Saturday, 16 April 2011

A Look @: South Scotland (Part I)

This post concentrates on the five seats in the west of this region, contained within the Dumfries & Galloway, East Ayrshire and South Ayrshire Council boundaries. To find the seats in the east of this region click here and to find the regional discussion click here.



Notional Majority

Swing Required

First Elected


Elaine Murray




LAB Lean

Galloway & Dumfries West

Alex Fergusson




CON Lean


John Scott




CON Lean

Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley

Cathy Jamieson




LAB Safe

Kilmarnock & Irvine Valley

Willie Coffey




Too Close

Unlike Wales the Scottish Parliamentary constituencies no longer match their Westminster counterparts. To complicate matters further this election will be the first election held since the First Periodic Review of the Scottish Parliament's boundaries, so we have the fun and games of notional majorities!

Dumfriesshire covers the western part of the Dumfries & Galloway Council area and the southern part of the Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale Westminster seat. In the former the Conservatives are the largest party, and lead a minority coalition with the Liberal Democrats and the latter is the Tories' sole Westminster seat in Scotland. The main difference between this seat and the old Dumfries seat is the loss of the western part of Dumfries. The North West Dumfries ward has been moved to the new Galloway & Dumfries West seat with the Mid & Upper Nithsdale ward heading the other way. The NW Dumfries ward is more urban, and therefore Labour leaning, than M&U Nithsdale which has notionally flipped this seat from Labour to Conservative.

In 2007 the Labour MSP Elaine Murray won her third term in Holyrood quite comfortably with a 3000 vote majority over her Conservative opponent. I can't imagine she will be too pleased with the boundary changes now she is notionally facing a 650 vote deficit but given Labour's current polling this should be easy to overcome. Murray is up against Gillian Dykes, who is a Councillor in the Mid & Upper Nithsdale ward that has been moved into this constituency. Although Dykes herself is so confident she is passing herself off as an MSP it's hard to see her defeating an incumbent against the national swing. Murray is clear favourite to hold/gain her seat.

Alex Fergusson in Galloway & Dumfries West is another incumbent who was not helped by the boundary review. The loss of the Mid & Upper Nithsdale ward has cut 800 votes off the Conservative MSP's majority from the last election. As a result the Scottish Nationalists require a 3.9% swing to gain the seat, which they held during the first Parliament, and that is very much in their range given the current polling figures. Aileen McLeod has been given the task to win seat #16 on her party's target list but it won't be easy. Fergusson, who was a regional MSP for the South of Scotland before he won his Galloway & Upper Nithsdale seat in 2003 election, has been the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament during the last term. He has done well in this prominent position but he has stated he will not seek another term in that role should he win re-election this May.

In addition to facing a popular incumbent the SNP should also be wary of Labour coming from third place to challenge here, especially as they hold the roughly equivalent Westminster seat. A rough Uniform swing calculation on the current polls would put all three parties within the 30-35% range so local factors and the relatives strength of the candidates could play a key role. Labour have selected local Councillor Willie Scobie as their candidate and he has the boundary changes to thank for bringing him into contention. The constituency already contained an area of strength for Labour in the form of Stranraer, which Scobie represents on the Council, and the addition of West Dunfries is likely to produce a significant boost for them. Whether it will be enough to topple Fergusson remains to be seem.

The key problem for Labour is that there isn't much of a Liberal Democrat vote to pick up. The bookmakers are placing Fergusson as the favourite and I'd agree with that. As a popular incumbent he should limit any swing against his party and hold off both challengers.

Moving to Ayrshire now and the Conservatives are defending the Ayr seat
against Labour. This is notionally the safest constituency seat for the Tories but with Labour riding high in the polls at the moment there is a possibility of a gain for them here. In addition, Labour hold the Westminster seat that covers this constituency. The seat takes in five of the eight wards in the South Ayrshire Council which the Conservatives control as a minority administration. John Scott won this seat from Labour in a by-election eleven years ago and as this is at the edge of the current CON>LAB swing so he can not be complacent. Labour has selected Gordon McKenzie to fight this seat and it will be an impressive feat if he manages a gain. As in Galloway & Dumfries West, the absence of a Liberal Democrat vote to pick up will make Labour's task a lot harder. As a result Scott should be able to hang on, albeit with a reduced majority.

The MSP for the Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley constituency Cathy Jamieson won the Kilmarnock & Loudoun seat at last year's General Election and so she is not standing for re-election to the Scottish Parliament. Jamieson was a prominent Labour MSP and stood for the group's leadership in 2008, coming second behind Iain Gray. She leaves a pretty safe seat for her party to defend this May. Labour have selected Richard Leonard as their candidate and he should hold this open seat with ease.

In 2007 the Scottish Nationalists leapfrogged the Conservatives to claim second place and with the Tories set to fall back at this election they look likely to cement that position this year. The SNP have kept faith with their perennial candidate for this constituency Adam Ingram, who has been a regional MSP for the South of Scotland since the formation of the Parliament. Despite holding a cabinet position during the last term he is unlikely to win this constituency seat. Leonard is a shoo-in for Labour.

The Kilmarnock & Irvine Valley seat is a key battleground between the two largest parties in Scotland. All the wards within this constituency are from the East Ayrshire Council where both Labour and the Scottish Nationalists won 14 seats each in 2007. On the same day Willie Coffey gained this seat for the SNP from Labour on a 4% swing but he faces tough challenge to hold on this year. Although the SNP are higher in the polls compared to 2007 Labour are also very much on the up in Scotland. With the Conservative and Liberal Democrat vote in this constituency already very low it will be interesting to see if Labour can take votes directly off the SNP to gain this. They have selected Matt McLaughlin as their candidate and he requires a 2.1% swing to win here for his party. The bookies have Coffey as the marginal favourite but I'm leaving this as Too Close for now.


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