be substantially wider.  Why was I wrong?

I largely put this down to a very poor campaign by the No side.  At the end of last year I noted that it had given no positive case for Britishness.  I expected it to try to do so during 2014.  Its failure to do so was an affront to its cause.  Its victory in September may yet prove to be Pyrrhic as a result.


I got some stuff right, but to be honest I feel that I got the really important things wrong.  It's important for me to remember that the next time I put together what seems like a penetrating analysis of the shape of things to come and still more so when I start relying on my analysis to place bets.  Sometimes things turn out quite differently from how you expect.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Testing the boundaries (4): UKIP vs all-comers

As the final part in this series, I look now at UKIP's battles.  Although many kippers like to refer to LibLabCon as a single opponent, in fact its battles against each are a little different. 

I look at each in turn.


UKIP are in contention against the Conservatives in the following:

This table, as with the tables that follow below, is organised by the UKIP price of taking the constituency.  There is duplication between these tables because UKIP feature in many three and four way marginals.   Every seat where UKIP are priced at 16/1 or less is included.

For UKIP, this is the main event.  All five of the seats that they are favourites to take are currently Conservative-held and this list of targets is far longer than either of the other two battlegrounds.

If they are going to underperform in seat totals, by definition it must be in this battleground.  So we can consider each of these five seats one at a time.

Even in their bleakest moments, I very much doubt that UKIP fear losing Clacton.  Douglas Carswell appears to be a genuinely popular constituency MP and having retained a thumping majority at the by-election, he looks good value even at 1/10.

UKIP's next best hope is Boston & Skegness, where it is firm favourite following a Survation opinion poll putting them streets ahead.  The internal workings of that poll look a bit strange, but it would need to be very wrong indeed to justify betting against them. 

The other three seats in which UKIP are favourites are all triangular Conservative/Labour/UKIP battles: Thanet South, Thurrock and Great Yarmouth.  As we shall see, triangular battles are a feature of UKIP prospects.

Of these three, the Conservatives are UKIP's main rivals in Thanet South, Labour are UKIP's main rivals in Thurrock and in Great Yarmouth both main parties will regard themselves as in with a good chance.  There have been local opinion polls in all three (more than one in Thanet South and Great Yarmouth).  UKIP have been ahead in all three constituencies, though in the most recent poll in Thanet South the Conservatives had a small lead.

None of these seats are anything like certainties for UKIP.  Will tactical voting play a part?  In Thanet South, I expect the voting to be for or against Nigel Farage.  His national profile will generally be a plus, but there may be more voters than usual for UKIP who see this in personal terms and who wish to stop someone who inspires loathing in those that are not in the fan club.

I would not be betting on Nigel Farage at 8/13, which seems a bit too short to me.  I agree that he should be favourite, but given that he has at best a small lead and may be behind in the constituency at present, I would rate him only slightly better than evens.  If you can get on with BetVictor (I can't), you can back him at 4/5 to win a seat there.  That's a fair bet.  There looks to be a touch of value in the Conservatives at 15/8 and I've placed a small bet on this.  Note, with the BetVictor bet there is a small underround, so you should be betting on one or more of the main three parties.

Contrary to my original expectations, Thurrock has resolved itself into a two horse race between Labour and UKIP.  In such seats I expect to see UKIP having better luck getting tactical votes from the Conservatives than in seats where Labour are in third.  I like the 5/6 on UKIP with William Hill, but I'm already well-stocked up on UKIP in this seat.  Is the 9/4 on Labour also value?  The price looks about right to me.  I'm not yet ready to hedge though.

Great Yarmouth is a hard seat to call.  In an early example of what has become a trend, UKIP had an entirely avoidable selection scandal in this seat, picking a candidate who was subsequently charged with electoral fraud.  They now have a new candidate, Alan Grey, who looks more suitable.  However, their status as favourites is a bit odd, given that there have been three polls in the constituency and they haven't been ahead in any of them.  It is obviously going to be a confused seat, but if you asked me to price it, I'd suggest roughly 7/4 Labour, 2/1 the Conservatives and 9/4 UKIP, though I wouldn't quibble if you shifted the Conservatives and Labour around.  Anyway, either way Labour look like value and I'm on.

