Where the Scottish election will be won and lost – part 3

Gordon Brown on the campaign trail yesterday <em>Picture: Hamish Macdonell</em>
Gordon Brown on the campaign trail yesterday Picture: Hamish Macdonell
In the final part of our series on key battleground constituencies in the 5 May election, we look at four very different seats across Scotland.

Cunninghame North
This Ayrshire seat generated the most bitterly contested of all the Scottish parliament results in 2007.

The SNP’s Kenneth Gibson won by 0.1 per cent of the vote, but that majority of 48 was dwarfed by the 1,015 spoiled ballot papers.

Labour’s deposed MSP Allan Wilson was convinced that the spoiled papers (largely the result of confusion over the local elections held on the same day) were to blame for his defeat.

Now, he is back and he wants revenge. Mr Wilson is fighting Mr Gibson again, and this one is also expected to go down to the wire.

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Expect recounts, angry words and anything else the candidates can use to fight their corner if this one is again close.

Also standing: Mallika Punukollu (Liberal Democrat), Maurice Golden (Conservative).

Prediction: SNP hold.

Alex Rowley, the Labour candidate, has been a senior (but largely unknown) figure in Scottish Labour for many years.

He was seen as Gordon Brown’s eyes and ears in Fife when Mr Brown was concentrating on Westminster. He was also, for a time, general secretary of the Scottish party.

Now he has decided to step up to a more high-profile role – and he will never have a better chance than this year.

Jim Tolson, the sitting Liberal Democrat MSP for the old seat of Dunfermline West, holds a notional majority of just 77 in this south Fife seat. If there is any sort of anti-Lib Dem backlash – as the polls suggest – then this will be one of the first Lib Dem seats to fall.

Also standing: Bill Walker (SNP), James Reekie (Conservative).

Prediction: Labour gain from the Liberal Democrats.

Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
Most of this huge rural constituency – which stretches from the tip of the Black Isle on its north-eastern boundary to far edge of Skye on its western fringe – used to be a solid Lib Dem seat.

Maverick Gael John Farquhar Munro – well-respected locally – retired as the sitting MSP at this election.

The Lib Dems will be hoping that the tradition of voting for their candidate (these voters have also re-elected Charles Kennedy for the last 25 years) will continue and see Alan MacRae elected here for the first time.

But Mr Farquhar Munro has already caused his party problems by endorsing Alex Salmond as the best first minister, and the SNP believe they can overturn the Lib Dems’ notional 2,800 majority to win here through existing list MSP Dave Thompson.

Highland voters are more individual and less party-orientated than most in Scotland, and they are unlikely to back the Lib Dem’s Mr MacRae just because he is a Lib Dem.

Votes up here have to be earned.

Also standing: Linda Stewart (Labour), Kerensa Carr (Conservative), Ronnie Campbell (Independent).

Prediction: SNP gain from the Liberal Democrats.

Labour hold a notional majority of 389 in this tight SNP–Labour battleground, but they will be hard-pressed to turn that into a victory on election day.

The SNP candidate is sitting MSP Bruce Crawford, a well-known senior Nationalist and a popular politician in the area.

Labour have put up a solid local campaigner in John Hendry, but the Nationalists are confident that Mr Crawford has the broader reach needed to take this seat again.

SNP leaders believe Labour’s Mr Hendry will do well in Stirling itself, where the traditional Labour vote is strong, but they also believe the rest of the constituency – the rural and semi-rural parts all around the main centre – will give them the edge.

Many voters in a lot of these prosperous countryside towns don’t like the Labour Party – and, if disillusioned by the Lib Dems and repelled by the prospect of voting Tory, many are expected to vote SNP instead.

Also standing: Graham Reed (Liberal Democrat), Neil Benny (Conservative), Jack Black (Independent).

Prediction: SNP hold.

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