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Angela Constance

<em>Picture: Walter Baxter</em>

Picture: Walter Baxter

As is always the case, this election will be won and lost in just a few key battleground areas. The swing seats hold the key to the final result, and The Caledonian Mercury will be looking at several of them over the next week. Here are the first five –

Almond Valley
Almond Valley is the sort of seat Labour needs to win if it is to regain power at Holyrood. This used to be Livingston, and it was won in 2007 by the SNP’s Angela Constance with a majority of 870.

Boundary changes have made things even tighter since then – and, according to one assessment, this is now the most marginal constituency in the country, with the SNP holding a notional majority of just four votes.

Ms Constance believes the last four years have consolidated her position and that incumbency will give her the edge over Labour stalwart Lawrence Fitzpatrick.

But, having lost some areas that she knew well – such as Broxburn and Uphall – and gained others with a Labour tradition – such as Fauldhouse and Longridge – the result here is anything but clear.

Also standing: Emma Sykes (Liberal Democrat), Andrew Hardie (Conservative), Neil McIvor (National Front).

Prediction: SNP hold.

Edinburgh Eastern
This battle between two political heavyweights encapsulates the fight for the Scottish government. A high-profile Nationalist is up against a less well-known but solid Labour candidate, and what happens in this seat should give a good indication of what is going to happen across Scotland.

The SNP’s Kenny MacAskill won here in 2007, but boundary changes have since given Labour a notional majority of 545. The Labour candidate is the Reverend Ewan Aitken, Church of Scotland minister and former Labour leader on Edinburgh city council.

Mr MacAskill believes his personal vote – built up over the past four years – will see him through, and he is doing all he can to link Mr Aitken with the unpopular trams debacle.

Also standing: Martin Veart (Liberal Democrat), Cameron Buchanan (Conservative).

Prediction: SNP hold.

Glasgow Southside
Somehow, the old name of Glasgow Govan carried more romance and appeal than the renamed constituency. Maybe it was the by-elections of 1973 and 1988 – both won by the SNP – but, whatever it is, this is a much-changed seat.

Boundary changes have stripped it of much of Govan including the shipyards, and have brought in Govanhill, the Gorbals and Toryglen.

But a Tory glen it isn’t. This is a straight fight between the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon (who won Govan by 744 votes in 2007) and Labour’s Stephen Curran, a local councillor.

There have been claims of dirty tricks, with SNP sources muttering about claims that Mr Curran’s people have been telling voters they don’t need to worry about Ms Sturgeon being returned to parliament, because she is standing on the regional list and they can get both Mr Curran and Ms Sturgeon to parliament if they back Mr Curran on the constituency vote.

This claim has been denied by Labour, but it underlines how tense and how important this seat is.

Ms Sturgeon is under pressure in what has traditionally been a Labour heartland, but she will be hoping that the national swing to the SNP from Labour will be enough to see her returned again.

Also standing: Kenneth Elder (Liberal Democrat), David Meikle (Conservative).

Prediction: SNP hold.

North East Fife
Normally, the notional 4,500 majority which Iain Smith holds in this rural Fife seat would make this an easy hold for the Liberal Democrats – but these are not normal times.

The battering which the Lib Dems have taken in the polls because of their Westminster coalition deal with the Tories – and their subsequent decisions in government – have made this seat vulnerable to both the SNP and the Conservatives.

The Lib Dems are throwing resources at North East Fife in an attempt to head off the opposition attacks, and Mr Smith is finding on the doorstep that he has yet to build up the sort of personal vote that the local Lib Dem MP, Sir Menzies Campbell, has cultivated.

Sir Menzies would have no trouble holding this seat, but Mr Smith is facing a much harder fight. His majority will be cut – there appears to be no doubt about that – but the three-way battle may play into his hands, with neither the SNP (whose candidate is Rod Campbell) nor the Tories (Miles Briggs) likely to garner enough Lib Dem votes on their own to unseat him.

Also standing: Colin Davidson (Labour), Mike Scott-Hayward (UKIP).

Prediction: Lib Dem hold.

Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale
The battle for this big Borders seat is between two of Holyrood’s best-known and longest-serving MSPs: Jeremy Purvis for the Liberal Democrats and Christine Grahame of the SNP.

The two have fought each other so many times before that this has the feel of a personal grudge match about it.

Mr Purvis is the sitting MSP, but boundary changes have given the SNP a notional advantage – and, according to one assessment of local government voting patterns, may now have Ms Grahame in front by 1,200 votes.

Mr Purvis faces the added problem of general disillusionment with the Lib Dem coalition in London, and he has been doing his best to emphasise his work in the constituency and move discussions away from English tuition fees and Nick Clegg.

He faces an uphill battle, though, particularly against someone such as Ms Grahame who is very well known here.

Also standing: Ian Miller (Labour), Peter Duncan (Conservative).

Prediction: SNP gain from Lib Dems.

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SNP logoA dozen SNP MSPs face the prospect of losing their seats at Holyrood next May after SNP members effectively de-selected them.

The results of the SNP’s regional list rankings were published yesterday, giving a good indication of which candidates will secure seats in the parliament on the top-up lists next May.

A high place on each regional list is usually good enough to ensure election to the Scottish Parliament and a low ranking virtually guarantees elimination – unless the candidate can win a constituency instead.

