Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles)

2015 Result:
Conservative: 1215 (7.6%)
Labour: 4560 (28.6%)
Lib Dem: 456 (2.9%)
SNP: 8662 (54.3%)
Christian: 1045 (6.6%)
MAJORITY: 4102 (25.7%)

Category: Safe SNP seat

Geography: Scotland, Highlands and islands. The whole of the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar area.

Main population centres: Stornoway.

Profile: Na h-Eileanan an lar covers the Western Isles (the seat was called Western Isles until 2005). It covers the Outer Hebridies, the further reaches of the archipeligo off the coast of north-western Scotland, including the islands of Lewis and Harris, North Uist, South Uist, Barra, Benbecula, Scalpay, Great Bernera, Grimsay and the uninhabited St Kilda. The only town on the Outer Hebridies is the fishing port of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, from where ferries sail to the mainland. Stornoway also has an airport with services to the mainland. The seat is socially as well as geographically somewhat isolated: Gaelic is widely spoken, the Western Isles are the only area in Scotland were over 60% of people speak Gaelic. Sunday Observance is also still widely observed on the Islands, particularly in the Northern islands, with a widespread refusal to trade or travel on the Sabbath, due to the continuing strength of the Free Church and Free Presbyterian Church. In 2006 considerable controversey was caused with the opening of a ferry service to Lewis that operated on Sundays.

Politics: Na h-Eileanan an lar has the smallest electorate of any seat in the country with just over 20,000 voters, only a third of the size of most constituencies. Attempts to link the counstituency with others have always foundered on the geographical size of the area and problems of travel and communications for the MP. Politically the seat has been a marginal between the SNP and Labour since the war. In both 2005 and 2010 it was one of only a few seats where the Conservatives failed to retain their deposit. In the 1975 referendum on continued membership of the European Union, the Western Isles and Shetland Isles were the only areas to vote no.

Current MP
ANGUS MACNEIL (Scottish National Party) Born 1970, Barra. Educated at Nicholson Institute, Stornoway and Strathclyde University. Former teacher and BBC worker. Contested Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber 2001. First elected as MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar in 2005. A native speaker of Gaelic. MacNeil brough the original complaint that lead to the police investigation into "loans for peerages".
Past Results
Con: 647 (4%)
Lab: 4838 (33%)
LDem: 1097 (7%)
SNP: 6723 (46%)
Oth: 1412 (10%)
MAJ: 1885 (13%)
Con: 610 (4%)
Lab: 4772 (34%)
LDem: 1096 (8%)
SNP: 6213 (45%)
Oth: 1145 (8%)
MAJ: 1441 (10%)
Con: 1250 (9%)
Lab: 5924 (45%)
LDem: 849 (6%)
SNP: 4850 (37%)
Oth: 286 (2%)
MAJ: 1074 (8%)
Con: 1071 (7%)
Lab: 8955 (56%)
LDem: 495 (3%)
SNP: 5379 (33%)
Oth: 206 (1%)
MAJ: 3576 (22%)

2015 Candidates
MARK BROWN (Conservative) Financial services manager.
ALASDAIR MORRISON (Labour) Born 1968, Stornoway. Educated at Nicolson Institute. Journalist. Contested MSP for Western Isles 1999-2007.
RUARAIDH FERGUSON (Liberal Democrat)
JOHN CORMACK (Christian)
Comments - 626 Responses on “Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles)”
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  1. I would be very surprised if there was not an increased SNP majority, the highly conservative (small c) people who live here have very little in common with the ideals of the modern day labour party, apart from their reliance on the state to exist.

  2. Well, the reasons given are that the islanders are not happy with the SNP Government, eg over the Ferrys, and the interconnector. A good candidate could make use of these to attack the SNP.

    Its been Labour before, so its not beyond the bounds of possibility.

