Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Scotland Votes: North East Scotland Part 1: The Rural Seats

This post covers the rural seats of North East Scotland, the urban seats are here, and the regional seats are available here.

North East Scotland is probably the region of Scotland which most strongly identifies as Scottish. Like the Highlands and Islands it is distant from London and England and so ‘Britishness’ does not penetrate far. Unlike the Highlands and Islands, however, there are not strong local identities, and while some parts of the region are even more distant from the Central Scottish hub of the country than in the Highlands, the region is not nearly as mountainous and therefore it is easier to connect to that part of the country. This strong Scottish identity makes this the SNP’s strongest region. That said, the region has a strong Liberal tradition as well, as with the Highlands, and the Conservatives have strong areas as well. Labour also have some strength in the two cities of Dundee and Aberdeen.

As the region does not divide up easily any other way I’ve decided to divide it into five rural seats and five urban seats, with this post covering the former.



Notional Majority

Swing Required

First Elected


Aberdeenshire East

Alex Salmond




SNP Safe

Aberdeenshire West

Mike Rumbles





LD Lean

Angus North and Mearns




SNP Lean

Angus South

Andrew Welsh




SNP Lean

Banffshire and Buchan Coast

Stewart Stevenson




SNP Safe

Aberdeenshire East is the seat of SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. Salmond was SNP leader in 1999 and as such was elected to the Banff and Buchan seat in that year, the same seat as his Westminster seat. He stood down as SNP leader in 2000, however, and stood down from his seat in 2003, but remained a MP at Westminster. When the SNP’s new leader, John Swinney, stood down in 2004 Salmond became leader again and set his sights on becoming Scottish First Minister. With that he needed a seat at Holyrood, but Stewart Stevenson was filling his old seat. As such he was selected for the seat of Gordon, held by the Lib Dems at both Holyrood and Westminster. He won the seat on an 18.8% swing, and stood down as a MP at the 2010 election. Gordon was abolished as part of the boundary review, hence Salmond was selected for the Aberdeenshire East seat which covers part of it. Notionally Salmond enjoys an even bigger majority on these boundaries and I think he can probably expect to increase that majority a fair amount.

Aberdeenshire East has been the seat of Mike Rumbles since the 1999 election. Rumbles is a prominent Lib Dem MSP who has something of a reputation as a maverick. He was always seen to be the Lib Dem MSP most sceptical of the coalition with Labour and had a marked tendency to pop his head up whenever there was friction between the parties, especially if a rebellion was in store as in 2005 or in 2001. He has twice ran to be leader of the Scottish party, the first time in 2005 on a platform of ‘dealbreakers’ for the formation of coalition such as an absolute minimum of abolition of the council tax and enhanced powers for the Parliament in 2007. He won 23.4% of the vote, to 76.6% for eventual winner Nicol Stephen. When Stephen stood down in 2008 he ran again this time highlighting a potential change of party policy on an independence referendum. This time he lost to Tavish Scott, who won 59%, additionally Ross Finnie won 21.3% while Rumbles got 17.9%. While something of an oddball within his party Rumbles is clearly prominent, and his views may have some extra bite in an age in which the Lib Dems are dealing with Coalition at Westminster. Having been a MSP since 1999 and being so prominent I’d expect him to have built up a strong personal vote but unfortunately for him, boundary changes mean about 1/3rd of his voters have not been represented by him before. That said, if Rumbles is capable of replicating prior votes in the same constituency boundaries he should do well. On the prior boundaries he got 41.1% to 26.3% for the SNP and 24.7% Conservative, but in the regional vote in the same seat the SNP got 32% to 24.9% Lib Dem and 22.7% Conservative.

The SNP candidate in this seat is Dennis Robertson, a charity worker who ran in the seat at the last election and at the 2010 election. The Conservatives are also targeting the seat and standing Nanette Milne, a regional MSP for this region, and the Conservative’s Shadow Minister for Public Health. While the Lib Dems are really suffering in the polls right now, I think the fact that Rumbles is enough of an individual to escape his party label to some extent, and I also think the anti-Lib Dem vote will be divided between both SNP and the Conservatives. Additionally, while both the 6.3% and 8.2% swings needed by the Nats and Tories are possible given the polls, they are still fairly high, so I’m calling this one as a Lib Dem lean, though I may come back and change this to a ‘Too Close’ later on.

