With it now being odds-on that we have a hung parliament next year, some are now speculating on the chances of another election having to be called pretty swiftly.

It last happened after the indecisive result of the February 1974 election, the only time since 1910 that there have been two in the same calendar year. So, it’s not very common in UK politics, but the chances of a very messy outcome in next May are increasing by the day. If we take the mid-point of Ladbrokes’ current seat totals betting, the parliament that would emerge would look something like this:

There would really only be one stable option here to get to a majority of 326; a Lab/Lib coalition (currently a 5/1 shot with Ladbrokes).

But, let’s imagine a scenario where UKIP and the SNP do a bit better than our betting currently suggests, which many people think they will, and the Tories get a lot closer to Labour:

What happens now? Con+LD+UKIP gets to 325, but that doesn’t seem all that plausible or stable an arrangement. Lab+LD+SNP gives 329 seats, although if the SNP continue to abstain on English only issues at Westminster, that might not work either for a lot of legislation. Maybe some Northern Irish MPs and Plaid Cymru can be persuaded to prop up such a government, but it wouldn’t be a smooth ride. Anything close to this sort of result could easily lead to a fresh election, although Steve Richards thinks that the Fixed Term Parliament Act makes it unlikely, however complicated the maths is.

Until recently, most of us had been assuming that the Greens would have enough of a job holding on to their one seat in Brighton Pavilion. Perhaps an outside chance in Norwich South, but that was about it. Some good recent national opinion polls have led to speculation that they might do a bit better than that.

Let’s have a look at their chances in the 12 target seats mentioned in The Guardian, as indicated by the current constituency odds at Ladbrokes:

Seat Win 2010 %Maj 2010 Green Odds
Brighton Pavilion Green 2.4 10/11
Norwich South Lib-Dem 0.7 6/1
Bristol West Lib-Dem 20.5 10/1
St Ives Lib-Dem 3.7 25/1
Sheffield Central Labour 0.4 25/1
Holborn & St Pancras Labour 18.2 25/1
Liverpool Riverside Labour 36.5 25/1
Solihull Lib-Dem 0.3 33/1
York Central Labour 13.9 33/1
Oxford East Labour 8.9 33/1
Reading East Conservative 15.2 33/1
Cambridge Lib-Dem 13.6 50/1

Bristol West came as a bit of a surprise to me when people started backing it at 100/1. Now 10/1, that would be a very expensive result for Ladbrokes. Perhaps not quite as bad as Brighton Pavilion in 2010, which was one of the biggest betting contests out of all 650 UK constituencies. Caroline Lucas only just scraped home back then, but the Greens had been backed in from 5/1.

Norwich South was their number two target at the last election, and there’s not reason why they couldn’t go close again in 2015. If, as expected, the Liberal Democrats are turfed out with a vastly reduced vote, the seat is very much up for grabs between Labour and the Greens. I’m starting to think 6/1 might be a big price there.

It looks like their other hopes are mostly seats with big student/university populations and classic Guardianista territory. It looks a big ask for them to actually win any of these, so we’re quoting 25/1 that the party wins six or more seats next May.

It’s official: This was the biggest political betting event of all time. Previously dominated by UK general elections and US Presidential races, the indyref turned out to be bigger than any of those. From the huge interest in our betting shops in Scotland to the staggering amounts matched on the exchanges, it’s clear that this has smashed all previous numbers.

I think it was something to do with it being an issue that people felt much more strongly about than party politics along with the central proposition being a simple binary YES/NO choice that caused it. The fact that the race was reasonably close in the final stages was a big help too, although it was never anywhere near being the “toss-up” that the media portrayed.

The biggest price you could ever have got NO at with Ladbrokes was the 4/9 that it briefly hit in the wake of the YouGov poll showing YES in the lead, when YES hit it’s all time low of 7/4.

The betting on the YES vote percentage was also a huge heat for us, the amazing feature of which was the non-stop support for it going above 55%, even before the polls tightened in the last few weeks. That would have resulted in the worst loss ever for Ladbrokes on a non-sports market, but it never looked very likely. We got lucky with the vote dipping below 45%; the 40-45% band was the optimal result for us and was never bigger than 3/1 at any stage in the last 12 months.

