Friday, 31 October 2014

The Labour battleground in October 2014

Over the months I have looked a few times at the individual constituency betting odds on party lines, ranking the seats in order of the odds on a given party taking that seat.  I last did this in a comprehensive manner in June, but a lot has happened since.  It's time to do so again.

The idea behind this is not immediately obvious to everyone, so new readers may want to start here:

The central point from that post is that such a table assumes that in aggregate the constituency odds are our best estimate of what's going on, while noting that there may be individual anomalies (more commonly known as betting opportunities). It also makes the heroic assumption that the individual constituency odds - for Labour and the Conservatives at least - are perfectly correlated contingencies (which of course they are not) to establish a handy tool for judging the chances of success for each of the main parties overall. The general idea is that looking exclusively at marginality takes insufficient account of the different nature of the seats (who's second, is there a relevant third player, where is the seat). The constituency odds factor those matters in to the best judgement of bookies and punters. By arranging constituencies by order of odds rather than majority, we can see how many seats gamblers expect the parties to take - or what the odds are that each party will take a given number of seats.

So, here's the table as of this morning:

I've included every seat where Labour are priced between 1/16 and 16/1.  These prices are up to date so far as possible (subject to the inevitable transcription errors etc) as of first thing this morning.  Note that some Scottish constituency markets have been taken down at present, so the prices I have used are those that were in place yesterday morning.

If they take every seat up to and including their most vulnerable seat of Falkirk, they will take a further 49 seats, taking them to the Conservatives' current tally of 307 seats.  5/6, the price on Labour for Falkirk, is sometimes referred to as the bookies' evens (reflecting their need to build in a margin to make a profit), so it seems that the current central expected point for Labour is to step into the position the Conservatives are currently in.

That's neat, but let's look at a potentially financially remunerative comparison.  For an overall majority, Labour would need 326 seats.  The 326th seat is Vale of Glamorgan, which Labour are priced at 11/8.  As of this morning, you can get 11/4 with Bet365 on the proposition that Labour will get an overall majority and 5/2 with Ladbrokes.  That means one of two things.  Either the bookies' prices on the constituencies are ridiculously mean or the impact of how Labour will perform in individual constituencies has not been properly factored into the overall markets.  The two are not mutually exclusive, of course.

It's less clear how many seats would be required for Labour to have most seats.  They would take 300 seats if they took all seats in order of the odds quoted up to and including East Dunbartonshire, which is priced at 4/6.  290 seats would be theirs if they stopped at Nuneaton, which is a 1/2 shot.  Up to and including Carlisle only would bring Labour 280 seats, and Carlisle is priced at 2/5.  As of this morning, you can get 5/6 with both Ladbrokes and Bet365 on Labour taking most seats.  So once again, the most seats market offers far better value than the individual constituency markets if you are looking to back Labour.

I last looked at the Labour position in June here:

You will see that the prices in the constituency markets around the point where Labour would get an overall majority have barely flickered - 5/4 then and 11/8 now (indeed the 325th seat now is Portsmouth North which was previously the 326th seat but is still priced at 5/4 for Labour).  Curiously, however, Labour have drifted a little more in the band of seats where they would be potentially securing most seats.  They still remain good odds-on favourites in that band of seats, but not quite as good as they were in the early summer.  Yet at the same time, the market price on most seats has shortened a bit.  Figure that out.

You should consider closely whether to back the 5/6 on Labour most seats.  Whether or not you think it will happen, the Conservative alternative can be backed at more tasty prices, giving quasi-arbs.  I'll look at this again tomorrow.

Why might you not take this bet?  Much depends on what view you take of what is happening in Scotland.  Two polls in a row have suggested that the SNP now have a lead over Labour that is either big or epic, depending on whether you believe YouGov or IPSOS Mori.  If this was replicated at the next election, Labour would lose 30 seats or more.  Yet in the seats markets at present, only three Scottish seats held by Labour are priced at longer than 2/5 (the SNP constituency prices have been shortening a lot recently, as we'll see early next week, but not to the point of affecting the dynamics of pricing Labour most seats or overall majority yet - this is likely to change sooner rather than later). 

It's hard to know how to factor this in (shadsy at Ladbrokes politics tweeted yesterday that he had no idea what to do about the IPSOS Mori poll, and I have every sympathy with him on this).  This may be a particular spasm in response to Scottish Labour's obvious current problems and their new leader may be able to turn things around so that they suffer no significant seat losses.  Or things might get worse for Scottish Labour.  It's just not clear yet.

Right now, I'm inclined to strip out the Scottish seats from the table, since they aren't telling us much that is meaningful given how fast the politics of Scotland are moving at present, and work on the basis that Labour are going to lose quite a few seats in Scotland to the SNP.  You've got to respect two separate polls showing large leads for the SNP.  To be conservative on current information, let's say 15.  That makes Labour's task on that front that bit harder, though since those aren't seats lost to the Conservatives, things could be worse for Labour.

That would mean that the 326th seat would in fact be Peterborough, with Labour priced at 2/1.  The 300th seat would be Elmet & Rothwell, where Labour are at 5/4.  The 290th seat would be Worcester, where Labour are at 8/11.  And the 280th seat would be Erewash, where Labour are priced at 1/2. 

If Labour lose 15 seats to the SNP, I expect that Labour will need somewhere in the 280s or low 290s to secure most seats.  So I would compare the 8/11 for Labour in Worcester with the 5/6 that you can get on Labour most seats with Bet365 and Ladbrokes.  The latter still looks like a relatively sound bet even with this type of adjustment to the table.  For it to look dubious, you need to assume that the SNP are going to make still greater inroads.

It's also worth noting that punters believe that UKIP have so far have not really harmed Labour's chances at all.  UKIP may look like stealing Labour's lunch in a few Conservative-held seats that Labour would have been hoping to take, but it's only a handful.  Meanwhile, the only Labour-held seats which are currently seen as seriously at risk of being lost as a result of UKIP's intervention are Rotherham, Walsall North and Great Grimsby.

Given this imbalance between the constituency markets and the most seats and overall majority markets, it should be unsurprising that Labour generally look relatively bad value in the constituency markets.  The best value is in some of the short priced seats, but those can wait till closer to the election.  And in the meantime, the strategy remains to prefer to back Labour in the most seats market.

Tomorrow I shall look at the markets from the Conservatives' perspective. 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Environmentally unfriendly: who loses from an increase in the Green vote?

I last wrote about the Greens' prospects of taking more seats at the next election. My conclusion was  that  in general those prospects were ethereal. For more details, see here:

But the Greens are currently recording poll ratings well in excess of their vote share at the last election and just as importantly are standing in many more constituencies. At the Green Party conference, their leader Natalie Bennett committed to having Green candidates in at least 75% of constituencies (that's in the region of 500 seats), up from 310 at the last election.

