When the Labour Party came to decide the 106 target seats for the 2015 election, it was a pretty straightforward thing to see the effect of winning them all. Win those seats and Labour would have 364 MPs, an overall majority of 78 (although in practice it would be higher, given Sinn Fein’s absence and the Speaker). For the Scottish elections in 2016, it is a bit tougher – as victories in constituencies will result in fewer list seats to compensate.
Scottish Labour currently has 37 seats, while the SNP won 69 in 2011. In order to be the largest party, you might think that all Labour has to do is to win 16 seats from the SNP. Looking at the constituency results, this would only require a swing of 4.2% – reasonably achievable. The 16th seat is Airdrie & Shots, which the SNP hold with a 2001 majority. But if that was all we achieved, Labour would still be 15 seats behind the SNP.
That 4.2% swing puts us roughly back where we were in 2007 on 45 seats, for as we won constituencies, we would lose list seats. So we would have no list MSPs in Glasgow or the West of Scotland, for instance. To get our noses in front of the SNP, we would need a swing of 7.2% – winning seats right down to the likes of Clydesdale and Edinburgh Western, and targeting 26 constituencies all told. We would still have no list MSPs in 4 regions across Scotland, but at least we would have enough constituency MSPs then to give us a slender lead.
But would a slender lead be enough? Sure, we would in all likelihood then get Johann Lamont into Bute House as First Minister, but we would need support from other parties to ensure budgets were passed. Our potential coalition partners would be limited.
Barring a large swing back to the Liberal Democrats, they will only have a handful of MSPs and the Greens, likewise. The only two partners with enough MSPs to get us over the 65 MSPs needed for an overall majority would be the SNP or the Conservatives. I can’t see a coalition with an SNP as being possible. They would have just been rejected by the electorate, and the chances are they would demand a price we would be unwilling to pay (i.e. another referendum). This only leaves the Tories.
As we saw in 2007, they are willing to provide support for a minority government – they voted more with the SNP in that session than against them. But any support from them would also come at a price, and while it may be palatable to some in the Labour party, its likely to be too much for others – including many of our voters. Even now, there are many who regret our coalitions with the Liberal Democrats, and the concessions we gave them.
So, ideally we would need to win 66 seats for ourselves, and do what the SNP did and win an overall majority in a proportional parliament. However, that would need a heroic 15.8% swing from the SNP to Labour. To achieve that we would need to be winning back seats such as Dundee City West and Aberdeen Donside. Not impossible, given that we have held those seats (or their predecessors) before in the Scottish Parliament, but mountainous given the depths that we fell to in 2011 – it would require a performance better even than 1997.