Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A Look @: West Scotland (Part II)

This post covers the constituencies in the East and West of the Region, including the North Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire and a bit of Argyll & Bute. The Central seats can be found here, and the regional discussion here.




Swing Required

First Elected

Cunninghame North

Kenneth Gibson




Lean SNP

Cunninghame South

Irene Oldfather




Too Close

Strathkelvin & Bearsden

David Whitton




LAB Lean

Clydebank & Milngavie

Des McNulty




LAB Lean


Jackie Baillie




Lean SNP

The Cunninghame North seat is a key LAB/SNP marginal that could determine who ends up as the largest party. Before the campaign the Scottish Nationalist MSP Kenneth Gibson looked very vulnerable and can't have fancied his chances of retaining this constituency. He gained this seat in 2007 by defeating the incumbent Labour MSP on a 6% swing, securing a majority of just 48. The boundary changes have reduced that very slightly to 40 but the surge in support for the SNP during the campaign has shifted this contest firmly in Gibson's favour. With less than 48 hours left until polling stations open Labour do not look good value here.

Labour have kept faith with their losing candidate from 2007 Allan Wilson, who held the seat during the first two Parliaments. Following his defeat in 2007 Wilson considered legally challenging the result as there were over 1000 spoiled ballot papers, but after taking legal advice Labour decided not to pursue legal proceedings. More recently this seat has been at the centre of bizarre meeting between the SNP and Scottish Labour leaders. Last week Alex Salmond was campaigning in a local Asda store when the Iain Gray popped in to 'pick up some provisions.' The issue of who ran away from whom is sure to be a key issue locally in the last days of campaigning…! In truth, the SNP's lead in national polls should keep this seat out of Labour's reach.

Irene Oldfather has represented the Cunninghame South constituency since 1999 but this election is sure to be her toughest yet. Defending a notional majority of 2160 votes recent polling would suggest that this is within the SNP's reach. The Scottish Nationalists have selected Margaret Burgess as their candidate, who has led their Council group in North Ayrshire. Oldfather is the bookies favourite, but not by much, and there isn't anything to suggest that this seat will not follow the national swing. We'll wait until the final polls to call this one; either way it looks like it will be close.

On paper the Stathkelvin & Bearsden constituency is as marginal as the Cunninghame South seat just discussed. However, aside from the fact the seat is the other side of the region there are key differences. Firstly, the current Labour MSP David Whitton gained the seat for his party at the last election and, in general, first term incumbents get a boost as they build up a personal vote within the constituency. More importantly this seat has a much more interested electoral history than most.

The constituency was easily won by Labour in 1999 but the MSP Sam Galbraith resigned two years later due to ill health. Enter Dr. Jane Turner, who contested the by-election as an Independent in protest against plans to cut services at a local hospital. Turner came second behind Labour with 18% of the vote but this failure did not deter the GP. She stood again at the full Parliament elections in 2003 and scored a sensational victory, defeating the incumbent MSP. However, Turner slipped to third in 2007 as Whitton took the seat back for Labour and she is not contesting this election. Turner still received 18% of the vote four years ago so where this falls on Thursday could have a huge impact on the result.

Looking at the previous results Turner took votes from all of the major political parties, but it was Labour who suffered the most from her candidature. Bizarrely, in 2007 Labour barely increased on their vote share from the previous election. Their victory was largely as a result of Turner's voters returning from other political parties heading back and Whitton won with just 31% of the vote. It is therefore quite possible that the bulk of Turner's remaining supporters were ex-Labour voters and so Whitton could be in a better starting position than the notional figures suggest. Still, if this is true they are, by definition, soft supporters and with the SNP surging in the polls their candidate Fiona McLeod, who was a West of Scotland regional MSP during the first Parliament, must fancy her chances. Having said that, I think this is a much tougher seat for the SNP to take than Cunninghame South and Labour should do enough to hold on.

Des McNulty is yet another Labour incumbent who will not have enjoyed the recent Scottish Polling as Uniform Swing calculations bring the Scottish Nationalists very close in his Clydebank & Milngavie seat. He has been an MSP since 1999 and he is currently Scottish Labour's Shadow Education Minister. The seat is split between the East and West Dunbartonshire Council areas and Labour have a slight edge at local level. The SNP have selected their regional MSP Gil Paterson to contest this seat and he is almost certainly going to close the gap to Labour. But as the SNP have far better targets locally I think Labour should hold on here. The bookies regard McNulty as a strong favourite so there could be a few quid available for anyone who has strong reasons to think otherwise!

The final constituency seat to look at in West Scotland is Dumbarton and it represents the best chance for a Scottish Nationalist gain. It is more rural than the previous two seats and they are starting with a smaller notional deficit of just over 1500 votes. The Labour incumbent Jackie Baillie has been the MSP here since the Parliament was formed and she is very much in the SNP's firing line. They have selected local Councillor Iain Robertson to challenge Baillie in what the current odds suggest is virtually a dead heat. As only one poll in the last four weeks would see Labour holding this seat on UNS I think the SNP have a very good chance of gaining this.


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