At the last general election, the Greens took 0.9% of the national vote share but on that reduced number of seats fought.  Presumably they stood in what they considered to be their better seats, so we cannot simply scale that up to get a full notional national vote share.  On a wholly unscientific basis (psephologists, look away now), I'm going to work on a notional national vote share of 1.5% at the last election.

Right now, the Greens are polling rather better than that.  As of today's date, the UK Polling Report average is 4% and they have polled as high as 8% in one poll in recent days.  It's worth noting that most pollsters do not immediately prompt for the Greens.

Even at 4%, we can expect the Greens to have an increased impact on results, even where they come nowhere near taking the seat.  At 8%, their impact would be substantial.  So what are the seats where their influence will be felt most and who will it affect?

This is one of those occasions where I can be lazy (I always enjoy those), because the bulk of the work has already been done for me by Ian Warren of Election Data:

The key passage is as follows:

"My analysis has shown that the following demographic groups voted for the Greens in 2014:
  • Well educated singles living in purpose built flats
  • City dwellers owning houses in older neighbourhoods
  • Singles and sharers occupying converted Victorian houses
  • Young professional families settling in better quality older terraces
  • Diverse communities of well-educated singles living in smart, small flats
  • Owners in smart purpose built flats in prestige locations, many newly built
  • Students and other transient singles in multi-let houses
  • Young renters in flats with a cosmopolitan mix"
Wildly simplifying, I interpret that to mean in the main students and right-on urban dwelling professionals.  I hope Mr Warren will forgive that simplification.  

If the Greens aren't going to win many new seats, whose support are they eating into and whose chances are diminished as a result?  These are two different questions.

It is my assumption that the Greens pull their voters from the pool of voters who in the broadest terms could be labelled progressive, and who at various times in the past would have considered voting for the Lib Dems or Labour (or in Scotland the SNP).

Up to this point in the Parliament, these voters in England and Wales had looked like coalescing primarily around Labour, often having previously voted in 2005 and 2010 for the Lib Dems.  Labour may not be losing voters from 2010, but it may be failing to convert voters who it had previously banked on converting.  So in England and Wales, any increase in the Green vote is going to be bad news for Labour in any seat in which it is in contention.  The question is how bad.

Despite the name of the party, you generally find students and right-on urban dwelling professionals in large cities (obviously you'll also find students in smaller cities with big university populations).  In Britain's largest cities Labour hold the great bulk of the seats, often with large majorities.  At an election where a swing to Labour is currently anticipated, the impact in such seats of the Greens will be of footnote interest only.

There is, however, a set of seats where the battle is entirely between progressive parties.  Here are the Lib Dem held seats where Labour were second at the last election or are otherwise now seen in the betting markets as a main challenger:

There is a substantial overlap between these seats and those where the Greens are likely to do relatively well.  Up to the last election, the Lib Dems had made great inroads into the university seats.  Bristol West, Bath, Cambridge, Cardiff Central, Manchester Withington, Norwich South and Sheffield Hallam are all currently Lib Dem held seats with substantial university votes.  In all bar Bath, Labour are currently rated their closest challenger by the bookies.  The next election will be held in termtime, so we can expect most students to be voting in their university constituencies.

It's fair to say that the Lib Dems' USP in relation to university education has been tarnished.  The volte face on tuition fees has seriously damaged the Lib Dems' image.  Labour have been hoping to profit as a consequence.

In the most recent ICM poll, Labour tally 35% and the Lib Dems are at 11%.  That represents a 9% swing from the Lib Dems to Labour (other pollsters are recording slightly bigger swings).  As can be seen, a uniform swing of this size would enable Labour to take 12 seats, with hopes of taking two or three more if they slightly outperform the swing required.

If some of the votes in these seats that might otherwise have been heading from the Lib Dems to Labour head to the Greens instead, this makes Labour's task harder (a Lib Dem vote lost to the Greens is worth half as much to Labour as a Lib Dem vote that comes directly to them).  But the movement would be quite substantial before it made much of a difference.  Labour look unlikely in practice to take either Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey or Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross in any case, given the disruptive effect of the SNP on Scottish politics.  Bristol West might well be put out of reach, as might Bermondsey & Old SouthwarkSheffield Hallam always looked a big stretch, as did Leeds North West, and the impact of the Greens might be to make the odds on the Lib Dems still more promising. 

In all of the bolded seats named above, the Lib Dems now look like the value bet, taking the rise of the Greens into account.

Any rise in the Green vote in Cambridge is similarly likely to be helpful for Julian Huppert, the Lib Dem incumbent.  I do not place too much weight on the ICM constituency poll in Cambridge in April 2014 showing him well behind, which was based on a small sample and did not name the candidates.  He is a very active local MP and is likely to have a strong personal vote which such a form of polling will not capture (indeed, the ICM poll asked questions about his performance later and he was given a firm thumbs-up).  Lord Ashcroft's poll in September 2014, on a larger sample, found that when the constituency was named and respondents were prompted to think about the candidates standing, Labour polled 33%, the Lib Dems 32% (and the Greens 8%, which is pretty impressive considering that they were not prompted for).  However, this poll is also problematic, because it was taken from 3-12 September, before the university term began.  Students make up almost 20% of the town's population.  It is far from clear how this telephone poll was conducted to capture those students in the results, given the unusual nature of this constituency.  We have the competing forces of the polling possibly not yet fully reflecting the make-up of the constituency and the MP's personal profile not yet being fully drawn out through the polling questions asked.  We have much more information about this seat than most, but no more clarity.

The effect of the Greens should not be overstated.  Lord Ashcroft undertook a constituency poll in Cardiff Central in September of this year, showing that the Lib Dems remain well adrift there, even though he found a 5% poll share for the Greens:

The effect is going to be at the margins only.  You will note that Ian Warren found Cardiff Central to be the constituency with the most fertile ground in the country for Green vote-hunting.

In Scotland, the dynamics are quite different.  Here the party who has most to lose from a rise of the Greens is the SNP.  The Greens and the SNP fought shoulder to shoulder on the Yes side of the referendum debate.  The SNP will be hoping so far as possible to convert the Yes votes into SNP votes.  Any that take a detour into verdant fields will reduce the SNP's prospects of getting the huge swings that they need to take substantial numbers of new seats.

Let's look at the SNP's target list ranked by odds:

The SNP's sharp moves upwards in the polls now look very fully priced in.  Any possible impact from the Greens does not.  There are no obvious bargains on the SNP side of the fence (Dundee West aside) and some of the Labour prices now look worth considering.

There is the suggestion that the Greens and the SNP might come to an arrangement:

"There has been serious speculation about the SNP standing down in the seat [Edinburgh East] in exchange for the Greens giving them a free run at a few of their key targets. From their perspective, they are never going to win every MP in Scotland. If they can do something to make it more likely that one of the other seats is someone else who supported independence, if they can ensure Scotland sends to Westminster a delegation of MPs which represents the diversity of the Yes campaign, then this will be helpful to the thing they care about most – securing more powers for Holyrood."