  3. A closer look at the result here in 1987-
    Macdonald (Labour)- 7, 041(42.68%, +12.62%)
    Smith (SNP)- 4, 701 (28.50%, -26.04%)
    MacIver (SDP)- 3, 419 (20.72%, +14.94%)
    Morrison (Conservative)- 1, 336 (8.10%, -1.53%)

    Majority- 2, 340 (14.18%)
    Swing- +19.33% From SNP to Lab.

  4. Prediction for this constituency 2015

    SNP 54
    Lab 30
    Con 4
    LD 3
    Others 9

  5. The Same Sex Marriage Bill has been passed by a large margin in the Scottish Parliament. The Tories split 50:50, 8 SNP MSPs voted against as did 3 Labour MSPs.

  6. “…apart from their reliance on the state to exist.”

    That does tend to be pretty high up the list of things that influences VI.

  7. This constituency is like a Scottish equivalent of Anglesey.

    Traditionally a Liberal constituency that was won by Labour in the mid Twentieth Century and then has evolved into a Labour / SNP battleground.

    I am not sure I would describe it as a long standing marginal between the SNP and Labour.

    It was a safe Labour seat from WW2 through to 1970 and then became as safe SNP seat under Donald Stewart. His retirement in 1987 caused Labour to come back with a majority of 14% and then 22% in 2001.

    Angus MacNeil is not as popular as Donald Stewart but should retain the seat with ease in 2015.

  8. Anglesey did have a Tory MP though for Thatchers first 2 terms, and the Western Isles are far more geographically isolated. Anglesey is connected to the mainland be a rail bridge, two road bridges and some power pylons. No fixed link here.

    Are the locals still making a big fuss about the Sunday ferry service?

  9. One of the surprises of the referendum was that the Western Isles voted No. 53/47. In fact the No margin was slightly bigger than that of the Highland council area (which returns three LibDem MPs). Angus Brendan was hoping for the biggest Yes margin in Scotland, so a big disappointment for him. The social conservatism of Lewis obviously had an effect and the high profile and assertive Yes campaign was, ultimately, too in-your-face for the electorate here. All the same, the seat is safe for the SNP.

  10. I guess that’s one of the many grey areas of the referendum. Despite being a very likely SNP hold next year, the Yes campaign didn’t anticipate the Western Isles to vote no in the majority.

  11. I presume this will be an SNP hold in any eventuality.

    But if their national strategy is to spend their energy trying to woo Yes’s stronger Labour-held areas, could that backfire in a seat like this in terms of a swing away from the SNP?

  12. Chris – ultimately an SNP focus on the Central Belt and attempt to outflank Labour on the Left could have repercussions in traditionally SNP rural areas. But it will take some time to impact. And certainly not next year or, probably, in 2016 either.

  13. prediction for 2015 if the independent stands-

    SNP- 55%
    Lab- 31%
    Murdo Murray- 7%
    Con- 4%
    Lib- 3%

  14. All of the SNP constituencies have more Unionists than Nationalists but the SNP will win on a minority Nationalist vote as the Unionist vote will be split. The emergence of UKIP will only aid the SNP in holding these majority Unionist constituencies further.

  15. Sorry….Dundee East has a Nationalist majority but the other 5 are Unionist.

  16. Not in the Westminster seat it doesn’t.

  17. If there was any seat in Scotland which might buck the national trend (ie Labour to SNP) it is likely to be the Western Isles.

    For one thing, the Isles hardly stand up as an area of multiple social deprivation like parts of Glasgow et al where the Yes vote did very well and which are tipped to swing very heavily to the SNP.

    But what really stands out will be the competition between the sitting MP and his challenger, who is confirmed to be the former MSP, Alasdair Morrison.

    It all rather reminds me of Montgomery in 2010 where a very well-known but, ultimately, frivolous incumbent (Lembit Opik) was deposed by a very credible local candidate who had served in the devolved assembly. I think it is quite possible that the electorate here will lose patience with Angus Brendan and there could be a closer result than expected.