As a result of this year’s rankings, several MSPs are now ranked so low on the lists that they face an almost impossible task in winning back their places in the parliament and several more face a struggle to get back.
Those most under threat are: Bill Kidd and Ann McLaughlin on the Glasgow list, Christina McKelvie and John Wilson on the Central Scotland list, Stuart McMillan on the West of Scotland list, Bill Wilson in the Lothians.

Despite the poor rankings for these backbench MSPs, there was good news for the party leadership as members backed all the party’s senior ministers and none – including the education secretary, Mike Russell, who had been considered under threat – were dumped down the lists.

This does represent a genuine turn-around from the past. When the list rankings were done ahead of the 2003 election, activists conspired to de-select high-profile MSPs Andrew Wilson and Mr Russell – and gave Nicola Sturgeon a fight to regain her seat.

Both Mr Wilson and Mr Russell lost their seats as a result, although Ms Sturgeon battled through to win again.
As a result, the then leader, John Swinney, changed the ranking system, introducing a one-member, one-vote system which gave a fairer reflection of the views of party members. This replaced the old system which saw local party associations mandate a delegate to vote a certain way.

The results of this year’s rankings do seem to show that Mr Swinney’s reforms appear to be working. The Finance Secretary himself was placed top of the of the Mid Scotland and Fife list. Alex Salmond is top of the North East list, Ms Sturgeon is top of the Glasgow list, Kenny MacAskill is top of the Lothians list, Fergus Ewing is number one in the Highlands and Islands (with Mr Russell in an eminently winnable second place) and Alex Neil is on top of the Central list.

So, although Mr Salmond may lose some backbenchers – not all of whom have been that effective in parliament – he will retain the core of his ministerial team, for which he can think Mr Swinney.

The SNP business convener, Bruce Crawford, said: “The SNP already has an experienced and talented group of MSPs. The elections next year provide an opportunity to build on that strength, with new talent from local government, women who will bring valuable experience to Holyrood, and candidates that reflect Scottish society as a whole.”

But Labour’s elections co-ordinator John Park said: “The release of this list is not only deeply embarrassing for the SNP but it is a humiliation for Alex Salmond that his own party members have effectively deselected so many of his sitting team. “It shows how Alex Salmond is losing the confidence of his own party.”

The full SNP regional list rankings are as follows (asterisks represent the number of MSPs elected from each list in 2007, giving a rough indication of who might win a seat in 2011).

It should be stressed though, that while this gives a rough indication of the number of MSPs who might get elected from the regional lists, it does not show who they might be. This is because some of those near the top of the lists are likely to win constituency seats, so they will not need their place on the list, allowing someone further down to be elected.

For instance, on the Highlands and Islands list, the top two places are taken by Fergus Ewing and Mr Russell. The SNP may get two MSPs elected from that list but both Mr Ewing and Mr Russell may already have secured their places from constituency elections, giving those two places to Dave Thompson and Rob Gibson.

1. Alex Neil *
2. Michael Matheson *
3. Jamie Hepburn *
4. Linda Fabiani *
5. Richard Lyle *
6. Christina McKelvie
7. Angus MacDonald
8. John Wilson
9. Clare Adamson

1. Nicola Sturgeon *
2. Humza Yousaf *
3. Bob Doris *
4. Sandra White *
5. Sid Khan
6. James Dornan
7. Bill Kidd
8. Anne McLaughlin
9. Chris Stephens
10. Jim McGuigan
11. Mags Park

1. Fergus Ewing *
2. Michael Russell *
3. Dave Thompson
4. Rob Gibson
5. John Finnie
6. Jean Urquhart
7. Mike MacKenzie
8. Mhairi Will
9. Drew Hendry
10. Richard Laird
11. Bren Gormley

1. Kenny MacAskill *
2. Fiona Hyslop *
3. Shirley-Anne Somerville *
4. Angela Constance
5. George Kerevan
6. Colin Beattie
7. Alex Orr
8. Bill Wilson
9. Gordon MacDonald
10. Calum Cashley
11. Jim Eadie
12. Alasdair Rankin
13. Colin Keir

1. John Swinney *
2. Bruce Crawford
3. Roseanna Cunningham
4. Annabelle Ewing
5. Keith Brown
6. Douglas Chapman
7. Bill Walker
8. Ewan Dow
9. John Beare
10. Rod Campbell
11. Alison Lindsay
12. David Torrance
13. Douglas Thomson
14. Ian Chisholm
15. George Kay

1. Alex Salmond *
2. Brian Adam *
3. Nigel Don
4. Maureen Watt
5. Mark McDonald
6. Christian Allard
7. Dennis Robertson

1. Christine Grahame *
2. Aileen Campbell *
3. Adam Ingram *
4. Joan McAlpine *
5. Aileen McLeod *
6. Paul Wheelhouse
7. Chic Brodie
8. Dave Berry
9. Aileen Orr

1. Stewart Maxwell *
2. Kenneth Gibson *
3. Derek MacKay *
4. Gil Paterson *
5. Fiona McLeod
6. Stuart McMillan
7. Osama Saeed
8. Andy Doig
9. Iain Robertson
10. Iain White
11. Ronnie McColl

Under the Scotland Act parties can submit a maximum of 12 names in each region.  In regions where more than 12 candidates have sought election only the first 12 will appear on the ballot paper.

Candidates were ranked by one member one vote through regional ballots using the Single transferable vote system.  Ballots were counted by Electoral Reform Services.