If UKIP are going to exceed expectations against the Conservatives, where might they do it?  It is apparent from the many constituency polls conducted where UKIP are in the mix that their performance varies very substantially from seat to seat.  It is curious that we have not had a constituency poll in Castle Point, where UKIP have a track record, have the support of very well-organised local independents and have a lively local candidate.  Without further information 11/8 is short enough.

We cannot complain about not having enough polls in Rochester & Strood.  The final poll in the by-election from Lord Ashcroft suggested that UKIP would win the by-election but lose at the general election.  This has been taken seriously by punters, with the result that UKIP are 13/8 to take a seat that they already hold.  I am already backing UKIP in this seat, but regard the 13/8 as a good price, given that Mark Reckless can use the remaining period of the Parliament to cement his incumbency with UKIP.  Opinion polls are snapshots not predictions, and UKIP gaining the seat alters the dynamics.

As I noted in the summer, UKIP stand a much better chance of getting to 35% and winning a three way marginal than they do of getting to 45% and winning a two way marginal.  In the absence of very specific on the ground information, I therefore ignore all those seats where UKIP are 16/1 facing an incumbent at 1/100.  UKIP might win such a seat, but I have no way of knowing where they're seriously in with a shot.

I prefer looking at seats where UKIP have multiple serious opponents.  Of the short-priced seats, the UKIP candidate in Dover has some brio and faces a Conservative opponent who has not handled UKIP astutely - I'm already on this seat though.  I backed UKIP at 25/1 in Wyre Forest (and NHS Action at 5/1), but I have concerns about Lord Ashcroft's poll in this seat, which prompted respondents for UKIP but not for NHA Action.  Since their candidate came second in 2010 and was the incumbent MP till then, that seems remiss.  The 1/2 on the Conservatives is now probably good value, given that NHA Action may well attract some of the protest vote that would otherwise have gone to UKIP.  I'm humming and hawing about this, but haven't placed it yet.

Among the longer shots, I have put a small amount on UKIP in Plymouth Sutton & Devonport at 16/1.  When Lord Ashcroft polled this seat in July, UKIP were in third and well behind Labour in first.  Since then, however, UKIP have picked up relative to Labour and this looks like the sort of seat where UKIP might have picked up support.  I note that UKIP are breathing hard down Labour's neck in Plymouth Moor View and I doubt this effect stopped at the constituency boundary.

For the same reason I've put a small amount on UKIP in Dudley South at 6/1.


On to the battle with Labour:

As I have already noted, there's a heavy overlap between this and the last list because of the number of triangular fights.  Because of the lower target percentage, these three way fights look more promising seats to me in general.  But let's now focus on the Labour-held seats in particular.

Since UKIP are not currently favourites to win any of these seats, they can only exceed expectations fighting against Labour.  And unusually, it seems to me that the markets are underestimating UKIP's chances.  Until recently, there was no real evidence that UKIP was making any significant inroad into Labour territory.  But that changed before Christmas when we got Lord Ashcroft's polling in four Labour-held UKIP targets:

In all four seats UKIP was even or ahead in the general polling question, and even when respondents were prompted to think of their own constituencies, UKIP were only a short neck behind in all four.  Curiously, prompting respondents to think of their own constituencies seems to have provoked some Conservative supporters to switch to Labour - evidence of some tactical voting?  But Conservative voters in these seats are a little less inclined to rule out voting for UKIP than for Labour.  Anyway, all four of these seats look tight and if UKIP are able to get more Conservatives to lend them their votes, they may creep over the line.  I'm already on the kippers in Rother Valley and I've added Dudley North and Plymouth Moor View to the roster.

Are there any other similar seats where UKIP may be worth a flutter?  I've put a small sum on UKIP in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Walsall North.  Both of these seats are also Labour-held with a moderate Conservative showing in 2010. 

