If you’ve registered to vote in the upcoming General Election, you will have probably received your polling card by now, detailing your constituency.
The constituency boundaries are carefully calculated. The total number of people registered to vote (the electorate) is divided by the total number of seats in Parliament. For example, the latest data shows an electorate of 45,766,000, and a total number of 650 seats in Parliament. The electoral quota, or number of voters per constituency, if calculated using current data, would be 45,766,000 / 650 = 70,409.
It is necessarily a little more complex than this. There is, for example, a geographical rule that each constituency should not exceed 13,000 square kilometres. There are exceptions for rural and scarcely populated areas, or islands, resulting in protected constituencies, such as Orkney and Shetland, and Na h-Eileanan an lar (the Outer Hebrides).
Constituency imbalances can also occur; Na h-Eileanan an lar is the smallest constituency, with 21,200 voters, whilst the Isle of Wight is the largest constituency, with 108,600 (ONS, 2017).
The number of voters per constituency is a continually changing variable as the number of people registered to vote fluctuates. New voters are also added with each election or referendum as people reach the age of 18 (attainers). The 2016 EU referendum saw a surge in people registering to vote with the electorate rising from 46.2 million in December 2015, to 47.35 million by Dec 2016 (ONS, 2017a).
As a result of these changes, constituency boundaries are often reviewed and revised. The Boundary Commission is responsible for creating the constituencies. There is a Boundary Commission for each U.K. country, and the overall chairperson is the speaker of the House of Commons.
If we take the constituency on which the University of Glasgow’s main building lies, we can see it changes frequently as a result of reviews by the Boundary Commission for Scotland.
In 1950, the University main building was part of Hillhead Division, with the constituency boundary running along University Avenue. The University Library as it currently stands, would have been in the separate constituency of Woodside. (The library was in the main building until 1968). Scotland had 71 seats, of which 15 were in Glasgow. The electoral quota per Scottish constituency was 51,008, which the Commission note was “considerably below the electoral quota for Great Britain” (Boundary Commission, 1947, p. 4).
In 1955, the University main building was a part of Glasgow Woodside Burgh Constituency. The electoral quota per Scottish constituency was 48,011, which the Commission note again as considerably below the average.
“Since the Commission’s review of constituency boundaries in 1947, there have been large movements of population within Glasgow from older central districts to areas of new housing development. …
Extensive rehousing is still in progress and a considerable movement of the population from one part of the city to another is still continuing and is likely to do so in the years immediately ahead.” (Boundary Commission, 1954, p. 5)
In the mid-20th Century the city was trying to cope with overcrowding, leading to a rise of newly built areas, such as Drumchapel, Easterhouse, Castlemilk and Pollock. Whilst changes to the boundaries were proposed, Glasgow’s constituencies remained at 15 at the recommendation of the Boundary Commission.
By 1974, the University main building was a part of the Glasgow Kelvingrove Burgh Constituency. The electoral quota per Scottish constituency was 47,745, and had lowered with each Commission report. The electoral quota for England meanwhile, was 58,759. The Commission concluded that the number of seats could not be reduced, as they were already at the guaranteed minimum (71) for Scotland.
The continued movement from the city centre to outlying areas resulted in imbalanced constituencies, and as a result the city lost 2 of its 15 seats to Dunbartonshire and Lanarkshire.
For the Commission’s third review in 1983 the University main building became part of the Glasgow Hillhead Burgh Constituency. Continued electorate imbalances between constituencies (Glasgow Central contained 24,000 voters, whilst Midlothian had more than 91,000), and a significant upheaval in local government meant that the Boundary Commission had their work cut out for them once again.
The Commission successfully recommended an extra seat for Scotland bringing the total constituencies up to 72. Glasgow’s seats were reduced from 13 to 11.
The report contained a table illustrating the favourable representation of Scotland and Wales comparative with England. It was justified by the statement that, due to the difference in country sizes, the smaller countries should be given a greater weight in terms of seats. In addition, “Scotland has a disproportionate number of inaccessible and sparsely populated areas” (Boundary Commission, 1983, p. 9).
The University main building can be seen in the Glasgow Kelvin Constituency following the fourth Boundary Commission report in 1997. Glasgow’s seats were further reduced from 11 to 10.
The Boundary Commission’s plans received a number of objections, resulting in a local inquiry. If the Boundary Commission recommends changes to constituency boundaries and names, the public are entitled to respond, and the Commission must take local opinion into consideration.
Donald Dewar MP objected to the name Glasgow Knightswood. His suggestion that Glasgow Anniesland, as a “well-known point of reference and focal point” would be more appropriate was taken on board. (Boundary Commission, 1995, p. 134)
The Garrowhill Community Council objected to Garrowhill coming under the Baillieston Constituency, as it would be linked with Easterhouse.
“Natural affinity and family and community links” were considerations with regard to the Govan constituency, with opinions that Pollockshields, Langside and Shawlands had no connection to the Govan area and should therefore not be included in the constituency.
The University main building was part of the new Glasgow North constituency following the Commission’s Fifth Report.
The fifth review in 2005 saw a significant change to Scottish constituencies when the guaranteed minimum number of seats was removed in 1999 (Scotland Act 1998, s.86). The Boundary Commission re-calculated the number of seats in Scotland to adhere to the electoral quota under which England operated. This meant Scotland’s constituencies were reduced from 72 to 59, and Glasgow’s seats from 10 to 7.
The sixth review is currently on hold following a call from Parliament to further reduce the number of constituencies from 650 to 600, making the new electoral quota between 71,031 and 78,507 (protected constituencies excepted). This means that the number of seats allocated to Scotland is likely to fall from 59 to 53.
If you’d like to know more about official publications just get in touch with us at the Maps, Official Publications and Statistics Unit on Level 7 of the library. We’re open Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, and can be contacted on 0141 330 6740 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maps and Official Publications
Boundary Commission for Scotland. 1947. Initial Report of the Boundary Commission for Scotland. (Cmd. 7270). Edinburgh: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.
Boundary Commission for Scotland. 1954. First Periodical Report of the Boundary Commission for Scotland. (Cmd. 9312). Edinburgh: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.
Boundary Commission for Scotland. 1969. (Map Crown Copyright 1966). Second Periodical Report of the Boundary Commission for Scotland. (Cmd. 4085). Edinburgh: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.
Boundary Commission for Scotland. 1983. Third Periodical Report of the Boundary Commission for Scotland. (Cmnd. 8794). Edinburgh: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.
Boundary Commission for Scotland. 1995. Fourth Periodical Report of the Boundary Commission for Scotland. (Cm 2726). Edinburgh: HMSO.
Boundary Commission for Scotland. 2004. Fifth Periodical Report of the Boundary Commission for Scotland. (Cm 6427). Edinburgh: The Stationery Office.
Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2017). Electoral Statistics for the UK: 2016. [Online].
Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2017a). Electoral Statistics for the UK: dataset. [Online].
Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986. as amended. (c. 56). London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. Available online via various sources, including Westlaw, and the Boundary Commission for Scotland’s Legislation page.
Boundary Commission for England. 2017. 2018 Review. [Online].
Boundary Commission for Scotland. n.d. 2018 Review of UK Parliament Constituencies. [Online].
Boundary Commission for Scotland. n. d. Frequently Asked Questions – UK Parliament Reviews. [Online].