Ballot Box Battlegrounds GE19 – 4-1

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!

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#4 – Glasgow East (SNP, Majority: 0.2%)

What a world we live in now. Not only are all seven of Glasgow’s seats marginal. Not only are four of them in the top 20 most marginal. But two of them are in the top five most marginal in Scotland – and the top 10 in the UK. Not very long ago that would have been completely unthinkable.

Glasgow East is notable as the site of a dramatic SNP by-election victory in 2008, which also happens to be the first by-election that I (aged 18) remember being keenly aware of. With that in mind, it wouldn’t have been an obvious seat for the SNP to lose in 2017. However, former MP Natalie McGarry had a dramatic fall from grace just a few months after being elected in 2015, as allegations of embezzlement from both the Glasgow SNP and Women for Independence surfaced.

With voters generally not taking kindly to such behaviour, it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that they might transfer their personal ire to the SNP. Fortunately for David Linden, even if some voters did indeed do so, many more affirmed their continued support. He was however left with one of the UK’s most razor-thin majorities, just 75 votes.

Thin as that majority is, it might prove too much for a Labour party that just isn’t making headway in the polls. There’s always the prospect of upsets in any election, but it doesn’t seem likely it’ll be Labour doing any upsetting as things stand.

#3 – Glasgow South West (SNP, Majority: 0.2%)

Glasgow’s other hyper-marginal seat in this election, the SNP’s Chris Stephens saw off Labour’s Matt Kerr with a slender 60 vote majority at the last snap election. Although solidly Labour for decades, the Glasgow Pollok constituency which preceded South West was notable in the early 90’s for being (the not then disgraced) Tommy Sheridan’s centre of support, with a quite remarkable nearly 20% in 1992. The area would remain strongly supportive of further Left parties for some time, even electing Solidarity’s only councillor in 2007.

By this point though, we all know what I’m going to say about this election – hard to imagine this going Labour’s way unless their fortunes dramatically improve. So this seat isn’t just the smallest SNP-Labour margin in the country, it’s also the shortest entry in the Battlegrounds series. (Note to politics: More volatile polls next time, please.)

#2 – Perth and North Perthshire (SNP, Majority: 0.0%)

Not content with the most marginal seat in the UK, Scotland is also home to the 2nd most marginal. Pete Wishart, who has been an MP for the area since 2001, managed to hold onto the seat by a mere 21 votes over Conservative (then) MEP Ian Duncan.

This is one of the SNP’s longest standing strongholds, with representation in this and preceding seats dating back to a 1995 by-election win by Roseanna Cunningham, who now serves in the Scottish Cabinet. Former SNP leader and current Depute First Minister John Swinney also represented one of the old seats. They both continue to serve as MSPs for Holyrood’s Perthshire constituencies which have been consistently SNP since 1999.

In the 2017 council elections, the Conservatives won a substantial lead across Perthshire as a whole. The city of Perth itself however saw the SNP win the most votes in two of the three wards, as well as coming narrowly ahead of the Conservatives in the other. That rural-urban divide is likely what helped Wishart hold the seat the following month. The other Perth City ward went Lib Dem, so the usual advice to keep an eye on their vote share here too.

With this wafer-thin margin, the winner will almost certainly come down to who has the better ground game. Neither side should be lulled into a false sense of security here by any national polling which leans their way. The SNP certainly won’t want to lose another stronghold, whilst the Conservatives may scent the blood in the water and hope to unseat another prominent nationalist MP the way they did Angus Robertson.

#1 – North East Fife (SNP, Majority: 0.0%)

North East Fife isn’t only the most marginal constituency in Scotland – it’s the most marginal anywhere in the UK. Just two votes separated incumbent SNP MP Stephen Gethins from the Lib Dem’s Elizabeth Riches. The technical term for such a close result here in Scotland is of course “he won by a bawhair.”

This constituency (with varying boundaries) was represented by Lib Dem Ming Campbell from 1987-2015. Campbell, a former leader of the party, retired at that election so didn’t face the indignity of other long-serving colleagues in being personally defeated as the SNP tide swept the country.

At the 2016 Holyrood Election, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie won the roughly equivalent seat the party had lost in 2011 with a reasonably comfortable 10.1% majority. Then, in the 2017 council elections, the Lib Dems topped the poll in almost all of the wards that make up the constituency, with a lead of about 4.2% over the SNP.

In that context it’s perhaps somewhat surprising that they failed, however narrowly, to win this seat last time. However, that’s what makes this such a key battleground for this snap election. This is the only other Scottish constituency the Lib Dems can conceivably win even with their recent polling uptick, whilst the SNP will be looking to reassert themselves after being bruised in 2017. Expect both parties to fight tooth and nail for this one, and local activists should come prepared for a long night of recounts just in case.