  18. Who is Angus Brendan?

  19. Who is Angus Brendan?

    Angus Brendan MacNeil MP. Tends to be known as Angus Brendan locally.

  20. This seat seems like a bit of a wild card to me. It may well be at more risk than other SNP seats, having swung back and forth in the past, but the impact the referendum will have in May is unknown. Even with most of the Islands voting No, I’m not sure enough has changed for a 13% majority to simply evaporate. It may even have the effect of galvanising nationalists to try and ensure they hold it. Labour have a decent chance here, but they have to be careful not too appear too confident they’ll win it back and risk giving the impression of taking votes for granted. I await the results in this constituency with keen interest.

  21. I think it’s a straightforward SNP hold. I think there will be limited correlation between referendum & general election results in Scotland.

  22. Why have the Liberals not had any traction here since the 1930s..?

  23. It makes no sense to me that this seat is rated by the bookies as the least likely of the current SNP seats to be held at GE 2015.

    Admittedly it is at 1/25, but with a 47% Yes vote, I see no other result than a comfortable SNP hold.

  24. I suspect it’s more just that the bookies find this seat harder to understand so they hedge their bets a little. It doesn’t really seem to go with the national picture particularly.

  25. I know this seat has its own unqiue character etc, but I do think it is outrageous that in 21st century Britain we have seats with electorates ranging from circa 20,000 (as in this seat) up to 110,000 in the Isle of Wight. How can this be democratic?

  26. “Why have the Liberals not had any traction here since the 1930s..?”

    The Scottish Highland & Island seats are similar to North West & Mid Wales.

    Strong Liberal traditions replaced by Labour and the Nationalists.

    Its fair to say that where Nationalists are stong, they have taken much of the old Liberal vote.

    Labour won the Western Isles 1935 to 1970 and 1987 to 2005, Caithness & Sutherland 1966 to 1981 and Inverness 1997 to 2005. They have also come close in Ross & Cromarty in 1964, 1966, 1997 and 1999.

  27. After a period of dithering and pondering, I’m going to come right out and say that I strongly suspect this will be an SNP hold and quite probably one with an increased majority, despite the (slightly more narrow than average) No vote.

    Several reasons for this prediction: firstly, anecdotal evidence from the area suggests that a fair few No voters have “crossed the floor” to the SNP since the referendum, for a variety of different reasons (and only a 4% swing would be required for a pro-independence majority in the Isles).

    Secondly, tactical voting for Labour to keep the SNP out, as Unionists have been planning in other parts of Scotland, would be a complete non-starter here. I suspect the number of those supporting the Lib Dems, which was already quite modest, will have decreased significantly since 2010 (in keeping with most of Scotland), and national polling suggests that former Lib Dem voters are most likely to switch to the Nationalists. Also, the Tory performance in elections here has always been notoriously poor. Labour cannot afford to fall back on tactical votes from the other Unionist parties, because they won’t be nearly enough. To win, they’ll need to cut through and take a good chunk of support from those who currently intend to vote SNP, and that’ll be an extremely tall order given the animosity between these two parties.

    Finally, the over 45% of those in the Western Isles who voted SNP in the last two elections and Yes in the referendum are very unlikely to have budged. If that number has been enough to win the seat since 2005, why would it suddenly not be now? If there is an increase in SNP support of even 1 or 2%, that would be pretty much guaranteed to keep Labour frozen out of this seat. Despite having won the referendum, Labour are the ones who really need to regain lost ground, and thus far I have yet to see compelling evidence that they are achieving this.

  28. What you need to remember is that what is going on anywhere else doesn’t make a lot of difference here

    What the different parties are saying about the ferry service and whether people like the individual selected makes much more impact than mainstream political considerations

  29. What you’ve also got to remember is that not every Yes voter in Scotland will vote SNP.

    While I do agree with Mike to an extent, the national picture always has an impact relative to what the result would otherwise have been.

