Election fever: with the general election looming, which are the seats to watch?

Written by Kate Shannon on 7 June 2017 in Inside Politics

Holyrood on the seats to watch in the general election

Making predictions about elections is a tricky business and election polling can usually only take you so far. However, after so many votes in recent years, from the independence ballot in 2014, through to the 2015 general election and 2016’s Holyrood and Brexit votes, we can make some deductions. Regardless of the results, a number of seats in Scotland will make for interesting viewing when the votes start coming in on 9 June.

In 2015, the SNP landslide claimed 56 out of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats. 

Speaking the day after the vote, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined we’d win 56 out of Scotland’s 59 MPs.”


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She added: “The people have spoken – and their verdict was a stunning one. This election has been the most extraordinary one imaginable for the SNP and for Scotland. The SNP won 50 per cent of the vote, and more than 1.4 million votes – the highest number of individual ballots ever cast for a single party in an election in Scotland.

 “The tectonic plates of Scottish politics shifted yesterday – it is a historic result. This was an overwhelming vote for Scotland’s voice to be heard, and for an end to continued austerity.

“So our MPs will be a loud voice against the Tories’ austerity agenda, which now more than ever threatens some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

Whether or not the SNP can repeat this success remains to be seen. The party has the most to lose in Scotland and the other parties are not letting them rest on their laurels. In particular, the Scottish Conservatives appear confident they can increase their MPs, particularly in the Borders where John Lamont resigned his Holyrood seat to fight for Westminster. However, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats cannot be underestimated and with only one MP apiece, they have everything to gain. 

Labour will be hoping to increase Ian Murray’s majority in Edinburgh South, particularly as his main opponent, Jim Eadie, was dispatched by Labour in last year’s Holyrood election. They also have one eye on Kirsten Oswald’s Renfrewshire East seat where former Better Together boss Blair McDougall is playing to the area’s strong No vote.

The Lib Dems have named a number of areas they want to take from the SNP. While Alistair Carmichael’s Orkney and Shetland seat looks shaky after his majority plummeted to just over 800 in 2015, both Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur held their Holyrood seats in 2016 with decent majorities. The party has also set their sights on East Dunbartonshire and are standing one of their former big guns at Westminster in Jo Swinson. However, their best bet will probably be Edinburgh West. The area was always staunchly Lib Dem until Michelle Thomson took it for the SNP.

However, following revelations about her business practices and an ongoing legal investigation, she ended up sitting as an independent and was denied an SNP ticket for 2017. Looking at Holyrood, Alex Cole-Hamilton gained the seat from the SNP in 2016.

One other interesting development is Patrick Harvie standing for the Scottish Greens in Glasgow North seat. He said he wanted voters to “take the fight to the Tories” and promised to offer a “positive, hopeful alternative” to the Conservatives. Harvie will be hoping to capitalise on the party’s success in the local elections in Glasgow where they returned a record seven councillors, including in Hillhead. However, he faces a tough task in unseating the SNP’s Patrick Grady who has a comfortable 9,295 majority. Whether his standing will split the SNP vote remains to be seen.  

Seats to watch

Edinburgh West

Current: Michelle Thomson (Ind) Majority: 3,210

Candidates: Sandy Batho (Con), Toni Giugliano (SNP), Christine Jardine (LD), Mandy Telford (Lab), Mark Whittet (Scotland’s Independence Referendum Party)
Target for: the Lib Dems

EU referendum: Remain – 74.4% Leave – 25.6% (City of Edinburgh)

Scottish referendum: Yes – 38.9% No – 61.1% (City of Edinburgh)

2016 Scottish Parliament: the Lib Dems gained from the SNP with a 2,960 majority

Overview: A Lib-Dem stronghold for many years, the seat was won from longstanding Lib Dem MP Mike Crockart in 2015. However, winner Michelle Thomson ultimately ended up sitting  as an independent following investigations into her business practices. After being denied an SNP ticket for 2017, she decided against standing as an independent candidate and was replaced for the SNP by Toni Giugliano. Giugliano, who currently works in the third sector, contested the 2016 Holyrood seat but lost out to Alex Cole-Hamilton. It looks likely the seat will be a battle between the Lib Dems and the SNP and the Lib Dems have put forward Christine Jardine, who previously worked as Scotland media adviser in Downing Street during the coalition and came second to Alex Salmond in Gordon in 2015.

Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale

Current: David Mundell (Con)    Majority: 798

Candidates: Douglas Beattie (Lab), John Ferry (LD), Mairi McAllan (SNP), David Mundell (Con)

Target for: the SNP

EU referendum: Remain – 53.1% Leave – 46.9% (Dumfries & Galloway)

Scottish referendum: Yes – 34.3% No – 65.7% (Dumfries & Galloway)

2016 Scottish Parliament: the Conservatives gained the Dumfriesshire seat from Labour with a 1,230 majority

Overview: Longstanding MP David Mundell has a small majority and the SNP would dearly like to take this seat. With the Labour vote in the region slumping to third in the 2016 Holyrood election, it will probably be a two-horse race between the Conservatives and the SNP. However, it looks likely to remain in Tory hands. In 2015, UKIP took 1,472 votes and are not standing this time around. It wouldn’t be a huge stretch to think the Conservatives will gain from this. The SNP is fielding a relatively unexperienced candidate in Mairi McAllan but she has received warm praise from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

Current: Calum Kerr (SNP)   Majority: 328

Candidates: Caroline Burgess (LD), Ian Davidson (Lab), Calum Kerr (SNP), 
John Lamont (Con)

Target for: the Conservatives

EU referendum: Remain – 58.5% Leave – 41.5% (Scottish Borders)

Scottish referendum: Yes – 33.4% No – 66.6 % (Scottish Borders)

2016 Scottish Parliament: the Conservatives held Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire with a 7,736 majority

Overview: Scotland’s most marginal seat, won by the SNP’s Calum Kerr by just 328 votes. Kerr ousted former Scottish Secretary Michael Moore in the 2015 vote. The seat has traditionally been a fight between the Conservatives and Lib Dems but the SNP landslide in 2015 pushed Moore into third place. This year the Conservatives appear optimistic about the seat, with MSP John Lamont resigning his Holyrood position to fight the election.

Orkney and Shetland

Current: Alistair Carmichael (LD)  Majority: 817

Candidates: Robina Barton (Lab), Miriam Brett (SNP), Alistair Carmichael (LD), Jamie Halcro Johnston (Con), Stuart Hill (Ind), Robert Smith (UKIP)

Target for: the SNP

EU referendum: Remain – 56.5% Leave – 43.5% (Shetland Islands); Remain – 63.2% Leave – 36.8% (Orkney Islands)

Scottish referendum: Yes – 36.3% No – 63.7% (Shetland Islands); Yes – 32.8% No – 67.2% (Orkney Islands)

2016 Scottish Parliament: the Lib Dems held Orkney Islands with a 4,534 majority; Lib Dems held Shetland Islands with a 4,895 majority

Overview: Former Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael saw his majority plummet from almost 10,000 in 2010 to just 817 in 2015, another casualty of the Lib Dems’ unpopular coalition with the Tories. Not long after the 2015 election, he was caught up in a scandal when a group of constituents attempted to have him unseated in an election court over a leaked memo during the campaign. Carmichael survived the case, though judges were critical of his conduct. The SNP will be hoping to unseat the Lib Dems in Orkney and Shetland once and for all, however, it won’t be an easy job. The Lib Dems have been in power in the area since the 1950s and both Holyrood seats were returned with reasonable majorities for the party.

Moray

Current: Angus Robertson (SNP) Majority: 9,065

Candidates: Anne Glen (Ind), Jo Kirby (Lab), Alex Linklater (LD), Angus Robertson (SNP), Douglas Ross (Conservative)

Target for: the Conservatives

EU referendum: Remain – 50.1% Leave – 49.9%

Scottish referendum: Yes – 42.4% No – 57.6% 

2016 Scottish Parliament: the SNP held the seat with a 2,875 majority

Overview: While it looks on paper to be a fairly safe seat for the SNP’s Angus Robertson, the Conservatives are determinedly snapping at his heels. Robertson beat Conservative list MSP Douglas Ross by over 9,000 votes in 2015 but in 2016’s Holyrood election, the SNP vote dropped by over 11 per cent while support for the Tories increased by 18 per cent. Moray also saw the biggest share for Leave of any part of Scotland, which could play in Ross’s favour.