The Lib Dems

Here are the seats where UKIP are head to head with the Lib Dems:

And what stands out is that there isn't really a separate UKIP-Lib Dem battleground.  Every seat except three on this list is on the Conservative battleground list, and the other three (Redcar, Ashfield and Rochdale) are on the Labour list.

That is good news when looking for UKIP bets, because as I have previously noted, triangles equal a better chance of power.  Some seats need close attention.  Lord Ashcroft and Survation have each conducted a poll in Camborne & Redruth.  Lord Ashcroft's poll in June showed UKIP in second place behind the Conservatives, while Survation's more recent poll in November shows UKIP in the lead.  The UKIP candidate's website suggests that he is rough around the edges:

"Robert believes our relationship with the European Union was based on trickery. The people were tricked in 1972 and are still being conned by both Conservatives and Labour."

However, I'm not too concerned about the quality of the candidate - UKIP voters are more interested in the feeling of the party rather than any specifics, it seems.  3/1 seems a fair price, even allowing for the fact that Survation are consistently the most UKIP-friendly of the pollsters.  I've made a small bet on UKIP in this seat.

Similarly, UKIP have been close enough to the lead in two different polls from Lord Ashcroft in St Austell & Newquay to make the 9/2 on them look worthwhile.

Finally, I found this a useful resource and you might too - details of UKIP's candidates in many of their most promising seats:

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Testing the boundaries (3): the Lib Dems vs all comers

My first post in April was about the Lib Dems' prospects and I have returned to the case regularly. It's time to take another look, this time considering where value bets might lie if the Lib Dems overachieve or underachieve against any particular batch of opponents.

Let's have a look at the Lib Dem seats by reference to different opponents: first, against the nationalists, then Labour and finally the Conservatives.  The three battles are different, but the contours of the battle in each case are similar.  In each case the Lib Dems will be fighting off a threat based on national politics by appealing to the public using the virtues of the local candidate.  This means that if the Lib Dems do adequately, results will vary considerably depending on the perceptions in each seat of the virtues of the local candidate, but if the Lib Dems crash and burn, the national picture will be a much more reliable predictor of events.

Incumbency is critical.  Here is a slightly out-of-date list of the Lib Dem MPs and their plans for 2015:

Jeremy Browne subsequently decided to stand down in October 2014 and Mike Hancock is not being reselected for Portsmouth South.

The nationalist challenge

Here are the seats where the Lib Dems are facing a serious nationalist challenge:

This table, as with the tables that follow below, is organised by the Lib Dem price of taking the constituency.  There is some duplication between these tables because the Lib Dems feature in a few three and four way marginals.   Every seat where the Lib Dems are priced at 16/1 or less is included.

Far more than Labour, the betting public are convinced that the Lib Dems are going to be hammered by the surge in SNP support.  They are favourites to retain only four of the twelve seats that they hold where the SNP or Plaid Cymru are in the running, and shorter than 2/1 in only seven of these seats.  On current polling, this is actually kind to the Lib Dems: in the most recent YouGov poll in Scotland, the Lib Dems, who took 19% of the vote in 2010, are polling 4% (this is not particularly out of line with other Scottish polls) and the SNP have taken 49% of the 2010 Lib Dem vote: 

The most recent Welsh opinion poll has the Lib Dems on 5% (down from 20% in 2010):

We have so far seen no constituency polls in any of these seats since the Scottish referendum, so we must use such information as we have.  If the polls do not improve, the Lib Dems should actually be pleased to take as many as four seats from this list. 

If the polls are broadly right, is there potential value betting against the Lib Dems?  Earlier in the year I pooh-poohed the idea that the SNP might be as short as 10/1 to oust Charles Kennedy.  The same bet is now available at 3/1.  I still find this hard to credit (though I accept that it is not a 10/1 shot now).  The evens on the SNP in Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross is, however, one that I can't look past. 