    Nationally, Labour’s best bet w.r.t. previous Red Nats is to tackle the referendum result head-on. The hard truth for unionists is that Yes had the potential to win. There were enough swing voters out there who would have flipped if convinced that the transition would be smooth. So the angle I’d take in LiS’s position would be to acknowledge that opinion is split in the Labour vote, but reach out to those that support iScotland by asking them whether a Labour majority or a 74-79 type parliament would get Scotland closer to a situation in which independence would not involve as much short-ish-term upheaval.

    Sounds a bit farfetched, but don’t forget that the SNP won the 2007 election in part by reaching out to voters who wanted an alternative to Labour but did not support independence. Party VI is nowhere near as entrenched as in Northern Ireland, and that’s an opportunity for both the main players in Scotland.

  30. there was no need to dither. This was always going to be an easy SNP hold.

  31. This constituency has been unpredictable in the past…..just look at 1987.

  32. Other than East Dunbartonshire and a very long shot in Edinburgh West this constituency is the only possible Labour gain in Scotland.

  33. “What you’ve also got to remember is that not every Yes voter in Scotland will vote SNP”

    I know that, but which other pro-independence party is going to field any UK General Election candidates in the Western Isles? The Scottish Greens, as far as I’m aware, never have and would have virtually no takers if they suddenly tried at this late stage. The last time a smaller pro-independence stood for the Western Isles at Westminster was 2005, when the Scottish Socialist Party took a grand total of 97 votes in the whole constituency.

    MacNeil managed 45% of the vote in 2005 and 2010. The Yes vote took 47% in the Western Isles in the referendum. I have yet to see any evidence that this number is diminishing. As I’ve said, it may even be the opposite. At the same time, I haven’t (yet) seen any evidence that more people are intending to vote Labour than have in previous elections, despite one of their peers unwisely claiming they will “certainly” take this seat back from the SNP.

    To reiterate: if Labour wish to win this seat back, they need to take votes from those currently intending to vote SNP. These parties strongly disagree on fundamental matters of policy and I suspect that the things Mr. Morrison has said about Scottish nationalists and the pro-independence movement (when he was an MSP, for example) will severely limit their prospects of appealing to these sorts of people. With these things in mind, I’m not really sure why anyone would be very confident of Scottish Labour pulling this off, at the same time as having to pour resources into defending their heartland west central seats against an SNP surge they never anticipated. But that’s just me.

    So, that’s my prediction. An SNP hold. I could be wrong, so we’ll see what happens. It’ll certainly be interesting, anyway.

  34. Also, Danus Skene is not the SNP’s candidate for the Western Isles. Mr Skene is actually standing in Orkney and Shetland. The SNP’s candidate in May is still Angus MacNeil.

  35. Adam – as things stand this will be an SNP hold in my book, because I don’t think local factors are so strong as to overturn the national swing.

    But the idea that Red Nats and unionist non-Labour tacticals have suddenly been hit by a dinosaur-like meteor and died out is absurd (though they are undoubtedly fewer in number than before 2014). And despite the understandable temptation to put 2 and 2 together, I think it would be a huge medium-term mistake for the SNP to directly tie historically high levels of Green and SNP support with the current level of support for independence – unless of course they truly believe that an SNP landslide could deliver independence before 2020. Otherwise, one bad parliament and that strategy would significantly lengthen the likely 15 year period between now and Scottish independence.

  36. Chris – I almost entirely agree. But I must dispute this statement:

    “But the idea that Red Nats and unionist non-Labour tacticals have suddenly been hit by a dinosaur-like meteor and died out is absurd (though they are undoubtedly fewer in number than before 2014)”

    The thing is, I’m not saying these groups have “suddenly” died out in the Western Isles. My contention is, firstly, that the Red Nats who have voted for Labour at Westminster and the SNP at Holyrood never really existed in the Western Isles: the SNP has held the seat in both Parliaments since 2007, and is particularly strong in the latter. So I’d argue that, unlike large chunks of Scotland, there were no Red Nats in the Isles to speak of anyway. Folk either vote Labour or SNP, and that’s about it.