Angus North and Mearns is a new constituency drawn up in the boundary changes, with territory coming from the Angus constituency of Andrew Welsh, and the Tayside North constituency of John Swinney, SNP finance minister. It is notionally a SNP safe seat, though both these MSPs are prominent and probably have a decent popular vote. The SNP candidate is Nigel Don, the convenor of the SNP group on the Dundee City Council, and a regional MSP in the North East. Don’s been accused of slightly dodgy expenses claims, in that his second home was considered to be too close to Edinburgh to claim expenses on his flat in the capital, so he moved to Aberdeen. I think these accusations could hurt him, but anger over the expenses scandal has mostly receded. The Conservative’s candidate is Alex Johnstone, another regional MSP. He is also the party’s Shadow Minister for Communities and Sport. There is a big Lib Dem vote (20.8%) in the constituency, but I think Lib Dem candidate Sanjay Samani can expect to his vote dug into quite a bit and with this being an open seat in an area that once held two prominent SNP MSPs the Conservatives cannot be ruled out completely. Overall, however, I think this one’s easily secure enough to call as SNP leaning.

Angus South MSP Andrew Welsh (SNP) is standing down after 12 years in the Parliament, following stints at Westminster between 1974 and 1979 and from 1987 until 2001. Having represented the area for as long as he has Welsh appears to have a large local popularity and a strong personal vote. When he left the UK parliament in 2001 the Conservatives managed a 6.7% swing against his successor Mike Weir in the seat of Angus, and ran him even closer in 2005; though Weir won both elections and improved his standing in 2010. That said, the SNP have intelligently picked Graeme Dey, who is a local journalist and election agent to Mike Weir for a number of years. I say ‘intelligently’ because in the former role he no doubt has got to know the local issues and people exceedingly well and in the latter role he has no doubt come to know the ins and outs of local campaigning. The Conservatives also have a decent chance here, and their candidate is Hugh Campbell Adamson. He is a former chairman of Brechin City FC, a Scottish Division 2 football team based in the county (but not in the seat), he also served as Chairman of the Scottish FA, and is currently the Chairman of the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards. Fishing is big business here and football always goes down well so Campbell Adamson might be onto a good combo! That said, with the polls as they are, I think he’ll have to work really hard to win this SNP leaning seat.

Banffshire and Buchan I already mentioned under Aberdeenshire East. Representing the most North Easterly corner of Scotland it was the Westminster seat of Alex Salmond who first won the seat in 1987. Stewart Stevenson has held the seat since 2001, after Salmond temporarily stood down for a term. He notionally got 58.6% of the vote in 2007 and Conservative candidate Michael Watt will have to pull off something pretty impressive to overturn Stevenson’s 12,082 vote majority. A SNP safe seat.


  1. "Like the Highlands and Islands it is distant from London and England and so ‘Britishness’ does not penetrate far."

    Really? Have you ever been to Aberdeen? There are thousands of English people working there due the oil industry.

    There's also a strong local identity in Aberdeenshire... they even have their own language (Doric).

    The people in this part of Scotland are much more conservative than Scots from the Central Belt.
    Many of the people who vote SNP in this region would probably vote Conservative if they were English. On paper, the Scottish Tories should do well here but their brand is still as toxic as ever.

  2. Obviously local identities exist, indeed I have heard of Doric, I'm not arguing that, but I would still argue that this region is more 'Scottish' than other regions in a sense, particularly in the rural areas. I also agree about the area being quite centre-right, and what you say about the Tories. I'd suggest that that's evidence of 'Scottishness' overriding political leanings.

  3. That and the fact it's turning into the SNPs own wee Glasgow and has some of the safest SNP seats.

  4. Maybe now is the time to change Aberdeenshire West to 'too close to call'? Given the SNP's national lead, the continued poor polling of the LDs and the proximity to Salmond's seat (not to mention that the SNP won on the list in Aberdeenshire West last time round) I would personally back them to win at the moment.