While Plaid Cymru are not soaring in the polls like the SNP, the Lib Dems are apparently cratering in Wales as well as Scotland.  The 7/4 on Plaid Cymru may be worth a flutter.  Mark Williams built up a big majority in 2010 and clearly has a strong personal following, but Plaid Cymru held the seat from 1992 to 2005 and have held the Welsh Assembly constituency since the Assembly's inception.  On the assumption that the Lib Dems will fall back in Ceredigion to some extent as elsewhere in Wales, Plaid Cymru will be the natural repository for those votes.  I've put a little on this, but I'm not betting the house.

If, conversely, the Lib Dems are going to outperform, where might that be?  As I noted previously, their good results will be very seat-specific.  Incumbency is going to be hugely important, so I would not be looking for outperformance in either Gordon or Fife North East, where there will be new candidates.  Could Michael Crockart hold Edinburgh West?  He's a first termer, so he should get some form of incumbency boost, and he may act as the rallying point for Conservatives or unionist Labour supporters who want to stop the SNP.  It's a seat that the Lib Dems have held since 1997 and in 2005 they held it with 50% of the vote.  It seems unlikely that they can hold on but it's a 6/1 shot.  I've put a small amount on this too.

In general though, I'd rather be backing the SNP than the Lib Dems in these seats.

The Labour challenge

Here are the seats where Labour are challenging the Lib Dems:

The Lib Dems' battle against Labour doesn't look a happy story either.  They are favourites to win only four of these seats and priced below 2/1 in only seven seats.  They are expected to get a hammering from Labour. 

If you take the view that the national picture is of most relevance in the Lib Dem battle against Labour, there isn't a seat on this list which is safe for the Lib Dems.  Personally, I expect Nick Clegg to hold Sheffield Hallam and Greg Mulholland to hold Leeds North West, possibly with some tactical Conservative support in each case. 

There have been constituency polls in some of these seats.  Lord Ashcroft has conducted polls in Sheffield Hallam, Birmingham Yardley, Burnley, Bermondsey & Old Southwark, Cambridge, Cardiff Central, Hornsey & Wood Green, Redcar, Bradford East, Brent Central, Manchester Withington and Norwich South.  ICM have also conducted constituency polls in Cambridge, Redcar and Sheffield Hallam - though the methodology of these has been the subject of much public debate, given that they were apparently commissioned with a view to pushing Vince Cable's chances of taking over from Nick Clegg as party leader.

By and large, these constituency polls back up the markets' perceptions of this battleground.  The Lib Dems were recorded as leading only in Sheffield Hallam, Birmingham Yardley and Bermondsey & Old Southwark, and in none of these by any great margin.  In many of the seats, Labour were apparently out of sight of the Lib Dems.

Given the uncertainties of constituency polls, if you are looking for Labour bets, you might take the view that the 7/4 on Labour in Bermondsey & Old Southwark is a decent bet - Labour were only behind by 1% in this poll.  Certainly it looks better value than the evens on Labour in Cambridge, where Labour were only ahead by 1%.   

The seats on this list where Labour are short-priced to win are also well worth considering.  The constituency polling suggests that the 1/5 on Labour in Bradford East, the 1/5 on Labour in Redcar and the 1/6 on Labour in Burnley is safe even if the Lib Dems revive substantially.  The 1/3 on Labour in Hornsey & Wood Green looks very respectable, given that it recorded a double digit lead even after respondents were prompted to think about their constituency.

One thing worth noting about both Bermondsey & Old Southwark and Hornsey & Wood Green is that Labour seem to be doing disproportionately well in London against the Conservatives, and there seems no reason to believe that a strong Labour performance should stop at the constituency boundaries with Lib Dem held seats.

On the other side of the fence, I would take more notice of constituency polls as they relate to the Lib Dems than anywhere else, in particular paying attention to those occasions where the Lib Dems have a sharp increase in support when voters are prompted to think of the candidates in their own constituency.  The 10/11 on the Lib Dems in Birmingham Yardley looks good.  As I have previously noted, both constituency polls in Cambridge seem to have different problems and I'm on the 5/4 for the Lib Dems to take this seat.   While we haven't had a constituency poll in Bristol West, the 8/13 looks decent value for the Lib Dems to hold a seat with a large majority.