Edinburgh South

Current: Ian Murray (Lab) Majority: 2,637

Candidates: Alan Beal (LD), Jim Eadie (SNP), Ian Murray (Lab), Stephanie Smith (Con)

Target for: the SNP

EU referendum: Remain – 74.4% Leave – 25.6% (City of Edinburgh)

Scottish referendum: Yes – 38.9% No – 61.1% (City of Edinburgh)

2016 Scottish Parliament: Labour won the Edinburgh Southern seat with a 1,123 majority

Overview: With only one Scottish MP returned in 2015, Labour will be very keen to ensure Ian Murray is re-elected in Edinburgh South. In 2015 Murray actually increased his majority from 316 in 2010 to 2,637 but his biggest competition looks set to be former MSP Jim Eadie who is standing for the SNP. However, Murray can take heart from the fact that Eadie was unseated in 2016’s Holyrood election by Labour’s Daniel Johnston.

Renfrewshire East

Current: Kirsten Oswald (SNP)  Majority: 3,718

Candidates: Paul Masterton (Con), Blair McDougall (Lab), Aileen Morton (LD), Kirsten Oswald (SNP)

Target for: the Conservatives and Labour

EU referendum: Remain – 74.3% Leave – 25.7%

Scottish referendum: Yes – 36.8% No – 63.2%

2016 Scottish Parliament: the Conservatives gained the Eastwood constituency from Labour with a 1,611 majority

Overview: This seat is, arguably, one of the few in Scotland with a three-way marginal between the SNP, Labour and the Conservatives. Kirsten Oswald gained the seat from Labour big beast and then Scottish leader, Jim Murphy, in 2015. However, while she has a reasonable majority, the Tories made gains in the area in the 2016 election with Jackson Carlaw taking the Eastwood seat from Labour’s Ken Macintosh who had held it since 1999. This might seem like it’s a two-horse race between the SNP and the Conservatives but Labour cannot be discounted, with former Better Together chief Blair McDougall playing to the area’s strong No vote.

East Dunbartonshire

Current: John Nicolson (SNP)  Majority: 2,167

Candidates: Sheila Mechan (Con), Callum McNally (Lab), John Nicolson (SNP), Jo Swinson (LD)

Target for: the Lib Dems

EU referendum: Remain – 71.4% Leave 28.6%

Scottish referendum: Yes – 38.8% No – 61.2%

2016 Scottish Parliament: the SNP held Strathkelvin and Bearsden with an 8,100 majority and in Clydebank and Milngavie, the party returned an 8,432 majority

Overview: The Lib Dems are focusing their efforts on this seat and will be hoping that former junior equalities minister, Jo Swinson, who has 10 years’ experience as an MP, will have the clout needed to oust John Nicolson. However, looking at the two Holyrood seats with their large majorities, it appears unlikely that former broadcaster Nicolson will be unseated. He is also a high-profile figure at Westminster having sat on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and also introduced a Private Member’s Bill which proposed to wipe the criminal records of gay men convicted before the law against same-sex relationships was scrapped.

Glasgow East

Current: Natalie McGarry (Ind)  Majority: 10,387

Candidates: Matthew Clark (LD), John Ferguson (UKIP), Karin Finegan (Ind), Thomas Kerr (Con), David Linden (SNP), Steven Marshall (Social Democratic Party), Kate Watson (Lab)

Target for: Labour

EU referendum: Remain – 66.6% Leave – 33.4% (Glasgow City)

Scottish referendum: Yes – 46.5% No – 53.5%

2016 Scottish Parliament: the SNP took Glasgow Provan with a 4,783 majority and also Shettleston, where John Mason returned a 7,323 majority

Overview: Natalie McGarry, then standing on an SNP ticket, pulled a massive majority in 2015, taking the seat from former shadow secretary of state for Scotland Margaret Curran. However, McGarry withdrew from the party whip amid a police investigation and she has subsequently decided not to stand again as an independent. While it might appear to be an SNP stronghold, Labour is probably hoping the negative publicity around McGarry might have returned the voting public to them.

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