This would be a smart thing for the SNP to consider.  They can't afford to lose even a couple of percentage points to the Greens elsewhere, given the swings that they require.

Finally, the Greens may yet have a part to play in straight Conservative/Labour battles and in particular straight Conservative/Lib Dem battles.  The effect of the Greens' intervention is unlikely to be anything like as significant as the effect of UKIP's intervention in most such constituencies. But it needs to be factored in.

In such seats, the advantage will be entirely for the Conservatives, because the progressive vote will be split.  In straight fights between the Conservatives and Labour, any increase in the Green vote will concern Labour.  If the Greens do well in seats like Stroud and Brighton Kemptown, they will be depleting the stock of progressive voters available to Labour.  Another way of looking at this is to consider whether this is a way that the cohort of 2010 Lib Dem voters who have defected to Labour will be diminished.  It may be.

As I noted in my previous post, an increase in Green support is likely to prove fatal for the Lib Dems in Solihull.  It may make the Lib Dems' large majority in Bath that bit more within reach for the Conservatives (though as a 5/1 shot, it's hardly a bargain).  In a whole slew of seats in the south west, the Greens didn't stand in 2010.  Any votes that they pick up in 2015 in such constituencies are unlikely to be to the Lib Dems' benefit.

Another area where the Lib Dems will be shifting uneasily is south west London.  The Greens did stand in the Lib Dem constituencies in this area in 2010, but did not poll well.  They will hope to do considerably better in 2015, given the Lib Dems' decision to enter a coalition with the Conservatives - though interestingly there was no sign of this in Lord Ashcroft's constituency polls in this area.  A shift of Lib Dem votes to Greens in these seats could be worth in effect something like a 2% swing to the Conservatives without the blue team picking up a single additional vote.  This effect may also be under-recorded by pollsters who do not prompt for the Greens (though in practice I expect that many voters who are surprised and delighted to find a Green option in the polling booth would have said previously that they were voting for Labour when asked).  I don't see this as a decisive consideration such as to alter my betting positions, but it is one more negative when deciding whether to back the Lib Dems in the constituency markets.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A short story: the Greens' target list for 2015

The Greens have been rising in the polls in the last few months and in one recent poll had pushed the Lib Dems into fifth place in the national share of the vote.  UKIP have been making waves as insurgents on the right.  Will the Greens be able to do so on the left in time for 2015?

This is one of those political questions that at present can be answered briefly: no.  At least, not without some remarkable shifts in public opinion, of which there are no signs at present.

The Greens do not start from a strong platform.  They currently hold one seat at Westminster (Brighton Pavilion) and in 2010 they saved their deposits in only six other seats: Norwich South, Cambridge, Lewisham Deptford, Brighton Kemptown, Hove and Edinburgh East (in descending order of vote share). 

A full list of the Greens' performance in 2010 is given here (prepared by AndyJS of politicalbetting, and I am very grateful for his hard work):

It is generally a grim story for the Greens, and emphasises how far they need to travel for further electoral success.

They do only slightly better at the local level, with 162 councillors on 56 councils in England & Wales:

Note the number of councils on which they have councillors.  This is not a good thing for getting Parliamentary seats on a first past the post basis.  Nuclei of councilors are much more promising for that.  The Greens proudly boast of being the official opposition in (among others) Islington and Lewisham, but in both they have only one councillor against a monolithic bloc of Labour councillors.  These are not obvious bases for a path to power.

That said, the Greens now have substantial blocs of councillors on the following councils: Brighton (21 - the largest grouping, and leading the council), Norwich (16), Solihull (ten), Bristol (six, where they participate in the council leadership), Edinburgh (six), Oxford (six), Glasgow (five) and Kirklees (five).  They also have two London Assembly members, both of whom have substantial London-wide profiles.

The Greens also have a reasonably large activist base.  They now have 20,000 members in England and Wales and over 7,000 in Scotland, boosted in the latter case dramatically by converts in the wake of the independence referendum.  By way of comparison, UKIP are approaching 40,000 members across the UK while the Lib Dems are just above that mark.  In Scotland, the Greens certainly have more members than the Lib Dems and may even be approaching the tally of Scottish Labour (though they are far behind the SNP's 80,000 members).

The Greens lack cash and lack the ready access to media coverage that the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems and even UKIP have.  They are set to be excluded from all three TV debates (though the Conservatives chivalrously for their own reasons are advocating their inclusion and there may yet be a legal challenge to this).

These are the seats that the Greens are saying that they're targeting in England and Wales:

So, with that preamble, let's have a look at the Green battleground:

Yes, I've included every best price where the Greens are at 50/1 or shorter.  Yes, it's a really short list.  They're shorter than 25/1 in only three seats.

There are related markets.  Ladbrokes, William Hill and Paddy Power all allow you to bet on the number of Green seats.  Your best price at present on no Green seats is evens with Ladbrokes, your best price on exactly one seat is 7/5 with William Hill, and your best price on two or more seats is 5/1 with William Hill, though you might like the look of the 6/1 on 2-5 seats with Ladbrokes better.  The 1/7 with Paddy Power on under 1.5 seats represents better value than combining Ladbrokes' evens on no seats and William Hills' 7/5 on one seat.

If you really think that the Greens will get six or more seats, first have your temperature taken and second ignore Ladbrokes' not particularly generous 25/1 offering and play the constituency markets instead where there is better value.

What of the seats themselves?  The punters reckon that there are three serious-ish prospects: Brighton Pavilion, Norwich South and Bristol West. 

In Brighton Pavilion, the July 2014 constituency poll for Lord Ashcroft found Labour 1% ahead of the Greens (33%: 32%).  The controversies of the Green-led council do not seem to have particularly harmed Caroline Lucas' chances of re-election.  It looks like a complete toss-up.  I'm steering clear of betting on this seat this time, having no particular inside information. The current prices look fair to me as an outsider.

You also can't assume that if the Greens win, say, Norwich South that they will also retain Brighton Pavilion.  While they are related contingencies, the relationship is fairly weak - kissing cousins at least.

Moving on to Norwich South, the Greens tallied a healthy 15% of the vote in 2010 and have a longstanding presence on the council.  Lord Ashcroft found that they are now in second place in July, some way adrift of Labour though (33%: 20%).  There would still need to be a substantial swing from Labour for the Greens to take this seat, so I caution punters not to get over-excited.  With the poll also showing the Conservatives, UKIP and the Lib Dems all polling in double figures, this could be a five way marginal.  That means that the total vote share required to take the seat could once again be in the 20s, making it easier for a niche party like the Greens to win.

The tactical voting could be interesting - Conservatives backing the Lib Dem incumbent to keep out Labour, Conservatives voting Labour to keep out the Greens, Lib Dems voting Green to keep out Labour, Kippers voting Conservative to try to thwart progressives of many stripes.  And so on. 

Anyway, I tipped the Greens in Norwich South at 25/1 earlier in the year here:

The best price now is 5/1.  That's short enough, I'd say.

