In the final part of our four-part series, we look at the key seats in South and West Scotland ahead of the General Election on 8th June.
Despite being a strong SNP gain from Labour in 2015, Dumfries & Galloway’s future is far from set. The constituency, which was first used in the 2005 General election, includes Stranraer, Newton Stewart, the Machars, Kirkcudbright and a major part of the town of Dumfries. While incumbent SNP MP Richard Arkless is defending a healthy majority of 6,500, the Conservative and Labour vote was fairly split in 2015. If pro-union voters rally around either Labour or the Conservatives, they may easily challenge that number. The area had a high Leave vote in the EU referendum with 46.9% opting for Brexit and also voted 65% to stay in the UK in the 2014 referendum. In last year's Scottish elections the Scottish Parliament constituencies that make up the area, Dumfriesshire and Galloway & West Dumfries, both returned Conservative MSPs.
At the last General Election, George Kerevan won the East Lothian seat from Labour’s Fiona O’Donnell, who held it from 2010, with a majority of 6,803. The constituency, which covers the same area as East Lothian Council, had been held by Labour since its creation in 1983 but in 2015 the SNP increased its share of the vote by 26.5% while Labour’s fell by 13.6%. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats finished in third and fourth place, respectively. At the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016, Iain Gray won the East Lothian seat for Labour on the back of a strong local campaign, with an increased majority of 1,127. The former Scottish Labour Leader has represented East Lothian since 2007, prior to which John Home Robertson held it for the party. East Lothian is one of Labour’s target seats and it is expected to rally round its candidate, Martin Whitfield.
Head south from Edinburgh on the A7 or A68 and the Borders seat of Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk stretches from Midlothian all the way to the border. Sitting entirely in the Scottish Borders Council local authority area, this seat was heartland LibDem territory for many years but the considerable swing to the Scottish Conservatives in the council elections has only strengthened speculation that the Conservatives are the party to beat here. In 2015 Calum Kerr beat John Lamont by just 328 votes and Lamont is confident that he won't be beaten again, opting to resign the safety net of his Holyrood seat to underline his commitment. It remains to be seen whether the unionism v indepndence narrative, stoking much of the debate in this campaign, will cause a further collapse in the LibDem vote or whether their 10,000+ votes from 2015 can be retained. Either way, this will be one of the most closely-watched announcements in the early hours of Friday 9th June.
Situated north of Glasgow at the foot of the Campsie Fells, extending from Bearsden in the west to Lenzie and Bishopbriggs in the east, East Dunbartonshire is well-off suburbia. For all its seemingly middle-class content however, the seat has been held by all four of Scotland’s major parties in the past four decades. Though far from a conventional political hotbed, the seat can be viewed as something of a bellwether of public opinion. Heavily anti-independence in 2014, the area did return the SNP’s John Nicolson at the 2015 election, and voted strongly to remain at the EU referendum. However, Nicolson’s majority is a relatively narrow 2,167, with the Lib Dems regarding it as a key target seat and Nicolson’s predecessor, former minister Jo Swinson, has been selected, hoping to capitalise on the unionist and remain sentiment. Whether that confluence of issues will aid Swinson is up for debate, though she is the most likely of the unionist candidates to win; Labour is the target of animus for its recent record in local government, particularly regarding schooling and roads. As with many seats, tactical voting could prove crucial.
The fate of the East Renfrewshire constituency, sitting to the south of Glasgow and encapsulating Barrhead, Neilston and Newton Mearns, is also under speculation. Sitting SNP MP Kirsten Oswald is standing again, but given almost twice as many residents voted for the union as did for independence, the seat is rather unstable. In addition, Labour has nominated high profile candidate and former Better Together leader, Blair McDougall, to stand in former Leader Jim Murphy’s old seat. Pensions specialist solicitor Paul Masterson will contest the seat for the Conservatives. They came a distant third in 2015, but Masterson is looking to draw on the anti-independence feeling and follow in the footsteps of Scottish Parliamentary colleague Jackson Carlaw who won a narrow but shock seat in the area in the 2016 Holyrood elections. Given the Labour history, the split vote and the Conservative win, this seat is all to play for.
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