Ballot Box Battlegrounds GE19 – 8-5

Ballot Box Battlegrounds will be our trip through the 20 most marginal seats in Scotland, as the 2019 General Election approaches. Check out the GE19 Hub for the latest information!

#8 – Lanark and Hamilton East (SNP, Majority: 0.5%)

Lanark and Hamilton East has the potential to be one of the most fascinating contests this time around. In 2017, the SNP came out only 0.5% ahead of the Conservatives, who themselves were only 0.2% ahead of Labour. Scotland has plenty of seats which technically classify as three-way marginals, but this is by far the tightest of them.

As with most of the Central Belt, this was a solidly Labour seat before the SNP surge, with the various configurations of Hamilton and Clydesdale seats preceding it also heavily Labour for decades. Hamilton itself was no stranger to the SNP before 2015 though, having famously elected Winnie Ewing at the 1967 by-election, marking the start of the SNP’s continuous presence at Westminster. Keeping it in the family, her daughter Annabelle came close to clinching the Hamilton South seat at a 1999 by-election.

A look at the council wards that make up the constituency may explain the heavily divided nature of the seat, with each of the SNP, Conservatives and Labour having the lead in multiple wards that the constituency overlaps. The SNP lead in Hamilton, the Conservatives in and around Lanark plus the Bothwell and Uddingston ward, and Labour in Larkhall and Carluke. All three parties therefore have a decent base of support to draw on somewhere.

Expect them all to go with a heavy tactical vote message targeted at one another’s voters. Based on recent polling, however, Labour are going to have the hardest time taking the seat, to the extent that I’m not even sure they are really in the running for it anymore. With the Conservatives seemingly now back to where they were in 2017 having fully re-absorbed the Brexit Party vote and the SNP slightly up, it’ll probably be between the two of them.

#7 – Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Labour, Majority: 0.5%)

Neighbouring Rutherglen and Hamilton West is the most marginal Labour held seat in Scotland, so it’s the one they are most going to struggle to hold against the SNP. As with much of the rest of west-central Scotland it was firmly Labour for decades before the SNP surge in 2015, which will surprise you even less when I point out the Rutherglen and Cambuslang portion was actually formally part of Glasgow from the mid-70’s to mid-90’s.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this constituency is that happens to include the only ward in South Lanarkshire to have elected a Lib Dem councillor in both 2012 and 2017, former Glasgow MSP Robert Brown. That probably explains why this is the part of Lanarkshire they came closest to holding their deposit at the last snap. As with most other seats this election, don’t expect the Lib Dems to be anywhere near winning it, but watch their vote share with interest.

In all honesty though, this series has covered so many SNP-Labour marginals that it is getting hard to spin out preview pieces on them when there isn’t much else to report on locally. Sorry to that constituency.

#6 – Airdrie and Shotts (SNP, Majority: 0.5%)

Yet another Lanarkshire marginal between the SNP and Labour, Airdrie and Shotts merges a large town with what passes for the rural stretch of North Lanarkshire. In some respects, the fact this one was run so close is quite surprising, as the Holyrood equivalent has been held by the SNP since 2011, so you’d think it somewhere they might be more bedded in.

See how in the previous constituency I lamented the lack of, basically, weirdness for padding? This constituency covers an absolute cracker. The Fortissat ward, which includes Shotts, saw a remarkably strong performance in the 2017 council elections by the then “A Better Britain – Unionist Party”, who won 11% of the vote. Now rebranded as the “British Union & Sovereignty Party”, that’s a pretty hard-line Pro-Union party which, amongst other things, is opposed to Devolution. Ah, 11% isn’t much to write home about, I hear you say?

Well, later in the year, there was a by-election for that same ward after the elected Conservative councillor basically refused to take up his seat (there are LAYERS to this tale, folks). That time, they came out with 23% of the vote, and actually came second ahead of the SNP. It’s rare enough for the SNP to come third anywhere at the moment, never mind behind a minor party. They aren’t standing in the General Election though, so we end this odd little tale here.

I would assume most of that strongly Pro-Union vote sits with the Conservatives, but even if voters could be convinced to tactically vote Labour in an attempt to beat the SNP, as you’d expect me to say, even that doesn’t seem likely to do the trick unless Labour really manage to buck their recent trend of poor polling here.

#5 – Stirling (Conservative, Majority: 0.3%)

Not only is Stirling the most marginal Conservative-held seat in Scotland, it’s also their only seat that’s in the top 20 overall. The party’s 2017 revival was strong enough to make most of their seats relatively secure, at least by Scotland’s current standards. This was one of a small handful of Conservative seats that was held by Labour before the SNP surge in 2015, though an earlier form had been blue before Labour’s own 1997 landslide. That was when then-Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth joined several Cabinet colleagues in defeat.

The map showing council ward results in 2017 neatly illustrates the stark political divide in this seat. The city of Stirling itself leans quite heavily SNP, whilst the rural portion of the seat plus the affluent Dunblane and Bridge of Allan areas are staunchly Conservative. This is where differential turnout has a huge impact, as in those Conservative led wards, turnout for the council elections in May 2017 ranged from 55-62%. In the SNP led wards, turnout was 42-46%. Whilst overall turnout for Westminster is higher, that general pattern will have held true.

One notable quirk in Stirling is that it’s home to one of the handful of Green councillors elected outside of Glasgow and Edinburgh, for Dunblane and Bridge of Allan. The party also did well in the Stirling North ward which covers the local university. They are standing a candidate again at this election having been absent in 2017, and this is a seat they should do well in – by the standards of Greens in Westminster elections, that is.

Throw in a Labour party which is still looking quite weak in the polls and a partial Lib Dem revival in the works as well, and things here end up looking quite messy. The eventual winner could be influenced by where those Labour, Lib Dem and Green voters come from and go to in the churn. Although the Brexit Party’s absence is helping to shore up the Conservative vote nationwide, Stirling is still going to be a challenge for them to retain.

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