Thursday, 21 April 2011

Scotland Votes: Mid Scotland and Fife Part 2: Clackmannanshire, Perth & Kinross and Stirling

This post covers the Mid Scotland seats in this region. To see the five seats in Fife click here. The regional list seats are here.

Before I get started I’d just like to state I am fully aware of today’s Ipsos MORI poll. For the time being I’m going to ignore it and see how things settle down. It may turn out to be a rogue. That said it’s the plan to go back over the projections at some stage so it’ll get filtered in at some point or another.

Having covered Fife in part 1 we now move onto the three other council areas in this region: Perth and Kinross, Clackmannanshire and Stirling. The SNP is stronger in this area than in Fife and holds all four seats (though with boundary changes one is now notionally held by Labour). This is likely due to the inland, remote location of Perth and Kinross in particular, which is very rural. Perth and Kinross is dominated by the SNP and, the Conservatives are the second party. Stirling and Clackmannshire have a much stronger Labour presence. The two seats covering the latter two council areas are practically the definition of Labour/SNP battleground seats. This is because Perth and Kinross is a larger, more rural, further inland and more northerly council area. Clackmannanshire and Stirling, however, are just slightly North of Scotland’s Central Belt, the high density, working class region surrounding Glasgow and Edinburgh, where more than half of Scotland’s population lives; an area of significant Labour strength. Reflecting this we’ll work our way roughly from North to South.

Constituency

MSP

Majority

Swing Required

First Elected

B-V.co.uk

Perthshire North

John Swinney

6542

10.8%

2003

SNP Safe

Perthshire South & Kinross-shire

Roseanna Cunningham

1384

2.3%

1999

SNP Lean

Clackmannanshire & Dunblane

Keith Brown

762

1.4%

2007

Too Close

Stirling

Bruce Crawford

-389

0.7%

2007

Too Close

Perthshire North is held by John Swinney, the Finance and Sustainable Growth Minister in the Scottish Government and therefore amongst the most powerful (arguably only second to Salmond) and most well known politicians in the Scottish Parliament. He also led the SNP from 2000 until 2004, and was the MP for North Tayside, the former version of this seat, between 1997 and 2001. He did embroil himself in some controversy when he allowed the Scottish parliament’s ability to vary tax expire at HMRC. While Swinney was not considered to be an overly successful SNP leader in his position as Finance Secretary he has generally been seen as competent and he is a close ally of Alex Salmond. He also had his first child back in October, one of those things which always makes a politician look good. The greatest threat to him comes from the Tories, and that said the Conservatives have got a strong candidate here in Murdo Fraser, a list MSP who is the party’s deputy leader and Shadow Health Minister. That said, Fraser has run here in all three prior Scottish elections and still requires a 10.8% swing to win the seat. In all honesty it is likely he is running here more in hope of securing significant regional votes than in hope of winning a seat. Swinney is safe.

Perthshire South and Kinross-shire is the seat of another SNP government minister, Roseanna Cunningham, who is Minister for Environment. She was also almost SNP leader. After John Swinney stood down in 2004 she was the clear frontrunner until former leader Alex Salmond jumped in just before the nominations closed. Raised in Australia Cunningham is known for her strident republicanism and, from what I can tell, she seems to be on the party’s internal left. There is an interesting, if outdated, profile from the Scottish Herald’s 2004 leadership contest coverage here. She has held the Perth seat since 1999 with small but workable majorities. Perth has been split between Perthshire North and this seat for this election, and unfortunately for Cunningham she has been given the less safe one. Compared to Perth her notional majority has almost halved. This puts her seat in some danger as the Conservatives only require a 2.3% swing to win the seat, and they’ve always run her fairly close. The Tories are running Elizabeth Smith, a list MSP in Mid Scotland and Fife and the party’s Shadow Education minister. Smith certainly stands a decent chance. The Lib Dems are in third place in the seat and a third party squeeze should be easy, considering the circumstances. Much will depend on where their voters go. This could go either way but considering Cunningham’s higher prominence and three prior victories versus the Tories and considering the polls which show a swing towards the SNP from the Tories I think Cunningham has a fairly healthy advantage.

Clackmannanshire and Dunblane covers the entire Clackmannanshire council area (mainland Scotland’s smallest council area) as well as Dunblane in Stirling. The area is fairly evenly split between Labour and the SNP, and the seat is a key battleground target for the Labour Party who must take seats like these if they are to become Scotland’s largest party once again. Incumbent MSP Keith Brown is Minister for Transport in the Scottish Government. He won the predecessor seat, Ochil, in 2007 after the former MSP George Reid, who had been the Parliament’s Presiding Officer (speaker) in the prior term, and was a fellow SNP member. Brown actually only had a small swing in his direction in 2007. This may indicate poor performance on his part, or it may be connected to the fact that George Reid had been an MP for the area in the 1970s and was something of a legend, and indeed the SNP had a better swing here in 2003 than elsewhere in Scotland. Brown’s position in the Government will have helped his local prominence, however, so he may gain a higher personal vote in this election. The Labour Party have cleverly targeted this seat by standing Richard Simpson. Simpson held this seat from 1999 to 2003, after being unseated by George Reid in 2003 he continued to be elected to the Scottish Parliament as a list MSP. A psychiatrist and GP by training he is the party’s Deputy Spokesman on Health and probably expect a Junior Ministerial role if elected. The polls have been a bit all over the place with the SNP and Labour and neither candidate has an obvious local popularity advantage from where I’m sitting. So ‘too close’ it is.

Despite the name, Stirling does not cover the entirety of the Stirling council area, as Dunblane sits in the former constituency. Stirling was held by Labour’s Sylvia Jackson from 1999 to 2007 when she lost it to the SNP’s Bruce Crawford. The boundary review has been a bit harsh on Howard, morphing his 620 vote majority into a notional 329 vote deficit to the Labour Party. As such the seat is a key battleground seat between the SNP and Labour. Crawford had been a regional MSP prior to 2007 and is now Minister for Parliamentary Business, a junior position in the First Ministry, a position that basically combines chief whip with leader of the house. His opponent is John Hendry, a veteran Stirling councillor (30 years), who has held a range of local government and internal Labour Party positions including as an election agent. Like Clackmannanshire and Dunblane this is a very tight seat and I think it could go either way (depending on how the polls go!)

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