Constituency profile: Dumfriesshire
Conservative Oliver Mundell is defending a 1,230-vote majority but questions about the border may limit an SNP surge
Historically, nationalism has been a tough sell down in the borders. When you’re closer to Carlisle than Glasgow and you travel into England for the local shop, it’s easy to understand why there may be more of a unionist tint to the region. Indeed in 2014, Dumfries and Galloway voters overwhelmingly backed remaining in the UK by 2:1.
Dumfriesshire is one of only a few areas in Scotland never to have sent an SNP politician to Holyrood or Westminster. It has however elected the father and son team of David and Oliver Mundell.
The senior Mundell has represented the Westminster constituency of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale since its creation in 2005. He remained the only Scottish Tory in Westminster for over a decade, hanging on during the years when his party remained deeply unpopular in Scotland.
When the Scottish Conservatives’ fortunes turned under the leadership of Ruth Davidson in 2016, David’s son Oliver Mundell was one of the beneficiaries. He was elected to represent Dumfriesshire in the Scottish Parliament, defeating Labour incumbent Elaine Murray and SNP challenger Joan McAlpine with an 11-point swing.
Unusually, just four candidates are contesting the seat this year and three of them were MSPs in the last parliament. While none of them are big names, they have each made their mark in some way.
Mundell last year made headlines for being kicked out of the chamber for calling Nicola Sturgeon a “liar” over the Salmond inquiries. Two months later he was back in the papers after resigning from the Scottish Tory frontbench. He had refused to back COVID-related travel restrictions on cross-border movement, stating it was “not possible” to balance local needs with the national rules.
McAlpine is once again the SNP’s candidate. She has kicked up a fuss most recently about her party’s plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act. While that issue is unlikely to have any sway in the election, name recognition could provide a boost. On the other hand, unanswered questions about the border between an independent Scotland and England could continue to overshadow her party’s campaign.
Labour’s Colin Smyth has held various roles on his party’s frontbench since his election in 2016. He is currently spokesman on the constitution, which may help his standing in pro-union Dumfriesshire. However, he will face a tough battle to regain the seat for Labour after the party was knocked into third place last time.
The Lib Dem’s Richard Brodie is unlikely to get a look in – his party has consistently come fourth in every Scottish election since 1999.
As well independence and arguments about the border, other key issues for the region will be connectivity and agriculture.
The constituency is largely rural. It relies heavily on farming for its economy, and is also plagued by poor broadband and poor transport links. The A75 and A77, two of the main roads running through the region, have been the subject of campaigns to upgrade infrastructure for years, especially the connection between Dumfries and the motorway. Public transport was spotty pre-pandemic and will certainly not be helped by reduced patronage in the last year. Internet speeds remain significantly below the UK average.
And while there has been some recent success in leveraging investment into the region – for example the Borderlands Growth Deal – it still does not receive as much attention as the central belt or even the north east. Voters will be keen to elect someone to parliament who can help reverse decades of underinvestment.