There is absolutely nothing in the constituency polling to suggest that the Lib Dems are going to salvage any of the seats on this list where they're longer priced. 

The Conservative challenge

Finally, the seats where they face the Conservatives:

At last the Lib Dems have grounds to hope.  They are favourites in 24 of these seats and joint favourites in a 25th.  They are shorter priced than 2/1 in 31 seats on this list.

These odds are broadly backed up by the numerous constituency polls in such seats that Lord Ashcroft has conducted.  They can be found here:

What is immediately apparent is that the Lib Dems' performance is a long way from uniform.  Sutton & Cheam and Carshalton & Wallington are swinging sharply to the Lib Dems.  Meanwhile, Somerton & Frome and Portsmouth South are showing large swings to the Conservatives.  The individual polls may err, but the overall picture of local variation is almost certainly correct.

I tentatively draw the conclusion that as far as their battles with the nationalists (and particularly the SNP) and Labour are concerned, the Lib Dems may well have crossed the event horizon and local reputations are probably not going to be enough to save MPs' skins in general, but that the Lib Dems are keeping their heads above water sufficiently in their national battle with the Conservatives that assiduous MPs can survive.

Once again, we should start by thinking about incumbency.  Where MPs are stepping down, the Lib Dems are unlikely to inherit the seat unless the majorities are huge.  It is no coincidence that both Somerton & Frome and Portsmouth South have retiring MPs.  We also have constituency polls for Berwick-upon-Tweed and Mid-Dorset & North Poole, where the Conservatives are also on course to win, though with less spectacular swings.

Incumbents are also standing down in Taunton Deane and Bath.  The majority in Bath would survive a swing of the kind being recorded in Somerton & Frome and Portsmouth South, so the 5/1 on offer there is probably not very good value.  The constituency poll in Taunton Deane (which already showed the Conservatives in the lead) predated Jeremy Browne's announcement that he was standing down, so the 8/13 on the Conservatives in that seat represents excellent value.  I'm already on the Conservatives in Portsmouth South and the 2/5 on the Conservatives in Somerton & Frome looks well worth it, given the size of the Conservative lead over the Lib Dems in the constituency poll.  Even allowing for the vagaries of constituency polls, this would need to be very wrong for 2/5 to be a poor price.

I pay particular regard to the constituencies where in Lord Ashcroft's polls he finds a particularly high increase in Lib Dem support when respondents are asked to focus on their own constituency as compared with the general voting question.  That rise is 15% or more in the following constituencies: Carshalton & Wallington, Cheltenham, Colchester, Eastbourne, Eastleigh, Kingston & Surbiton, Southport, Sutton & Cheam and Thornbury & Yate.  I infer that those constituencies have MPs who are particularly well-regarded locally.  I would not bet against them holding their seats and I would back them where the prices are attractive.  The 4/5 on the Lib Dems in Sutton & Cheam with William Hill is very good - take it.  Lord Ashcroft has conducted two polls in this seat and in both the Lib Dems have a double digit lead.  This should be somewhere around 2/5 in my book.  I have also backed the Lib Dems in Eastbourne at 4/7.

What of longer shots?  With the exception of Watford, polling in all Conservative-held seats looks dismal for the Lib Dems.  The 1/5 on the Conservatives in Newton Abbot is probably good value.

One seat which is worth keeping an eye on is Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk.  North of the border, the SNP have taken a big bite out of the Lib Dems' support.  The SNP would be doing sensationally well if they were to take a border seat, given how hostile to independence this region was, but that bite may be sufficient to let the Conservatives win even if they make no further progress.  Take the 11/10 on them to take this seat.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Testing the boundaries (2): Labour vs the SNP

One of the huge unknowns for 2015 is how the post-referendum fall-out will translate into votes in Scotland. The betting markets have been chaotic. Chaos is potentially very lucrative - or very expensive. But the time has come to take a position on this. 

