As the dust settles on the 2017 council elections, the public has been left to make sense of the results in Scotland.
News coverage painted a somewhat confusing picture as political parties and attempted to massage the figures in their favour.
Put simply: The SNP won the most council seats across Scotland, the Scottish Conservatives made significant gains but remain far behind the nationalists. Scottish Labour lost over 130 seats and is now only the third biggest party, while there were modest gains for the Scottish Greens, and small losses for the Liberal Democrats.
However, council elections are more complicated than that. Many media outlets reported that the SNP, who ended up with 431 seats compared to 425 in the 2012 vote, had actually lost ground.
Quite how many seats they had lost was unclear. The Guardian reported the SNP were 31 seats down on their 2012 result, but also stated the party had actually gained 31.
The 31-seat gain was repeated in the Telegraph and Daily Express.
The Daily Record had the SNP six up from last time, while STV News was more generous with seven.
On the BBC’s coverage, Scotland’s ruling party was six down based on ‘notional’ results from 2012.
But what does this mean?
The term ‘notional’ is used to compare results from the 2012 election while taking into account subsequent boundary changes. The exact methodology used to calculate the differences has not been revealed, but on their website, the general idea was explained.
“In some councils, boundary changes take place where councils are re-organised and the number of seats on the council changes.
“In cases like this, the BBC uses ‘notional results’ to project what the previous result would have been if the new boundaries had been in place at the last election.”
So essentially, this adjustment tries to help people make a more meaningful comparison to the results of the previous election.
Much of the coverage of the event has focused on the significant gains by the Scottish Conservatives, who returned councillors in areas previously thought to be part of the Labour bedrock.
Some media outlets reported that this surge had been at the expense of the SNP, however this does not give a full picture, and in fact the Tories appeared to have chiefly profited from Labour’s collapse. In overall seats, the Scottish Conservatives finished more than 150 behind the SNP.
A number of correspondents seemed not to take into account the different voting systems used in Scotland (Single Transferable Vote) and England (First Past the Post) during their coverage.
Sounds like SNP leader in Fife just lost his seat to a Tory— Laura Kuenssberg (
) May 5, 2017
The SNP is now the largest party in 16 councils, but lost their majority in Dundee and failed to get the expected majority in Glasgow despite unseating the long-time Labour administration.
Scottish Labour’s losses mean they are now only the biggest party in three council areas, while the Tories topped in six.
Every council area (except Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Orkney and Shetland) is now in No Overall Control, meaning a weekend spent thrashing out coalition agreements.
So what can we learn from all this?
The SNP had a good night, but will be disappointed that they did not make significant enough gains in Glasgow to take overall control of the council. The Scottish Conservatives continued their recent resurgence at the expense of Labour, who can only hope they have bottomed out.
Scotland’s voting system still appears to be baffling to many people, including in the media, leading to a false impression of the winners and losers in this election. The public can be forgiven from being confused, when many in the press seem unable to agree on how to measure performance between elections.