I have to say I don't really understand the 10/1 in Bristol West.  The push on this price is evidently based on local knowledge of what's happening there, but I'd want very good information before backing the Greens at that price there.  They contested this seat in 2010 and lost their deposit.  Since then the Greens have built up a seat base on Bristol council, but it's nothing amazing. 

What of the longer shots?  Well, there are actually a couple that are worth thinking about.  The Greens didn't stand in Solihull in 2010, but they've had a few good years in this area.  The Greens are the main opposition on Solihull council to the Conservatives (note, Solihull Council covers two constituencies, Solihull and Meriden) and one of their long-standing councillors is standing for them in the Solihull constituency.  The candidate has an interesting history, having defected from the Lib Dems in protest at the formation of the Westminster coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, so he's perfectly placed to pick up on the anti-coalition votes in the constituency.  Labour took over a quarter of the vote share in 2001 (albeit on slightly different boundaries), so there must be a substantial anti-coalition vote in the seat.  It's a knife edge marginal between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, and UKIP may well take a bite out of the Conservative vote.  It's unlikely that the Greens will take the seat, but with a well-placed candidate in a marginal seat (again lowering the vote share that the Greens would need to take the seat), it doesn't look inconceivably unlikely to me.  I'm on at 33/1.  It's now 25/1 and that may still be worth considering.

It's more likely that a good Green performance will hand this seat to the Conservatives.  But I'll come back to the secondary effects of an improved Green performance in a separate post.

The Greens, off the back of their recent Scottish surge, are making Edinburgh East their one Scottish target seat (see halfway down this admittedly boosterish piece):

They saved their deposit here in 2010 (as they did in 2005) and will be hopeful of a much better performance next year.  The Green candidate is the rector of Edinburgh University and there is a large student vote in the constituency (note that if the election is in May next year, that will be in university term time).  The incumbent is a pretty anonymous Labour MP, and neither the SNP who finished second last time out nor the Lib Dems who finished third have yet selected candidates.

I got on this at 33/1 and it's probably still worth it at 25/1, given the footsoldiers that Scottish Greens now have at their disposal.  The SNP might conceivably quietly give their fellow Yessers a free run at this one seat, soft-pedalling their own efforts in return for the Greens not queering their pitch in other seats.  Will the Greens win?  Probably not - but it's a bit less improbable than 25/1.

Otherwise, I'm keeping my money in my pocket.  Of more general interest is what an increased Green vote might do to the battlegrounds in seats where they stand no real chance.  But that needs to be the subject of another post.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The cloud of unknowing: the seats with no clear favourite

To date, I've looked at the constituency betting markets thematically, whether by party or by region. In this post I shall look at the seats that the betting markets identify as close, and see what themes emerge from those. Here are the seats that have a favourite priced at 1/2 or longer:

I've included only those parties listed at 10/1 or lower. Longer shots may come home, of course, but for now I'm focusing on what the markets think is well within the bounds of possibility.

The first thing to note is that there aren't actually that many seats without a strong favourite. In all bar these 75 seats, the betting markets are tolerably clear about what punters see is the likely result. And indeed, 33 of these 75 have a favourite at 4/7 or longer. True toss-ups are few and far between. You can see why critics of First Past The Post think that it means that very few voters' votes matter.

(You could, of course, take the opposite view, that punters are showing too much certainty about the outcome of the election. I tend to this view. In many seats, the impact of UKIP's disruptive rise and the Lib Dems' disruptive fall seems harder to predict than is assumed. There are betting opportunities there as a consequence.)

Where are gamblers least certain of the outcome? Some themes are obvious. Wherever the Lib Dems are in contention, uncertainty follows. 26 of the 57 Lib Dem held seats are on this list - on a pro rata basis, you'd expect to see seven. No one really has all that much of a clue how the Lib Dems are going to do. 

Only 34 of the seats are seen as straight Conservative/Labour battles (all of them are Conservative held). Given how many more straight Conservative/Labour battles there are than Lib Dem held seats, this suggests that gamblers feel that they have much more of a handle on such seats.

Wherever UKIP appear, they sow confusion in punters' minds. 14 of the seats where they are listed at 10/1 or less appear on this list.  

Unsurprisingly, where three or more parties are in the mix, the seats are less predictable. All eight of the seats with a favourite at evens or longer have three or more parties in serious contention.

What's missing? Only three Labour seats feature. The only seat from the north east is Berwick-upon-Tweed (Lib Dem held, of course). Only five London seats feature. 11 Scottish seats are on the list, but nine of these are Lib Dem held.

How to approach betting on such seats? Cautiously, and the further down the list you go, the more cautious you should be. There's a reason why there's no odds-on favourite in Argyll & Bute: it's as clear as mud. I'm by inclination lazy and I prefer simple betting propositions to complicated ones. This list has a disproportionate number of complicated betting propositions. I'm happy to leave those to others.

It's important to sort between the two different types of uncertainty. There's chaotic uncertainty (wild seats) and then there's the uncertainty you get when you're at the centre of the swing of the pendulum. The Conservative/Labour battlegrounds are the latter, while the three and four way marginal are the former. Different strategies work for each.

In the wild seats, there can be money to be made if you think there's an anomaly that hasn't been properly corrected. With Mike Hancock stepping down in chaotic circumstances in Portsmouth South, it seems unlikely to me that there will be an orderly grooming of a Lib Dem successor candidate to inherit the substantial personal vote that he presumably built up over 30 years' involvement with the seat. The Lib Dems now have a new candidate in place, Gerard Vernon-Jackson, who was mayor of Portsmouth for 10 years and who has been personally close to Mike Hancock - he has made some eyebrow-raising remarks in support of Mike Hancock which will no doubt feature on other parties' electoral literature if he looks to be in contention next year. With the Lib Dems having slumped in the polls nationally, 8/11 seems considerably too short on the Lib Dems without either an incumbent or a succession plan. I'm unclear whether the Conservatives or UKIP will benefit most (my hunch is the Conservatives), but I don't need to choose: by backing both, I can get a better than evens shot that the Lib Dems will lose.

Conversely, UKIP's impact in some seats seems to have resulted in the odds on some favourites having lengthened too far. The Conservatives look a decent bet at 4/6 in both Camborne & Redruth and St Austell & Newquay. UKIP will be concentrating their resources on their best bets in the south east of England and to take a seat will need them to work their ground game especially well, making them longer shots than recent constituency polls might suggest. (As a general point, kippers seem to be enthusiastic gamblers, and since there are relatively few seats where they are in contention, the odds on UKIP often seem shorter than would be justified objectively.) I've made these bets, but I don't feel half as confident about them as I do about some others.

I've banged on about this on several occasions, but the Scottish Lib Dems in general are way too short priced. At their present levels of polling, they will not retain anything like 11 seats. That they are no worse than 4/1 in any of their Scottish seats (and worse than 6/4 in only two) is absurd. At present polling levels in Scotland, they would be delighted to retain half this number. I'm already on their opponents in many of these seats. The longer they go on without a polling revival, the better these bets look.