We also got a break with the turnout betting, having completely underestimated the chances of it being as high as it was. In the end, we just escaped a very nasty hit that would have occurred had it gone over 85%. The punters who shrewdly took advantage of our initial 16/1 quote about it being over 85% have had one of the best value losing political bets ever.

Dundee rewarded favourite backers in the top YES percentage area betting, always having been odds-on. Spare a thought for the people who backed Inverclyde to go YES at 3/1, who lost out by under 100 votes. Another good value loser.

The main political betting lesson to take out of the indyref was a familiar one; anecdotal “on the ground” evidence is a very poor substitute for a dispassionate examination of the polls and the political science. Unsurprisingly, posters in windows turned out to be a poor predictor of the final result.

Ladbrokes will have odds available on the referendum throughout the night until the result is declared (or I fall asleep).

Here are the Press Associations estimated vote declaration times:

If this is close, we’ll likely all be waiting for Glasgow. The latest Ladbrokes prices there make YES and NO joint favourites at 5/6.

To help make sense of the results, you might like to check out our odds on which region will have the highest YES vote percentage:

If Na h-Eileanan Siar (the Western isles) do declare first, we won’t be over-reacting to the result. It could easily prove to be totally atypical to the rest of the country, although our betting suggests it is more likely to go YES.

North Lanarkshire on the other hand could set the tone early on. This is one of the most populous regions and at the moment, we can’t split YES and NO:

If NO wins here, then I’d be fairly certain that Scotland is staying in the UK. A YES win with over 53% or so would indicate that the nationalists are on course to go very close.

Clackmannanshire at 2.30 could also be interesting – we rate this as the second most likely area to go YES after Dundee, so if they can’t win here, that will be a very poor showing.

As things stand, a YES vote will be a very expensive outcome for Ladbrokes. The money today is overwhelmingly for independence, although the odds remain unchanged at 7/2. Our best outcome would be a YES vote of between 40 & 45%, preferably with a turnout under 80%. We can now say with certainty that this has been the biggest UK political betting event of all time.

I’ve been in Scotland for a couple of days. Most people who don’t follow the betting were very surprised that there was such a big discrepancy between the odds for YES and NO, given that the media are telling us that this is variously a “coin toss”, “on a knife-edge” or “too close to call”.

Let’s look at yesterday’s three polls, all of which gave NO a 52-48 lead, excluding Don’t Knows. With the undecideds included, we have:

Pollster NO YES DK DKs for YES win
ICM 45 41 14 64.3%
Survation 48 44 8 75.0%
Opinium 49 45 6 83.3%

If these polls are an accurate picture of the electorate, then the nationalists’ best chance is to convert enough of those Don’t Knows to YES. The final column shows the percentage of undecideds who would have to go YES to pull them level. In my opinion, it is exceedingly unlikely that they will be able to achieve those numbers. In fact, political science tells us that it is much more likely that the opposite will happen and the undecideds will break for NO.

It’s worth pointing out that the improvement in the YES figures over the last two weeks seem largely to be a movement from DK into the YES column. So perhaps something different is going on in this referendum. The other main assumption that needs to be questioned is whether the pollsters really are accurately measuring opinion, given the unique nature of this vote. For a nationalist viewpoint on this, head for James Kelly’s blog.

On the other hand are there enough “shy unionists” to make a difference in favour of the NO campaign when it comes to the vote? Check out Stephen Fisher’s excellent review of all of these matters.

Can YES still win? Of course, but it’s unlikely unless the pollsters have got this very wrong. This certainly isn’t a coin toss and, if forced to make a prediction, I think we’ll see a reasonably comfortable NO win by around 55-45.

UPDATE:

Reported Panelbase figures are also 52-48 to NO. Significantly, with DKs included, it’s 50-45-5. So YES would need 100% of the undecideds to draw level.

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