South Scotland - Region Overview

Stretching from coast to coast, South is  includes all of both East and South Ayrshire, the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway. It also covers most of East Lothian, a southern chunk of Midlothian around Penicuik and Gorebridge, plus the rural Clydesdale part of South Lanarkshire. The original 1999 version didn’t have the Kilmarnock area, instead having a part of North Ayrshire around Irvine, and it also had slightly less of the Midlothian and Clydesdale areas.

This is perhaps the region that best exemplifies how,  as much as AMS is an improvement over pure FPTP, it can still give just really geographically bizarre electoral areas. The eastern and western components of the region are pretty poorly linked to one another, bound only by the vague geography of being southern. One side looks to Edinburgh (and Newcastle), whilst the other connects with Glasgow (and Carlisle).

There are, at least, some demographic similarities, with the rural farming interior common to Galloway, Dumfriesshire and the Borders, mining was historically common to both Midlothian and Ayrshire, and fishing dominating coastal Galloway the same way it did Berwickshire.

By the end of the 20th century, Labour were the party to beat in Mid and East Lothian as well as the mining communities in Clydesdale and southern Ayrshire, whilst the Conservatives held sway over the more affluent town of Ayr itself, Dumfriesshire and Galloway. Completing the picture were the strongly Liberal Democrat Borders, rooted in David Steel’s remarkable 1965 by-election victory in Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles.

In the 1997 Conservative wipeout, Labour came to hold Dumfriesshire and Ayr, whilst the SNP nabbed the Galloway seat. That can feel like a surprise these days, with the south broadly being seen as the most strongly pro-Union part of the country, but voters have complex identities, which have shifted over time.

The first election to the new Parliament looked just like that 1997 election in terms of constituency seats, with the SNP taking Galloway, the Lib Dems those two Borders seats, and Labour the other six. PR would ensure Conservative strength was shown with four regional seats, whilst the SNP took the other three. Notably, however, the first ever Holyrood by-election was held less than a year later in Ayr. Labour had only won by 25 votes, and the Conservatives won the first parliamentary constituency in Scotland since their defeat three years previously.


6 Labour (all Constituency)
4 SNP (3 Regional, 1 Constituency)
4 Conservative (all Regional)
2 Liberal Democrat (all Constituency)

In addition to keeping the hold on Ayr after their by-election success, the Conservatives regained the Galloway and Upper Nithsdale seat from the SNP, mirroring their success there at the 2001 UK Election. As they won two seats on the list whilst the SNP held steady on three, that put the Conservatives second overall. Meanwhile the Rainbow Parliament lived up to its name in the South, with both a Green and SSP MSP elected.


5 Labour (all Constituency)
4 Conservative (2 Constituency, 2 Regional)
3 SNP (all Regional)
2 Liberal Democrat (all Constituency)
1 Green (Regional)
1 SSP (Regional)

The Conservatives continued to gain constituencies at this election, unseating the Lib Dems from the Roxburgh and Berwickshire seat, though all else remained as was. That led to a direct trade on the lists to leave both parties on the same overall seat total. Meanwhile, the dissipating rainbow saw both the Greens and SSP booted out, with those two seats instead finding their way to the SNP.


5 Labour (all Constituency)
5 SNP (all Regional)
4 Conservative (3 Constituency, 1 Regional)
2 Liberal Democrat (1 Constituency, 1 Regional)

Substantial boundary changes at this election combined with the SNP surge and Lib Dem collapse to dramatically change the constituency winners. The SNP gained four constituencies, leaving Labour with just Dumfriesshire and East Lothian. They also defeated the last Lib Dem Borders MSP, and with a much reduced vote share, the latter were left with just their single regional seat. The Conservatives held all of their constituencies but lost their last list seat, whilst Labour gained two, the SNP holding the other four.


8 SNP (4 Constituency, 4 Regional)
4 Labour (2 Constituency, 2 Regional)
3 Conservative (all Constituency)
1 Liberal Democrat (Regional)

What was already quite remarkable Conservative success at the last election was particularly evident in the South, where they came within 6% of the SNP on the list vote, the closest margin of any region. The effect on constituencies was relatively muted however, with just a transfer of Dumfriesshire from Labour to Conservative hands. However, it did mean the Conservatives gained two regional seats, whilst the SNP dropped one and the Lib Dems fell below the Greens, who got close but not close enough to repeating their 2003 success here.