In those seats with no clear favourite because the pendulum has stopped there, we need to assess whether they have been rated correctly in their relative order. Ealing Central & Acton stands out as a good bet on Labour at 10/11: there's a large Lib Dem vote to squeeze and the excellent local results for Labour in London this year suggest that Labour will outperform here. The 4/6 on the Conservatives in Bristol North West looks very kind, given that second favourites Labour would need to take the seat from third - something that has happened five times in total in mainland Britain in the last three general elections.

But the most valuable aspect of this table is to remind me to be careful. When others aren't confident that they know what's going on, I should not assume that I have any special insight.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Surfing the purple wave: UKIP's general election prospects improve

It's time to look at how UKIP have done during the three months while I've been away.  But it's hardly as if I can claim any great insight here. I didn't see the durability of the UKIP surge and my expectation when I first wrote about UKIP in April was that they were likely to fade.  At that time, I wrote:

"It seems that the bookies are catering to the enthusiasm of the purple punters by relieving them of their money at poor odds."

At that time, only five seats had UKIP at odds of less than 10/1.  As of today's date, there are 28 such seats (and neither Clacton nor Rochester & Strood, which must both be among UKIP's best bets, have general election markets as of today).  So that shows how good a judge I was of how the wind is blowing.

I'll have to chalk that up to experience and I'll have to show some humility (there's a first time for everything, of course).  So let's leave the inferences aside and instead let's look at the current state of play.  Here are UKIP's prospects ranked in order of their present odds:

If we compare this to the position merely six months ago, UKIP have been the punters' darlings in the interim:

And here is the position in June - UKIP have generally shortened even since then (when 19 seats were at a price of less than 10/1):

I shall first try to look at where UKIP has been shortening.  Because the shortening prices have not been uniform.  UKIP are at the same price in Eastleigh as they were six months ago.  They're the same price in Castle Point and Louth & Horncastle as they were three months ago.  They've actually drifted out in Folkestone & Hythe in the last three months.  

So what's been happening in the markets?

1) Punters think that UKIP is developing local strongholds capable of being converted into seats.

Five Kent seats are priced at under 10/1.  There is no general election market for Rochester & Strood at present, and odds on that would certainly be below 10/1, whether or not UKIP ultimately wins its by-election.  Three more seats in the county are priced at under 16/1.  That's nine out of the 17 constituencies in the county - every coastal constituency in the county other than Canterbury and Faversham & Mid Kent.

Essex is a similar story.  Three constituencies are under 10/1 (not including Clacton, which looks like UKIP's best bet at the next election, but for which there is no market).  A further eight constituencies are priced at 16/1 or under.  So 12 out of 18 constituencies in Essex are seen as at least outside chances for the Kippers, including every coastal constituency except Witham.

Indeed, over the county boundary in London but still along the Thames estuary, both Dagenham & Rainham and Bexleyheath & Crayford also feature on the latest list of shorter priced UKIP targets.  The Thames estuary is hotting up for the purple team.

Incidentally, for those believing that UKIP is attracting None Of The Above voters from the Lib Dems, it's worth noting that the Thames estuary was one of the Lib Dems' weakest areas at the last election.  There isn't a single seat abutting the water from Bethnal Green & Bow to Castle Point on the north side inclusive and from Erith & Thamesmead to Gravesham on the south side inclusive where the Lib Dems tallie more than 15%.  There's more than that going on.

But it's not the only hotspot for UKIP.  Four seats in the old borders of Lincolnshire are priced at under 10/1, and a further three seats at 16/1.  That's all four of the Humberside constituencies south of the Humber and all three coastal constituencies in the new borders of Lincolnshire.  And indeed, most of the seats of what I have previously called the Saxon Shore feature in the list:
2) Punters are giving some love to the idea of UKIP making progress in Labour urban strongholds
Most of the shortest priced seats are Conservative held, but there are five Labour-held seats where UKIP are priced at under 10/1.  A further 21 Labour-held seats are priced between 10/1 and 16/1.
I must confess that I have found this price movement in particular difficult to follow, since no such constituency has had an opinion poll showing UKIP likely to take such a seat.  Even Rotherham, a seat whose recent history makes it as likely to consider an insurgent party as any such seat, has shown a double digit lead for Labour over UKIP in a recent Survation constituency poll.  This does not suggest to me that a general breakthrough in Labour-held seats is particularly plausible without a powerful new boost to UKIP's support among Labour's traditional voter base.

That said, the Heywood & Middleton by-election result does suggest a rethink may be necessary.  UKIP will need to think about how to harness the anger that they have undoubtedly found in such constituencies.
3) Punters are following the Survation and Lord Ashcroft constituency polls with interest
Alan Bown, on behalf of UKIP, has commissioned a series of opinion polls in individual constituencies.  11 have been made public (it is rumoured that several more have been commissioned in the seats of possible Conservative defectors, though I have no direct knowledge either way of this).  Additionally, Survation surveyed both Clacton and Rochester & Strood for newspapers.
These constituencies are Great Grimsby, Dudley North, South Thanet, Folkestone & Hythe, Bognor Regis & Littlehampton, Great Yarmouth, Crewe & Nantwich, Eastleigh, North Thanet, Rotherham, Boston & Skegness, Rochester & Strood and Clacton.   With the exception of Crewe & Nantwich, which had been included for control purposes anyway, all of these seats have UKIP at 8/1 or less. 
There is of course an element of circularity - Alan Bown had these seats polled because they were seen as serious prospects.
Separately, Lord Ashcroft has also been polling various constituencies.  He has not been focusing on UKIP particularly, but has looked at Great Yarmouth, South Thanet, Eastleigh (twice), Thurrock, Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, St Austell & Newquay (twice) and Camborne & Redruth.  Lord Ashcroft found leads for UKIP in South Thanet and Thurrock, but in neither of these cases were the leads substantial.  In Great Yarmouth, unlike Survation, Lord Ashcroft found that UKIP were a close second behind the Conservatives (Survation found the order to be UKIP, Labour, Conservative).  In Eastleigh, Lord Ashcroft (unlike Survation) found UKIP were a fairly distant third behind the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.  In the Cornish seats, Lord Ashcroft found that UKIP were second behind the Conservatives.  UKIP were a feature in Plymouth Sutton & Devonport without yet seriously challenging for the seat.
These findings have all percolated into the pricing of the individual seats.
And what's happening in reality?
If I knew that, I'd be a happy man.  We do not want for clues, but what is much harder is interpreting those clues.

