Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Voter profile Dumfries Galloway

I have been looking here

And on same site for other mentions of Galloway and Dumfries on the same website. It is a ‘to see oursels as ithers see us’ experience. For example

Any analysis of these 2 seats should take account of the very different character of their rural areas. Much of Dumfriesshire - particularly the south - consists of large mixed farming units, while in general Galloway has hill farms in the east and dairying in Wigtownshire.
While prosperity has declined to very low levels in Scottish farming, Dumfries has always been a much more prosperous county.
Also, the influence of Hector Monro was enormous.

The town of Dumfries - the Labour stronghold - is in the D&G Westminster seat. The rural parts of the Dumfries Holyrood seat are in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale.
David Mundell ran Labour a close second in the 2003 elections in Dumfries - Labour holding on because they managed to increase their share of the vote at the expense of the SNP. WHich is what they did in Dumfries and Galloway in 2005. Doubt this will happen this year which is why the Tories might well take it.

So how will votes go on May 3rd?

Assuming the Spectator 'Scottish and English Tories to separate' story is a storm in a Westminster tea cup... here are some incomplete thoughts...

Well, if I was to adopt a UK Polling Report approach, I would look most closely at the 2003 voting patterns at council ward level. However this is a bit confusing - how should one allocate the votes for Independent candidates? Can they be thought of as Conservative votes? Not necessarily.

But I am not in a number crunching mood, so lets try a different approach. When I was doing the Tesco campaign, I was told by a usually reliable source that Tesco had picked on Castle Douglas after doing a bit of socio-economic research which pointed to CD as at the centre of an area of high disposable income which Tesco wanted to tap into. From memory the data came from and took the form of a whole set of different regional ‘consumer profiles’- still have the hard copy buried in my files somewhere.

I am not sure how useful such an approach is, but it does suggest that rather than seeing voters as existing as uniform ‘blocs’ (which is the problem with analysis based on voting figures) , they are made up of smaller sub-groups. So here is a bit of political social anthropology.

Labour - Old and New

Old Labour voters can be found in our ‘urban centres’ - Stranraer and Dumfries plus the old mining area around Sanquhar (the ‘Upper Nithsdale’ that got added to Galloway to dilute the anti-Conservative vote in the bad old days) and where there were/ are pockets of unionised workers e.g. Chapelcross nuclear power station. Also , but more spread out, in NHS and D and G Council - the region’s largest employers.

New Labour - not so sure on this, but likely to be employed in more managerial positions in various ‘agencies’. I’m thinking here of someone like Norma Hart, who was a Labour candidate and had been head of local EU Partnership Agency and then DG Tourist Board. So most likely to be employed by SNH, Scottish Enterprise, DG Council, SEPA etc - part of Scotland’s Labour voting middle class. That in Scotland, Labour are ‘the establishment’. This group more likely to be incomers rather than the Old labour group. Also critical in tipping balance for Labour post 1997. Old Labour never strong enough on its own to threaten Conservative hegemony.

However, more likely to be annoyed by New Labour shift to right - e.g. Iraq, Trident etc. And - maybe - by failure of Jack McConnell / Scottish Executive to back Crichton Campaign. Therefore more likely to vote SNP as protest vote than Old Labour supporters? Perhaps.


Interesting. Were D and G Conservatives ever Thatcherites? I suspect not. They were and are , no less than our Old Labour voters, traditionalists. D and G Conservatives as equivalent to the English ‘shire Tories‘. A mix of almost Edwardian style ‘old money’ landowners with merchant banking links , farmers and small businesses men and woman (Of which there are many - region has very high level of self- employment). Possibly, probably, added to by many of the regions’ English retirees.

On the whole, comfortable with traditional (see previous blogs) ‘Scottish as British’ identity and very nervous of Scottish nationalism.

This is a difficult one to analyse - D and G was described to me by a Labour voting incomer/ retiree as ‘still feudal’. I disagreed on ‘feudal’ as a technical term, but it is in many ways still a ‘pre-industrial’ rural society and is therefore socially conservative. The social cohesion this creates is highly valued. Voting Conservative is seen as the best way to ‘conserve’ social cohesion, as a defence against ‘everything solid melting to air’ - as Marx and Engels put it in the Communist Manifesto.

Ideally, I suspect, most of the regions’ Conservative voters would like to see devolution undone. They see the Scottish Parliament as run by urban, central belt socialists who know nothing of rural life and do their best to ignore its existence. .

I wonder - am I exaggerating here? I don’t know.

Scottish National Party

The recent history here is of the SNP as being focus for opposition to the Conservatives. SNP victories in 1974 and again in 1997 (in Galloway, never Dumfriesshire) have always come as ‘surprise wins’, requiring tactical voting by Labour and Liberal /Lib Dem supporters.

Traditional SNP voters mostly drawn from rural ’working class’ mixed with a few of the self-employed middle class and including (unfortunately) an element of ’anti- wealthy English incomers’ sentiment. Has devolution changed this?

Possibly to the extent that the rhetoric of ‘independence ‘ as a personal and economic aspiration fits with the motivation of the regions self-employed and small business. There could be a shift here towards the SNP and away from the Conservatives (whose rhetoric involves a similar idea of ‘independence’, ‘standing on our own feet‘ etc).

There is an element of confusion here. The farming community are strongly Conservative, but are seen by the small-business/ self-employed as having been feathered bedded by the state for generations. Indeed, viewed from this perspective, Dumfries and Galloway’s economy is highly reliant on the state - for example through the Forestry Commission (largest landowner in Galloway) the NHS and Council plus government agencies as well as support for farming.



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