With the news media fixated either on Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism or the Tories European meltdown little light has been shed on the Scottish Parliament elections. So with thanks to Grayling Scotland herewith some thoughts.
Amidst what by all accounts will be an SNP walkover there are a few constituencies and regions where the result is by no means a foregone conclusion.
Ayr has been held by Conservative, John Scott since 2003. He will be challenged by 33-year-old Jennifer Dunn, who has been a Glasgow City councillor for the past eight years and triumphed in the SNP selection process, defeating the former MSP for the South of Scotland, Chic Brodie.
The Conservatives held a majority of only 3.3%, or 1113 votes, in 2011 making this a Conservative-SNP marginal. In 2011, the Conservatives accounted for 70% of party campaign spending in the area, highlighting their ongoing strength and local organisation.
If elected, Jennifer would be the first constituency SNP MSP for Ayr, however John Scott commands a huge personal vote and will be hoping to build on his majority.
The candidates in this constituency are not only fierce rivals, echoing the same battle lines which were drawn this time last year in the lead up to the General Election, but also have neighbouring constituency offices! SNP candidate, Toni Giugliano and Lib Dem candidate, Alex Cole-Hamilton’s campaign offices are next door.
The squabbles over styles of campaigning have been bubbling away and it is predicted this will be a close fought battle.
The political landscape in this constituency has altered since the SNP MP was elected in 2015. Four months after being elected, Michelle Thomson MP found herself in the headlines over controversial property deals. She stood down from the party and the police investigation continues.
Edinburgh West had a history of being a Lib Dem stronghold until the recent SNP surge, although they didn’t run away with the victory in 2015. Could there yet be a Lib Dem bastion in the capital, or will they lose out again?
Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire
In the first two Scottish Parliament elections it was a Lib Dem stronghold but is currently Conservative territory.
The seat is currently held by John Lamont, but he faces popular SNP candidate Paul Wheelhouse, an economist, former regional list MSP and former Scottish Government Minster.
Lamont recently led a popular campaign to improve flood defences in the region and increased his majority in 2011, but the SNP will draw confidence from the 2015 General Election result when Calum Kerr won the equivalent Westminster seat for the party – defeating the Conservatives (and Lamont) by 328 votes, after a tense recount.
The Lib Dem candidate is experienced MSP Jim Hume, but the party are likely to be squeezed out once again. The big question is, where Lib Dem votes will go this time around? Lamont will be hopeful that the Lib Dem and wider unionist vote will swing behind him to maintain the seat.
The popularity of Lamont locally and the size of Lamont’s majority means in normal circumstances his seat would be safe, but these are not normal circumstances.
There hasn’t been much change in this seat since the first Scottish Parliament election in 1999. It’s currently held by Labour’s Elaine Murray who is defending a majority of 3170 votes. She faces two strong competitors, SNP candidate Joan McAlpine (South of Scotland regional MSP) and Conservative candidate, Oliver Mundell (son of Scottish Secretary David Mundell).
Faced with a large SNP operation and high profile candidate, the Conservative candidate is banking on maintaining the threat of another independence referendum and his father’s profile to boost his result.
McAlpine and Mundell will continue to battle it out over the next week to win the constituency but it is almost certain they will both poll well on the regional list. Murray isn’t on the Labour list, therefore is counting on her long-time incumbency to get re-elected.
The constituency boundaries of Glasgow Kelvin stretch from High Street in the east to Partick in the West End and encompass all three of the city’s university campuses.
This large student population in the area has contributed to a situation where the Scottish Greens’ Co-convenor Patrick Harvie is shaping up as the strongest challenger to the incumbent MSP, the SNP’s Sandra White.
White previously took the seat from Labour in the 2011 SNP landslide. Prior to this, the seat had been a Labour stronghold since the inception of the Scottish Parliament.
These are changed times, however, and post-referendum the bookies have Harvie on odds of 7/1 to take the seat against 16/1 for the Labour candidate Michael Shanks. Regardless, with national polling for the SNP still miles ahead of all other parties, White is the clear favourite to retain the constituency. Harvie has a tough fight on his hands to win the Greens their first ever constituency seat.
In 2011, Orkney witnessed a very close three-way contest between the Lib Dems, the SNP and an Independent candidate. In the end, sitting MSP Liam McArthur was re-elected by 860 votes, his rivals still managed to poll more than 2,000 votes each.
With no independent candidate to split the vote this time, SNP candidate, Donna Heddle will be hoping they can squeeze over the line in what is traditionally viewed as one of the safest Lib Dem seats in the country.
The recent court case which was brought forward by four constituents and involved the MP for Orkney and Shetland and Former Secretary State of Scotland, Alistair Carmichael may have a large impact on local voting preferences.
Two on the comeback trail.
Shirley-Anne Somerville, former regional MSP and Deputy Chief Exec of the SNP and candidate in Dunfermline could make a return to the Parliament.
Anas Sarwar, was MP for Glasgow Central until the 2015 trashing of Labour in Scotland. He is standing on the Glasgow list. Labour are hoping his return will bring some much needed experience to the party in Holyrood.