7 SNP (4 Constituency, 3 Regional)
6 Conservative (4 Constituency, 2 Regional)
3 Labour (2 Regional, 1 Constituency)

In constituency terms, Labour are in definite danger of losing East Lothian to the SNP based on recent polling, though they did manage a surprise increase in their majority in 2016. Meanwhile, all of the Conservative seats except the Borders are highly marginal, and any or all of them could flip if the SNP sustain their astonishing level of polling.

If constituencies do change hands, that would drive a lot of churn in the regional seats by itself, though Labour seem unlikely at the moment to be able to hold onto a total of three seats. The Greens don’t have much distance to make up compared to 2016 so could nab a seat here if they have a good day.

Though the Lib Dems are slightly more distant, and likely hampered by the fact this isn’t one of the regions they’ve funnelled money and activists into for Westminster, this is also one of their two best shots at growing their MSP group.

South Scotland - Overall Regional Results

Total MSPs Elected 2016


7 SNP (4 Constituency, 3 Regional)
6 Conservative (4 Constituency, 2 Regional)
3 Labour (2 Regional, 1 Constituency)

Changes to MSPs since 2016


Conservative Constituency MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire John Lamont resigned as MSP ahead of the 2017 UK General Election in order to contest the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency for that Parliament, to which he was successfully elected.

Conservative Regional MSP Rachael Hamilton resigned at the same time in order to contest the by-election prompted by Lamont for that Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire Constituency, which she won. Her Regional list seat was taken up by Michelle Ballantyne .

Ballantyne subsequently resigned from the Conservative Party in late November 2019, opting to serve the remainder of her term as an Independent MSP .

Regional List MSPs Elected 2016


#1: Labour - Claudia Beamish
#2: SNP - Joan McAlpine
#3: Conservative - Rachael Hamilton
#4: SNP - Emma Harper
#5: Labour - Colin Smyth
#6: SNP - Paul Wheelhouse
#7: Conservative - Brian Whittle

Image Version

Regional List Candidates 2021

Ayr

Constituency MSP Elected 2016, Majority and Turnout


Conservative: John Scott
Majority: 716 (2.0%)
Turnout: 61.2%

Image Version

Constituency Candidates 2021

TBC

Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Constituency MSP Elected 2016, Majority and Turnout


SNP: Jeane Freeman
Majority: 6006 (19.0%)
Turnout: 54.4%

Image Version

Constituency Candidates 2021

TBC

Clydesdale

Constituency MSP Elected 2016, Majority and Turnout


SNP: Aileen Campbell
Majority: 5979 (17.7%)
Turnout: 57.7%

Image Version

Constituency Candidates 2021

TBC

Dumfriesshire

Constituency MSP Elected 2016, Majority and Turnout


Conservative: Oliver Mundell
Majority: 1230 (3.4%)
Turnout: 59.8%

Image Version

Constituency Candidates 2021

TBC

East Lothian

Constituency MSP Elected 2016, Majority and Turnout


Labour: Iain Gray
Majority: 1127 (3.0%)
Turnout: 62.4%

Image Version

Constituency Candidates 2021

TBC

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire

Constituency MSP Elected 2016, Majority and Turnout


Conservative: John Lamont
Majority: 7736 (23.4%)
Turnout: 60.8%

Image Version

Constituency Candidates 2021

TBC

Galloway and West Dumfries

Constituency MSP Elected 2016, Majority and Turnout


Conservative: Finlay Carson
Majority: 1514 (4.5%)
Turnout: 59.4%

Image Version

Constituency Candidates 2021

TBC

Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley

Constituency MSP Elected 2016, Majority and Turnout


SNP: Willie Coffey
Majority: 11194 (32.6%)
Turnout: 55.1%

Image Version

Constituency Candidates 2021

TBC

Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale

Constituency MSP Elected 2016, Majority and Turnout


SNP: Christine Grahame
Majority: 5868 (16.5%)
Turnout: 59.3%

Image Version

Constituency Candidates 2021

TBC