Decoding the constituency polls
Let's start with the polling.  I find this really hard to interpret.  For starters, I have big reservations about constituency polls as a general concept.  It's one thing trying to get a balanced sample across the country, where pollsters have a lot of practice.  It's another thing trying to do so in a specific constituency where the appropriate balanced sample will differ quite significantly from that across the nation as a whole.  This problem is amplified where a new party is on the scene, with new demographic indicators to need to balance. 
Then there are the specific pollsters.  Let me be clear: I regard both Lord Ashcroft and Survation as reputable pollsters, honestly trying to get the most accurate results that they can.  Both do great work.  But we would expect different results from different polling companies with their different methodologies.  We need to understand that when interpreting these polls.
Survation in particular have consistently reported the highest levels of support for UKIP of any pollster when they conduct national opinion polls.  Lord Ashcroft's national polls also report UKIP at the higher end of the scale: his last five national polls record UKIP support at 18%, 14%, 17%, 17%, 17% (an average of 16.6%).  The UK Polling Report average at the date of writing is 15%.  Note, this does not suggest that either Survation or Lord Ashcroft are necessarily getting the wrong result.  But when judging UKIP's prospects in individual constituencies off the back of these constituency polls, we need to be aware that we are seeing the results presented in a light that is likely to represent the most hopeful view for UKIP.
Can we test Survation's and Lord Ashcroft's polling results?  Well, to a limited extent we can.  Survation's polls for the Euro elections overstated UKIP's tally by 5%. 
Both Survation and Lord Ashcroft produced constituency polls for the Newark by-election as well.  Both overstated both UKIP and Labour by a bit, and understated the Conservatives - in the case of Survation, by a lot.  Of course, there may have been further movements in voting intentions after the polls were taken, but that's easier to understand in terms of the Conservatives being understated and Labour being overstated if the Conservatives (and indeed UKIP) were squeezing Labour, and UKIP being overstated is a little harder to understand.
Both also produced polls for both the Clacton and the Heywood & Middleton by-elections.  These fared much better in Clacton (again Labour were a bit overstated by both, but both pollsters were more or less right about the Conservatives). Lord Ashcroft underestimated UKIP a bit, Survation overestimated UKIP a bit.

Heywood & Middleton was a very different story. UKIP did far better than either pollster had envisaged and the Conservatives did worse. In fairness, Survation stress in their poll that it's a nowcast not a forecast, and I expect Lord Ashcroft would say the same. Given that Nigel Farage reportedly stayed away from the constituency on the day because he thought that UKIP had no chance of taking the seat, it seems likely that there was a late swing to them that not even UKIP were expecting. Again, Labour's poll share was significantly overestimated. Perhaps it shows the difficulty of constituency polling and the dangers of relying on it too closely. 

Of course any opinion poll is just a snapshot of the current position.  Even where UKIP are in the lead, they may be overtaken by another party successfully securing tactical votes to keep them out. Or UKIP may, as in Heywood & Middleton, surge.

With all these notes of caution, these polls are still an invaluable resource.  And I am drawn to two bets on UKIP off the back of them.  If UKIP are 20 points ahead in Boston & Skegness, even with a pollster that discloses the most hopeful results for them, 10/11 on them is a very solid bet (I note that the odds have now shortened to 4/5, but it remains a good bet). 

One more note of caution in this particular constituency: the sample in the poll looks odd - on the face of it, barely a quarter of those polled voted for one of the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems or UKIP in 2010.  But there's a lot of leeway for peculiarities in a 20 point lead.  I'm aware that isam of political betting likes this bet for the same reason, and he drew it to my attention, so I need to give full credit to him.

And 13/8 on UKIP in Thurrock looks like a good bet, given that Lord Ashcroft found that they were in the lead at present.   That may or may not be correct now, and they may or may not be overtaken.  But 13/8 on what on our best information seems like a front runner will do me.
Conversely, the 4/6 on Nigel Farage in South Thanet looks overdone.  With the Conservatives and Labour both apparently in hot pursuit if Lord Ashcroft's polling is to be believed, the risk that opposition to him personally might coalesce around one or other of these as a pre-capitation strategy looks substantial. 

What's happening on the ground?

Again, this is very hard to know from the outside.  The kippers seem chipper, and on those political blogs where they hang out, startling predictions are made of hoped-for gains that seem hard to credit.  But then, a 20 point lead for UKIP in Boston & Skegness is also startling.
From the by-elections, we can conclude the following:
1) The Conservatives' attacks on UKIP in Clacton were of no use whatsoever.  Be under no illusions: the Conservatives made a fairly significant effort, including a Prime Ministerial visit.  They had hoped to close the majority so that they stood a chance of taking it in the general election (I heard from two separate sources on the day of the by-election that they hoped to keep the majority below 5,000).  They did not, and indeed they seem to have had a poor handle of what was happening on the ground in reality. 
2) UKIP don't know their own strength.  The Telegraph reported today that "Mr Farage chose not to campaign in the seat on Thursday, having concluded weeks ago it could not be won."
If this is true (and I have no reason to doubt it), this was a serious mistake. It suggests that UKIP may miss some opportunities next year because of lack of good local knowledge.  UKIP have already released a list of target seats which looks eccentric in parts:
Aylesbury and Forest of Dean are not obviously in UKIP's top 12 best prospects (or even in their top 25). So far as I am aware, the wider list of 25 seats has not yet been made public.
This is important, because it means that we should downgrade UKIP's chances of taking seats unless, as in Clacton, they have good local ground information.  The evidence that we have so far is that, Clacton aside, they don't.
What's next?
It is hard to overstate the importance of the Rochester & Strood by-election for understanding UKIP's chances next May.  Douglas Carswell was in many ways the perfect defection for UKIP - a locally popular MP with a wider intellectual profile in a constituency with a ready audience for their message, able to take his team with him and to supply the ground game.
Rochester & Strood is much more typical, and will provide a good test bed both for future defections and for judging the reliability of constituency polls in Conservative-held seats challenged by UKIP.  Mark Reckless has a fairly undistinguished record in Parliament and does not seem to be a particularly popular constituency MP.  He had no wider profile until he defected.  If he wins well, the Conservatives should be very afraid indeed. 
What are my expectations?  So far, we have only had a Survation poll, though I expect that we shall have one from Lord Ashcroft soon enough.  On past reckoning, we might expect UKIP to be a bit overstated, the Conservatives to be a bit understated and Labour to be overstated.  If this is correct, the current state of play is a real cliffhanger.
UKIP are likely to be given a boost by their success in Clacton (success breeds success), and their odds will certainly shorten in the seat.  Will the Conservatives be able, as they apparently did in Newark, to squeeze Labour voters?  Will Labour voters simply sit on their hands, or will they break in favour of UKIP?  The Conservatives are certainly going to be going in very hard indeed, as they did in Newark.  Labour seem to have decided consciously not to try.
I could see this seat being decided by a few hundred votes either way as matters stand right now (with quite a wide span of results beyond that too).  UKIP should be favourites, but not overwhelmingly so.  The Conservatives look value at anything over 2/1 to me, so I'm laying UKIP this morning.  But I won't be betting too committally on this by-election: I'll primarily be waiting for its result.  Once we have that, I will make what I hope are considerably more secure assumptions about how UKIP will do in 2015.  It's unheroic, but prudent.  Sometimes not betting is the wisest course of action.  Given my track record on the trends with UKIP, it seems wise to me.
If you have strong views either way, conversely, you should be acting now.  If you think that UKIP are going to win well in Rochester & Strood, you should be backing UKIP in most of the seats in which they are short-priced and challenging the Conservatives.  If you think that the Conservatives are going to fillet the kippers in that by-election, do the opposite.
One final thought: unless you have inside information, betting on UKIP in seats on the basis that the Conservative incumbent is a possible defector is not for the faint-hearted.  I'm not playing that game - in general it looks like a sure-fire way to lose money.  I do note, however, that UKIP are 20/1 in Mid Bedfordshire...
That's one bet I'm not on though.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Scottish post-referendum special

So now we know.  Scotland has decided to remain part of the United Kingdom, at least for the time being, and as a reward it will have the opportunity to vote in the Westminster elections in 2015.

