GE 2019: Fight for The Nations
Whereas coverage of the Conservatives’ pursuit of midlands and northern England constituencies has been plentiful, the critical nature of this election has been missed. Not only will these nations make or break the electoral prospects of Johnson or Corbyn but they are also interesting in their own right: Brexit’s impact on Northern Irish politics, the slide to sectarian politics in Scotland and the rise of conservatism in Wales are all generation-defining issues.
Wales (40 seats)
At the beginning of the 2017 campaign Wales appeared to be on the brink of a realignment to the right before Corbyn’s campaign surge resulted in a couple of gains for Labour. The latest polling shows the Tories have demolished that 15.3 point lead Labour boasted in 2017, meaning Johnson will aim to retake the constituencies lost in 2017, and Leave-voting Wrexham. However he will be concerned about the fate of Stephen Crabb, whose constituency has been targeted by Labour activists due to his history implementing welfare reforms. Throughout the 20th century, Wales was a hotbed for class issues as shown by the Conservatives failure to ever win a plurality of seats here. Yet Brexit may change things. The Greens, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru have formed an alliance in 11 Welsh seats under the banner of ‘Unite to Remain’ but this will make little impact with the exception of helping the Liberal Democrats defend their newly won seat of Brecon and Radnorshire. Wales is an important battleground where tactical voting will be key. That being said, the Conservatives may benefit simply because the Leave vote is divided between just two parties whereas Remainers have the choice of four credible choices.
Seat to watch: Preseli Pembrokeshire (held by Stephen Crabb, Conservative) - if Labour manage just a 0.4% swing from Conservatives in this seat then it would suggest they have moved the agenda from Brexit to Austerity and with the help of Liberal Democrat and SNP gains elsewhere they can start thinking of Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10.
Scotland (59 seats)
If Wales was a wasted opportunity for the Conservatives in 2017 then Scotland was their rescue mission, Ruth Davidson’s energetic campaigning resulted in 13 Conservative MPs - their best result since 1983. Yet the latest research shows many of these gains will be handed back to a resurgent SNP. The Tories will be pleased if they keep just half of their Scottish MPs. Both the SNP and the Conservatives will try to frame the election around independence as unionist voters recognise backing Labour, Liberal Democrats or the Brexit Party will result in a government relying on Scottish Nationalists for a majority. With 49 seats having majorities of fewer than 5,000 votes it is highly volatile region with even Jo Swinson’s seat even under threat from the SNP surge. Scotland has been a thorn in the side of Jeremy Corbyn since he became leader in 2015, he reckoned that the Scots were yearning for his socialist worldview, yet the Labour Party look stuck in a rut. Without a majority of Scottish seats Labour have never won a majority in Westminster. In essence, the success of the SNP is a block on Labour winning this election outright.
Seat to Watch: Dumfries and Galloway (held by Alistair Jack, Scotland Secretary) - currently Conservative with a majority of 10.9%, if the SNP take this seat then the Tories have likely lost at least ten seats narrowing their path to a majority.
Northern Ireland (18 seats)
No region of the United Kingdom has been more affected by the 2016 vote to leave the European Union than Northern Ireland. The DUP have made a series of mistakes, first backing Leave in the belief this would strengthen the union, then refusing to back May’s deal, leading to the Johnson deal that they despise. Due to this they are on the back foot in this election with Sinn Fein and the SDLP making numerous alliances to oust the DUP from previous strongholds. It will be notable how large the Liberal Democrats’ sister party, Alliance, surge in the polls; they currently seem likely to double their vote share from 8% to at least 16%.
Seat to Watch: Belfast North (held by Nigel Dodds, DUP): SDLP have stood aside to give Sinn Fein a free run to make Belfast North represented by an Irish Nationalist for the first time ever since its creation in 1885.
Whilst these seats are numerically less important than England, the ideological battles playing out behind them warrant more interest by the media. Will Scotland stay yellow? Will Wales turn blue? Will the DUP crumble in Northern Ireland? Only time will tell.