I've looked at the Scottish seats several times over the last few months.  The battleground is as follows. The swings required for substantial SNP success are heroic. A 10% swing to Labour across the whole of the UK would give them a landslide majority. A 10% swing for the SNP would give it five seats.

But the SNP are currently polling well ahead of that level.  The most recent YouGov Scotland poll registers a 21% swing from Labour to the SNP.  So the question is: can they maintain this or will the balloon deflate?

So where are we now?

Ground game

Historically, Scottish Labour has been dominant in its ground game.  No longer.  The SNP has at a conservative estimate seven times as many members as Scottish Labour and possibly more than ten times as many members - Scottish Labour is cagey about its membership, to the point of not releasing absolute numbers of votes in the recent leadership contest:

Many of these new SNP members will be raw recruits with no political experience and some will no doubt be uninterested in the tedium of treading the pavements rather than waving saltires, but even making full allowance for this, the SNP will have far more people power than Scottish Labour.  So far, the enthusiasm seems undimmed, as shown by this recent account from a Labour supporter:

" Yesterday the SNP had 12,000 people pay to attend a rally, and a day later in the same city, Labour could barely scrape triple figures, for free, for a leadership contest. That’s 1/120th of the size of the SNP gathering, or 1/40th of the size of the Radical Independence Coalition event held the same weekend."

This in-built advantage for the SNP is not going to change over the next five months.

Meanwhile, the SNP dominated the Yes campaign and many of its members will have intimate knowledge of who voted for independence.  The No campaign was more pluralistic, which means that Scottish Labour will not have quite such good access to the data from the referendum. 

Party leaders

Both the SNP and Labour have new leaders in Scotland, and both have to endure the shadow of others in their party looming over them.  Alex Salmond stood down as leader in the wake of the referendum result, but even before his resignation took effect, he seemed to repent of his decision and is now going to run for a Westminster seat.  Nicola Sturgeon seems to have a good working relationship with Alex Salmond, but sooner or later there will come a question on which she disagrees with him.  Right now many are still behaving as if Alex Salmond is still leader.  Is Nicola Sturgeon going to look like she has all the authority that President Medvedev had?  It's hard enough following in the footsteps of a hugely popular party leader, especially if you are personally close to him, without having to deal with him remaining ever-present.

This is unlikely to be a problem before the May election, but it is quite possibly going to be important not that long after.  Who will be in charge of tactics and strategy for the SNP in a hung Parliament?  This relationship is one to watch.

Scottish Labour have avoided the worst outcomes from their leadership contest.  In Jim Murphy they have by far the most competent of the three leadership candidates available and he won by a sufficiently wide margin to silence his party opponents.  Neither of these outcomes was preordained.  A complete Scottish Labour meltdown looks markedly less likely as a result.

But it's hardly as though Scottish Labour are marching into sunlit uplands.  The Scots are notably contemptuous of Ed Miliband: he has worse ratings in Scotland for doing his job than David Cameron or even Nigel Farage:

Ominously, only a third of Scottish Labour's current support thought that Ed Miliband was doing the best job.  And of the Holyrood 2011 Labour support, itself the cadre of Labour supporters from an appalling result for Labour, more people thought that Nicola Sturgeon was doing the best job than Ed Miliband. 

Jim Murphy is going to have to inspire the Scottish electorate without any confidence that he will be helped by his grand supremo and with the distinct possibility that he might find himself sabotaged from above at some point.

The shape of Scottish politics

At the last two Holyrood elections, the SNP has come out on top - narrowly in 2007 and by a landslide in 2011.  But in the last two Westminster elections, Labour has hoovered up almost all the Scottish seats, with the SNP trailing far behind in their wake.  Evidently Scottish voters understand the different systems and different purposes of the two different sets of elections.  If 2015 ran true to form, we could expect to see Labour do much better than current polls suggest.