I'm a great believer in the old adage that the four most expensive words in the English language are "this time it's different".  In 2010 in Scotland, they would have been especially expensive, because not a single seat changed hands (compared with 2005 – the SNP by-election victory in Glasgow East returned to Labour).  This followed elections to Holyrood in 2007 where the SNP had far outperformed its 2005 result, and was followed by elections to Holyrood in 2011 where the SNP did still better.

Moreover, the seats generally became less marginal.  As John Curtice has noted this week, if there's a uniform 10% swing from Labour to the SNP, the SNP pick up only three seats from Labour.

In previous general elections (as opposed to Holyrood elections), the Scottish people seem primarily to have voted in Westminster elections on the basis of who they most wanted to form a government in the UK, given the practical options available.  This would be entirely logical in ordinary circumstances, and given the centre of political gravity in Scotland, has led to a Labour hegemony, with the Lib Dems and to a lesser extent the SNP securing rural highland seats that in England would be reliably Conservative (click to enlarge):

I looked at the SNP targets in April this year, ranked by SNP swing (with the then current odds retained for historical curiosity).  This emphasises the point of just how few marginals there are:

Nevertheless, this time I do think it will be quite a bit different.  We can expect a reasonable number of seats to change hands, and perhaps quite a lot.

So why do I think that this time it's different? 

1) The independence referendum has changed everything.  The identity of Scotland and its governance are the burning subjects of political discussion, and I see no reason why that will change in Scotland in the next six months.

Whatever else your views might be about the independence referendum, it successfully re-engaged the Scottish population with the democratic process.  The turnout was just shy of 85%.  Passions were engaged.  People who had never voted before turned out to express their view through the ballot box.

It seems a certainty to me that turnout will be substantially higher in 2015 than in 2010: many of these voters will repeat the experience, especially if they see it as a way of again expressing their view on Scottish separateness.

2) The course of the independence referendum has had the Yes campaign – predominantly led by the SNP, of course – position itself to the left of Labour, treating Labour as apologists for the Conservative/Lib Dem government at Westminster.  In poorer urban areas Yes prevailed, but No won its victory in the richer and more rural parts of the country.

The consequence of the campaign is that there is almost an inverse correlation between past SNP Westminster success and the performance of the Yes campaign, as this map of the referendum result shows (click to enlarge):

3) The SNP has acquired vast numbers of new members in the wake of the referendum defeat: 75,000 at the last count (three times as many as before the referendum).  By way of comparison, Scottish Labour has roughly 10,000, it is believed.  That means that the SNP has potentially far more footsoldiers for any ground war than any other party.  It also means that the SNP is transformed more or less overnight as a party. 

What does all this mean?

For the SNP
In terms of vote share, it seems clear that Labour will be down on 2010 and the SNP will be substantially up.  There have been two Westminster polls since the referendum result and both show a large Labour to SNP swing.  
In 2010, Labour tallied 42% of the vote, the SNP 19.9%, the Lib Dems 18.9% and the Conservatives 16.7%.  On the day after the referendum, Survation found Labour at 39%, the SNP at 35%, the Conservatives at 18% and the Lib Dems at 3%.  Today, Panelbase found the SNP at 34%, Labour at 32%, the Conservatives at 18% and the Lib Dems at 5% (behind UKIP).  The Survation poll represents a 9% swing to the SNP and the Panelbase poll represents a 12% swing to the SNP.
It remains to be seen whether this is a sympathy surge that will subside with time or a lasting level of support for the SNP.  There have been nine opinion polls in Scotland canvassing the question of voting preference at a Westminster election in 2014, and the SNP have dropped below 30% with only two polls, both conducted by Opinium in September, so this seems to be a question of house approach rather than reflecting a sudden surge of support.  Indeed, the Survation survey shows the SNP at a lower level of support than earlier in the year, when it twice registered 40%.  So my starting presumption is that this level of support is pretty solid.

But poll shares are only part of the story.  What's more important for betting purposes is how this translates into seats.  One thing is clear - the base of the SNP support has changed dramatically.  Uniform national swing works best with relatively small swings.  When a party's support base rises or falls sharply, the rise or fall is unlikely to be evenly distributed.  I looked at this previously in relation to the Lib Dems in Scotland here:

The maths of uniform national swing can be made to work when there's a large increase in vote share (unlike when there's a sharp fall), but as the increase gets larger, it becomes steadily less plausible that it is evenly distributed.  And anyway on this occasion we have clear indirect evidence that the increase is far from evenly distributed.  We should expect larger swings to the SNP in poorer urban areas where Yes performed strongly and smaller swings to the SNP (possibly even declines in support in some constituencies) in rural and more wealthy areas where No performed well.

The SNP now also has a new army of members to help with the ground game.  Following the referendum, the SNP will have a clear idea of where to find the Yes supporters (while the campaign was formally separate from the SNP, it was overwhelmingly led by the SNP).  This means that they know where to find the bodies to deliver the votes now.  

Oh, and 50,000 subscription fees will come in handy after the party has spent almost every penny over the referendum.

That said, there is a worm in the apple.  Because Scottish politics is currently all about independence and devolution after a very polarising debate, the SNP must now be vulnerable to some measure of tactical voting against it.  This may make targets a bit harder to take than they would otherwise be.

The net is clearly very positive for the SNP though.

For Labour

Labour's support is down in Scotland, though so far not as much as received wisdom would lead you to believe.  It does seem to have lost control over a sizeable part of its own voter base in the referendum campaign, and it's far from clear whether that's coming back.

This will probably have no particular impact on Labour's battles against the coalition parties.  The Lib Dems look flat on the canvas (indeed, their polling levels seem if anything to have declined from their appalling state six months ago towards levels that I then thought unimaginable), while the Conservatives are broadly holding steady.

Labour look much more vulnerable to assaults from the SNP.  Their large majorities will give them some comfort, but they now seem to be facing opponents who know the ground at least as well as they do, who have a fired-up base and who are better resourced, both financially and numerically.  

