Scotland politics

Election 2017: What do the mapped out visits of Scotland's leaders tell us?

Scotland's main political leaders
Image caption From baking bread to selling ice-cream, Scotland's political leaders have been busy on the campaign trail

You've heard what the politicians have to say. You've heard the spin about which seats are important. If you're really keen, you may even have read a manifesto or four.

Is there another way of finding out what - and where - really matters to the party leaders?

We set out to analyse another indicator - where they've been going.

The campaigning time available to Scotland's main party leaders is finite, especially in a snap election.

Even battlebuses, helicopters (and on at least one occasion a go-kart) can't cover the whole country. Nicola, Ruth, Kezia and Willie are going where they think they can make the biggest difference.

So we thought we'd analyse those campaigning visits to see if a pattern emerged.

A few caveats...

  • First, as Peter Snow used to say, this is just a bit of fun. It's not rocket science. It's hardly even political science.
  • Second, we set limits on whose movements we analysed: we looked only at the Scottish party leaders (although Nicola is both a Scottish and UK leader) because Theresa, Jeremy and Tim made few forays north of the border.
  • Third, we didn't count national events like manifesto launches. We were interested in the myriad jaunts to distilleries, garden centres and nurseries that were made in the hope of furthering a party's cause in a particular constituency.
  • And fourth, we set a time limit. We started counting on Monday 8 May to avoid confusion with the previous week's council election campaign and we stopped at close of play last Friday, 2 June.

Read more about where the UK party leaders have been here

That has given us three weeks of campaign numbers to crunch and enough time for us to do our sums.

We got our raw data about who went where from the parties themselves and from the leaders' Twitter feeds.

So what did we find? Here, in four maps, is where the leaders went.

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The very nature of their electoral tsunami last time means the SNP have dozens of seats to defend. Nicola Sturgeon's visits are split almost equally between east and west. They may show where her party feels most vulnerable and where they have hopes of adding to their total. It looks like constituencies in and around Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perthshire matter.

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Ruth Davidson has turned up twice in the one seat her party is defending. Her travels have also taken her to a couple of Glasgow suburban seats where the Tories have hopes. The rest of her appearances - in the east - could signal possible gains. But it's not unheard of for a party leader to pop up somewhere just to keep their opponents tied down in that constituency. Banff and Buchan? We'll have to wait and see.

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The map for Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has a couple of outliers in the Highlands and Islands. The rest of her travels have taken her across the Central Belt from Inverclyde through Lanarkshire, southern Fife and Lothian. These used to be Labour heartlands. She's going there in the hope they can be again. Brilliant campaigning - or a waste of shoe leather?

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Willie Rennie has so far concentrated on areas where the Liberal Democrats were once a power in the land and where there remains enough of a core vote to give him hope this time. So we see he's been to seats in Fife, around Edinburgh, north and west of central Glasgow and the three huge seats contained in the Highland Council area. Can he turn them back from SNP primrose to LibDem gold? Not long before we find out.

What's so special about East Lothian?

The diary dates might look a lot like the leaders went everywhere, so let's narrow it down a bit. Which constituencies felt the love most?

Four stand out immediately because each has been treated to no fewer than five leader visits.

East Lothian was wooed by Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson on one occasion each - and by Kezia Dugdale three times.

Similarly Edinburgh East: two appearances by Willie Rennie and another three Kezias. So it's reasonable to assume Labour think these two seats are their hottest prospects.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie was revving up for success in his "Back to the Future" DeLorean
Image copyright PA
Image caption Dog Raffles took a shine to Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson in Edinburgh

Also on five visits: North East Fife. Nicola Sturgeon has been there twice and Willie Rennie three times - although you have to bear in mind he is the local MSP.

Our final five-star hotspot is Perth and Perthshire North. It's played host to three Ruths and two Nicolas. So, according to the map, both the Conservatives and the SNP are taking this one very seriously indeed.

Three other constituencies are just bubbling under on four visits apiece: Dunbartonshire East (where two Sturgeons and two Rennies were spotted), Edinburgh West (a Davidson, two Rennies and a Sturgeon), and Renfrewshire East (three Ruths and a Nicola).

Taken together, the map suggests these seven seats are - in the parties' eyes at least - key battlegrounds.

But what about the other end of the scale?

No leader visits

The maps may make it look like the leaders were all over Scotland like a cheap suit. But our numbers suggest that no fewer than 22 of our 59 constituencies - that's well over a third - had not been visited by a party leader at all by the time we lowered the bar.

Any surprises among them? Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine had been touted as being in play. If so, not at party leader level - although campaigning continues.

Similarly the two seats each in Aberdeen and Dundee have been skipped, plus large swathes of central and western Scotland once regarded as Labour strongholds.

But if you're voting in one of these Billy-nae-mates constituencies that doesn't mean your vote doesn't count. Far from it.

It could instead mean one or more parties think their local campaign is doing well enough not to need the help of a big gun. Or conversely that the parties' assessments are just plain wrong.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon was in Dumfries in the hope of hitting the right target
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption On cue to win? Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale was hoping so when she played pool at a campaign event in Easterhouse, Glasgow

Remember what happened just two years ago. To paraphrase William Goldman, nobody knew anything. It's a secret ballot and your vote is worth as much as anyone else's.

It's also worth bearing in mind what information the parties are relying on when deciding where to send their leaders.

Word from the local campaigns, in which the challengers are prone to near-boundless optimism and the incumbents tend to be nervously pessimistic.

And opinion polls. Ah yes, opinion polls.

After the last UK general election and the EU referendum the jury is - to say the least - out on opinion polling. Their numbers are, like our party leaders, all over the map at the moment.

They may narrow by polling day but they can't all be right. The samples in individual constituencies will be smaller and so have an even wider margin of error.

In all, not a great basis on which the parties can programme their satnavs but the best they have.

We've had our fun. Now you can have yours.

The parties have been intensifying their campaigning since we stopped counting. But you can get out your political anorak and carry on.

Where have the leaders been going over the last few days - and where will they be dashing as the campaigning dwindles down to a matter of hours before the polls open?

Where they go is likely to be ever more revealing than what they say.

If this rough and ready method has some value we'll be back next week to compare our Super Seven Seats with the final result.

But if we were wrong we'll sidle off sheepishly and it's unlikely you'll ever hear from us on the matter again.

Maps display winning parties from 2015 general election or most recent by-election. Estimated figures for the 2016 EU referendum are from Dr Chris Hanretty's academic study that remapped results from the EU referendum from local authority level to parliamentary constituency level. Scottish party leader visits displayed on the maps are accurate up to Friday 2 June, and include only visits related to the 2017 general election campaign. Production by Visual Journalism. Maps built with Carto.