There are, however, strong reasons to believe that 2015 will not follow the same pattern. Scottish politics at the end of 2014 remains dominated by the referendum vote.  Scotland's place in the union is the chief subject for discussion.  While the subject remains that of Scottish identity politics, Labour is in trouble.  In that YouGov poll, 39% of 2010 Labour voters are now recorded as supporting the SNP (though that's not as bad as for the Lib Dems, where 49% of 2010 Lib Dem voters are recorded as supporting the SNP).

This is very much to the SNP's liking, but by electing Jim Murphy as leader of Scottish Labour, Labour has chosen a leader who was one of the main faces of unionism during the referendum campaign. Merely by being who he is, it is going to be hard for Jim Murphy to move the topic of conversation.

There was talk in the wake of the referendum of the independence campaigners standing for Westminster under a unified Yes alliance.  That idea was formally adopted by the SNP, but seems to be being smothered under the guise of co-opting the Yes movement for the SNP, with the aim of getting some prominent independents to stand under this banner also.  This would exclude the Greens and the SSP.  Since these two parties together tally something like a 5% vote share in Scotland, that makes the SNP's task of taking seats that bit harder.  But that's the decision that Nicola Sturgeon seems to have taken.

The dangers of working off uniform national swing

Scottish politics has been upended since 2010 by three large polling movements.  The Lib Dems have dropped from 19% to roughly 5% in the polls.  Labour have dropped from 42% to 25% or so in the polls.  And the SNP have risen from 20% to 45% or more in the polls.  These are enormous movements.

Uniform national swing is designed for small swings.  In the case of the Lib Dems' drop, it simply breaks down mathematically, as I explained here:


The same problem arises to a lesser extent with Labour.

Uniform national swing can be made to work for large rises in the polls (though that would disregard the fact that a fair bit of the SNP's rise has come from the Lib Dems).  But there is an obvious objection to using it here, because we already know that the SNP's rise has been driven by something that we know was not geographically uniform: enthusiasm for Scottish independence.

As I have previously noted, there is something like an inverse relationship between past SNP Westminster success and support for Scottish independence in the referendum:

Uniform national swing is most unlikely to help us judge what seats are going to fall in practice.

I am not the only one to have noticed this disparity.  Stephen Bush of the Telegraph has put together a model for trying to work out which seats will fall where:

While the model is not fully explained and the workings are not fully clear, I like the thrust of what he is trying to do.  I regard its stated assumptions as pretty friendly to Labour, but even so it would see 17 Labour seats fall to the SNP with a further seven in serious jeopardy:

"All in all, the following seats would fall to the SNP: Aberdeen North, Aberdeen South, Dundee West, Dunfermline & West Fife, Edinburgh East, Edinburgh North & Leith, Edinburgh South, Falkirk, Glasgow Central, Glasgow North, Inverclyde, Kilmarnock and Loudoun, Livingston, Linlithgow & East Falkirk, Midlothian, North Ayrshire & Arran and Ochil & South Perthshire.

The following seats would be held by fewer than 1,000 votes: Airdrie & Shotts, Ayr Carrick & Cumnock, Cumbernauld, East Kilbride, Glasgow East, Lanark & Hamilton East, and Stirling."

How will the rest of the run-up to the election pan out?

It's time to review where we are.  We now know how both Labour and the SNP are going to be led into the general election in May.  Political discourse is dominated by the question of Scotland's place in the UK and there is no sign that is going to change.  Jim Murphy has a Herculean job ahead of him to change that, and while he's capable, there's only so much that one man can do.  We can expect him to steady the ship, but he is not well-placed to appeal to the voters who have left Labour for the SNP.

Ed Miliband does not seem to appeal at all to Scots, so I expect the SNP to have a substantial lead over Labour in Scotland at the next election unless the SNP mess things up.  A self-inflicted SNP defeat, however, is not a trivial possibility, given the hubris floating around the nationalist movement: some of their post-referendum defeat rallies have come perilously close to The Triumph Of The Won't.