Labour might seek tactical votes from Conservative and Lib Dem supporters against the SNP.  I'm doubtful whether many true blues would vote for Labour, but Labour may scoop up more of the few remaining Lib Dem voters.  So I don't see much prospect for much relief on that front.

So Labour may well gain some seats from the Lib Dems, but simultaneously lose some to the SNP.

For the Conservatives
Despite Ruth Davison being widely suggested to have had a good referendum, the much-trailed Conservative renaissance stubbornly refuses to naisse, at least in vote share.  Both recent polls put the Conservatives at 18%, which is a bit ahead of their 2010 tally, but hardly going to set pulses racing.

The Conservatives in the past have been the victims of tactical voting against them in Scotland.  This will no doubt continue, but they can reasonably hope for this to be substantially reduced in any seats where the SNP are in the mix (fervent unionists who are anti-Tory may well simply opt to vote for their favoured party), and even where they are not, they can reasonably hope that the new faultline in Scottish politics leaves them looking less demonic than in the past in the eyes of some voters at least.

In truth, there are few realistic targets for the Conservatives in Scotland.  They will be looking at Aberdeenshire West & Kincardineshire and Berwickshire Roxburgh and Selkirk.  Both of these are Lib Dem held.  Fife North East and Argyll & Bute are seats where the Conservatives are in the mix - in both cases the Conservatives are second in four way battles.  Beyond that, it's hard to make a case for any other seats in Scotland going blue.  

The Conservatives are within touching distance in a couple of the SNP-held seats, but even if the SNP surge is unevenly distributed and there is tactical voting against the SNP, it's hard to see the Conservatives taking these.  You might make a case for Angus, Perth & North Perthshire or Banff & Buchan where the SNP hold the seat with 40% of the vote, but I can't say I fancy it much.

All the Labour seats look out of reach for the Conservatives.  So in practice the Conservative targets are essentially Lib Dem held seats.  To understand their chances there, we need to look at the position of the Lib Dems.

For the Lib Dems
What is the next word beyond dire?  Potentially cataclysmic?  When 5% is your better tally out of two polls, things are desperate.

I've linked above to a detailed consideration of the Lib Dems' prospects in Scotland.  That all basically still stands.  A further proviso: in seats where the Lib Dems' main challenger is the SNP, the Lib Dems may well be able to get more tactical votes from both Labour and the Conservatives.  That could conceivably help the Lib Dems get home.  But for this to make much difference in any seat, the Lib Dem poll ratings are going to need to revive.  There's absolutely no sign of that yet.

Bringing it all together

This is really complicated, as you will appreciate.  Some seats are going to be very wild indeed.  Let's look at the current odds (ranked as an SNP battleground in order of odds):

Paddy Power have currently withdrawn from the market, but an asterisk marks where before they withdrew they offered better odds than those presently on offer with Ladbrokes.

This can't be exhaustive (for reasons of length), but I'll pick a few out.

One bet screams out, which is the SNP in Dundee West at 2/1.  I'd make that something closer to 1/2.  Yes took Dundee by a substantial margin.  The SNP knows the city very well and knows the Yes voters.  It requires a 9.8% swing, but the SNP are currently heading for that on a uniform national swing basis anyway, and all the signs suggest that it should do considerably better than average here.

I'm stressing what to do about the Glasgow seats.  The swings required are epic, but Yes won out here and I expect the SNP to see a particularly sharp rise in their vote here.  I tipped the SNP in my last post for Glasgow East at 33/1, and despite the referendum defeat, this bet doesn't need to be written off.  Given the seat was represented by the SNP as recently as 2010 after a famous by-election victory, this seat has already got some SNP history (5/1 is still not a completely silly price, even with an 18.4% swing being required).  But having made some longshot bets before the referendum, right now I'm not inclined to add too many more at current prices. If you feel differently, the 10/1 in Glasgow South on the SNP looks a fair bet.

I have made one exception.  Yes won North Lanarkshire.  Labour holds some terrifying majorities here, but I have placed a bet at 6/1 for the SNP to take Airdrie & Shotts.  They require only (only!) a 17.3% swing, but Pamela Nash, the incumbent, does not seem popular with her own party, having only narrowly been reselected and having not obviously shone in the House of Commons. This seems to me the sort of seat where the SNP might be able to pull the rug from under Labour's feet.  

I don't fancy betting on the SNP anywhere where the No vote exceeded 60%.  Not all Yes voters will vote SNP anyway, and many No voters will probably now try to find a way of stopping the SNP.  That's not to say that the SNP won't take some of these seats, simply that their prices are too short.  Unless they get up to about 40% in any seat, it seems quite likely to me that a sufficient vote will normally coalesce around a main rival to deprive them of that seat.  They may well win confused seats like Gordon or Argyll & Bute for want of a clear challenger, but at evens and 11/10 respectively, I'm not tempted - the risk that one of the other parties establishes itself before the campaign in each seat as the main unionist party is just too great.  Anyway, I'm a lazy gambler and haven't got the energy to work through such complicated seats when there are simpler propositions elsewhere.

The other theme for betting is against the Lib Dems.  If the current polling numbers hold steady, even strong incumbents are waiting for their P45s.  It seems entirely conceivable to me that only Charlie Kennedy and Alistair Carmichael will be present in the 2015 Parliament of the current batch of MPs.  Five MPs would be an outstanding result on current polling.  The 4/5 on Labour in Edinburgh West still looks outstanding value, given that Labour look poised to pick up the bulk of the disgruntled Lib Dems even as they lose some of their own support to the SNP.  I come back to the point that I made in April: uniform national swing just doesn't work when the Lib Dems have suffered such precipitous drops in support, and you should expect Lib Dem incumbents to underperform not outperform uniform national swing.  Lib Dem polling figures are going to have to improve if they want to save more seats.

That said, Lib Dem incumbents may be the accidental beneficiaries of increased tactical voting against the SNP.  If they can establish themselves as the clear unionist candidate, they may cling on in places like Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross.  I'm not putting money on it at 1/2 though.

The Conservatives can not just hope but expect to make a gain or two off the Lib Dems.  The 6/4 on the Conservatives in Aberdeenshire West & Kincardineshire remains a good bet.  Personally, I'm putting no money on their chances against the SNP, but if you feel differently, the 8/1 on the Conservatives to take Perth & North Perthshire is not a stupid bet, given how strongly that area voted No.  If the Conservatives can get their vote in the seat up to 35% or so, there may be sufficient defectors from the SNP to other parties to allow them to squeak home.  I'd say 8/1 is about right.

2015 is going to be a fairly wild election in Scotland.  The vote shares are likely to be radically different.  The seats, however, will move around less.  

I expect that the SNP will take some seats that no one had imagined at this stage, but the problem is spotting them.  The Lib Dems are likely to be nearly obliterated, and will need a lot of luck to have a different fate.

But politics in Scotland is volatile right now.  Build that into the prices.  There are very few certainties in Scotland any more.