    As far as tactical voting goes, like I said, where would Labour get these from in the first place? The Tories practically don’t exist in the Western Isles (lost deposits, anyone?) and I’d be stunned if Lib Dems still constitute anything like 7% of the electorate here. Still, nothing “sudden” about that, it’s been a two-horse race for as long as anyone can remember.

    Otherwise, I concur.

  37. SNP Majority 12% over Lab

    This is somewhere that personality matters hugely. There is a lot of SNP support, but a lot of strongly anti-SNP sentiment too. Morrison is a popular candidate and has represented the area before – he has no chance of winning, but I think he could prevent the SNP from increasing their majority.

  38. Neil –

    Interesting assessment. I mostly agree with you. The area *is* very polarised politically, with a bewildering amount of both zealous support and intense hatred of the Nats.

    Also, Morrison will no doubt have a personal vote, but I think we should qualify that by pointing out that this is unlikely to apply in, for example, the southern Hebrides, and given his attitude towards Nationalists and views on the pro-independence movement I’m assuming his appeal to Yes voters will be approximately non-existent. In this case, that’s a dangerously large demographic to alienate right from the start.

    That said, do you really think he has no chance at all of winning? As I’ve said, I too suspect that the most likely outcome is an SNP hold for reasons previously explained. But I’m becoming more and more unsure, and increasingly inclined to think he *may* be in with a shout. It’s all very uncertain and there’s an awful lot of different factors at play.

    It’s also possible that Morrison could lose while drastically reducing the SNP’s majority. That would be scant comfort, though, considering this is surely his last big chance.

  39. On the other hand, the SNP got two thirds of the vote here in 2011, when the national polls were broadly similar to now.

  40. Also, re the odds of an SNP hold being 1/25: I’m now seeing odds of 1/50 and 1/100. Interesting.

  41. A possible solution to the ludicrous electorate size for this constituency – joining the isles to the inner Hebrides which form part of the Highland and Argyll & Bute council areas to form a Hebrides constituency, it might not be equal to other constituencies but certainly closer and fairer.

  42. SNP Hold

    (By the way, its about time this seat was joined to the mainland for Westminster purposes. There is absolutely no justification for continuing to keep this seat as a special case when it has an MSP as well to share the workloads) As I have said before, it seems the Victorians could cope alright with this seat being joined to the mainland, but in our modern age of technology and transport, modern MPs cannot cope).

  43. @NTY UK

    There are minimal transport connections between the Western Isles and the Inner Hebrides. If you were connecting Western Isles with other seats, it would have to be with (part of?) Ross and Skye (Ullapool and Uig are where most of the ferries go from).

  44. I don’t think the argument for this seat (and Orkney & Shetland) being protected is really to do with the practicalities of the MP covering a large area.

  45. Indeed. Allegedly it is something to do with the unique status of this community i.e. language.

    Meanwhile the same sort of argument leads to a ridiculously large IOW seat…

  46. Is the Isle of Wight not supposed to be getting two seats in the next review, despite really only meriting around 1.5? I thought that, at times, a second seat taking in some of the island and an appropriately sized chunk of the mainland had been suggested, but the locals disapproved strongly and preferred just to have one big seat instead,

  47. Correct on all counts I think. But of course if the western isles can have one seat with its ridiculously small electorate then presumably IOW could have had two seats long ago.

  48. Is the Isle of Wight sufficiently distinctive to actually require special protection?

  49. Well it would have been far less ‘special’ than for the Western Isles…two moderately undersized constituencies rather than one absurdly undersized one.

    IOW had an electorate of over 100,000 even in 1993. Two seats at 50,000 wouldn’t have been out of line with the Welsh and Scottish seats at the time or indeed the smaller city seats in England at the time.

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