In the wake of the referendum, I expect turn-out to be higher than at previous general elections, as Scots have rediscovered their taste for democracy.  Unionists are quieter than nationalists, but they trooped out in very high numbers to defeat the referendum.  Equally, the nationalists did well to get many previous non-voters to vote Yes in the referendum and with knowledge of who these people are and with the foot soldiers available for a big ground game, I expect them to get a lot of them to vote again next May.

The betting markets

Let's have a look at the Labour seats that the SNP are competing for as they stand now:

These are all the Scottish Labour seats ranked in order of the current prices on the SNP taking them.

Ladbrokes price the SNP as favourites to get most seats in Scotland at 8/15, and Labour at 11/8.  However, when you look at the individual constituency markets, the SNP are favourites to win only 16 of the 59 Scottish seats (and only three Labour-held seats), and  they will probably need at least 25 to take most seats.  Both Paddy Power and Ladbrokes have set an over/under market on SNP seats at 24.5, priced at 5/6 each side of the line.  There must be value here somewhere, so where is it?

Should I be betting now at all?

Much depends on how confident I am in my judgements as to what is going on.  In truth, not very, but the jelly does seem to be setting.

We are sure to get some Scottish constituency polls at some point from Lord Ashcroft.  At that point, all the value will go out of those constituencies in minutes.  And those polls will be snapshots not predictions, so they won't actually tell us how susceptible the Scottish public will be to the new Scottish Labour leader by the time of the general election.

Thanks to constituency bets placed before the referendum and since, I'm sitting on a nice notional profit already.  I could just sit on that, or if I was cautious, I could close it out.

But I'm greedy.  I think the constituency markets still substantially underrate the SNP's chances.  The world has changed after the referendum and I see no reason to think that it is going to change back any time soon.  The 8/15 on the SNP getting most seats looks about right to me.  So that means that the constituency markets have continuing value.  I'm going to increase my bets on the SNP.

How am I going to choose constituencies?

Given the conclusions I have reached, the first thing to do is not to take the 2010 results too seriously.  Roll up that electoral map of Scotland; it will not be wanted these ten years.  If I am right, we have new electoral coalitions constructed and they will not be quickly broken down.  So those apparently rock-crushing majorities for Labour are looking very vulnerable in reality.

How to locate the SNP's best prospects?  The Stephen Bush article is worth a lot of attention.  You could do a lot worse than putting stakes on a selection of those 17 seats that he has identified.  They're almost all odds against at present.  In my view, the SNP should be odds on in all of them.

One thing to look carefully at is the past share of the vote held by the Lib Dems.  In all post-referendum polls, at least a third of the Lib Dem vote has been recorded as going to the SNP and in the most recent YouGov poll just under half has made that journey.  That has barely been noted, but a third of the 2010 Lib Dem vote is over 6% of the whole electorate and half is just shy of 10% of the whole electorate.  This is a big chunk of the SNP's new coalition.  So seats with big Lib Dem presences in 2010 are well worth additional consideration.

I've chosen the following seats for an additional punt:
  • Glasgow North, which is both in Glasgow (where Yes was victorious) and has a substantial 2010 Lib Dem vote.  
  • Glasgow Central - it doesn't have the Lib Dem vote but it is in Glasgow.
  • Linlithgow & Falkirk East and Kilmarnock & Loudoun, in each of which the SNP already had a quarter of the vote in 2010, giving them a substantial base to build on
  • Aberdeen South.  Aberdeen was an area which broke 60:40 for No, so it's not immediately the SNP's most promising area.  But Aberdeen South had a reasonable 2010 vote for both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, and the SNP can hope to take a large part of the former and that the latter are unlikely to be willing to vote tactically for Labour.  Something close to 40% of the vote might well be enough for the SNP to take the seat.
I've put most on Glasgow North and least on Aberdeen South.  But there is quite a bit of guesswork in this.

What if I'm wrong about Labour's chances?  Are there any bargains anywhere on this table?  In short, I don't think so.  The bet to make if you think the SNP are going to fizzle is the 11/8 on Labour most Scottish seats.  But that's an awful lot of faith to be putting in the abilities of Jim Murphy.