Scotland 2010: The 31 seats that matter Part 6: Rural Battleground seats in the South of Scotland
At the General Election, now expected to be held in May 2010, out of Scotland’s 59 seats, as many as 31 could change hands.
Since 2005, Scotland has voted 3 times, at the Holyrood and Council elections in 2007 and at the European elections in 2009. Every 4 years all Scottish councils elect all councillors simultaneously using the STV multi-member ward system and Holyrood a mixture of “first past the post” for 73 constituency MSP and 8 regional lists each electing 7 additional regional MSPs from party lists.
As polls have varied since 2007 but few Scotland only polls have been taken I have predicted outcomes on the basis of the SNP polling 30-35%, Labour 30-35%, Tories 20-25% and LibDems 10-15%. The problem predicting Westminster results is that few Holyrood seats resemble the 2005 created Westminster ones and the Council boundaries rarely match the Westminster seats either.
Here are the 4 “battleground seats” in the South of Scotland
Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock: (Lab) is the only Ayrshire seat which could fall to the Tories. Sandra Osborne held this seat in 2005 with a majority of almost 10,000 votes or 22% so it seems an impossible task. However the seat comprises most of the Holyrood seats of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley formerly held at Westminster by George (Lord) Foulkes and now at Holyrood by Cathie Jamieson the former Labour Deputy Leader at Holyrood and Ayr held by Tory John Scott. In 2007 Cathy Jamieson saw a 9.5% swing to the SNP reduce her majority to just under 4,000 votes or just under 12%. By contrast in neighbouring Ayr, John Scott’s majority doubled from 1900 to 3900, largely due to the SNP taking a lot of votes from Labour. The same day South Ayrshire council (which covers both Holyrood seats and the Westminster one) elected 12 Tory, 8 SNP, 7 Lab and 3 Independent councillors and this is the one council in Scotland being run by the Tories in a minority administration. This has breathed new life into the Tory party in Ayrshire. At the European elections the Tories came a clear first here so whilst this should be a Labour hold, it is definitely one to watch, perhaps Scotland’s answer to Sunderland Central.
Dumfries and Galloway: (Lab) the top Labour-Tory marginal in 2010 in Scotland. It sees a re-run of 2005 when Russell Brown the sitting Labour MP for Dumfries beat Peter Duncan the sitting Tory MP for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale to win the new seat carved out of the majority of them both. Russell Brown is defending a majority of just under 3,000 votes or 5.74% and in 2007 Peter Duncan got himself elected to Dumfries and Galloway council where the Tories became the largest party and are now running the council in coalition. The Holyrood seat of Galloway and Upper Nithsdale is held by Alex Fergusson who in 2003 took the seat from the SNP with a majority of only 99 votes and in 2007 achieved a swing from the SNP of over 5.5% taking his majority up to over 3,300 votes or 11%. Every opinion poll in the past 2 years has indicated this to be a Tory gain and in the Euro elections the Tories topped the poll.
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale: (Con) is the only Tory seat in Scotland at Westminster and was a surprise win for everyone except David Mundell who had worked the seat hard. All attention had been focused on the neighbouring seat of Dumfries and Galloway which had been pencilled in as a Tory gain in 2005 so D, C and T had slipped below the radar. Since winning the seat with a majority of over 1,700 votes or 3.9%, David Mundell has achieved a high profile in his role as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. In addition to seeing the Tory representation on Dumfries and Galloway council rise and run the council in coalition; the Tories are the largest party on Scottish Borders council running it in coalition and they doubled their seats from 4 to 8 in South Lanarkshire and are the junior partner in a coalition with Labour. In the Dumfries seat at Holyrood in 2007, Dr. Elaine Murray the sitting Labour MSP increased her majority over the Tory Murray Tosh on a swing of 2.5% to over 2,800 votes. There were specific circumstances namely Murray Tosh’s wife had died shortly before the election and during her illness he did almost no campaigning giving Elaine Murray a clear field. It should also be said that she is recognised as one of the hardest working and most able Labour MSPs at Holyrood. David Mundell should hugely increase his majority to around 10-15% with his vote going above 40% so a Tory hold.
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk: (LibDem) part of which was for many years Sir David Steel’s seat, won by Michael Moore in 2005 with a majority of 5,900 votes or 13%. This disguises the fact that in the area the LibDems are in retreat and in 2007 at the Holyrood elections, John Lamont took the seat of Roxburgh and Berwickshire for the Tories on a swing of 9% from Euan Robson of the LibDems giving him a majority of just under 2,000 votes or 7.75%. In the neighbouring seat of Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, part of which is in this seat and part in David Mundell’s seat, in 2007 Jeremy Purves held off a strong challenge from Christine Grahame of the SNP, both seeing an 8% increase in their vote, largely at the expense of Labour who fell from 3rd to 4th. This is a top Tory target and as Chris Walker had to stand down due to pressure of business, John Lamont has now been selected so it will be Westminster MP v Holyrood MSP in much of the seat. At the Euro election the Tories came out on top. If the LibDems do well in Scotland, they will hold, if not it will be a Tory gain.