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boundary changes

polling2The fight is on. Today the Boundary Commission is announcing the shake-up of Scottish constituencies, and it is clear that a number of MPs are going to lose out.

One Westminster seat is going to go from Glasgow, while another will be lost in Edinburgh. One Highland MP is going to go in a raft of Scottish-wide changes so sweeping that only one mainland constituency – East Lothian – will remain exactly as it is now.

Under the proposals, the number of Scottish Westminster seats is to go down from 59 to 52.

Seven MPs will lose their jobs as a result of the boundary changes, which will lead to a scramble within parties as MPs seek to either oust fellow parliamentarians from their seats or curry enough favour with party leaders to earn a boot up to the House of Lords.

Whatever happens, it promises to be a messy, backbiting business.

However, as far as the actual plans are concerned, the Boundary Commission is proposing a number of changes, including:

● Six constituencies exactly covering Glasgow City in place of the current seven.

● Four constituencies exactly covering the City of Edinburgh in place of the current five.

● Two constituencies exactly covering Aberdeen City.

● Four constituencies exactly covering the combined extent of the Highland, Argyll and Bute, and Moray council areas, in place of the current five.

● Three re-configured constituencies exactly covering the combined extent of Falkirk and West Lothian council areas, as at present.

● The largest constituency will be Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty, at 12,830 square kilometres. The largest current constituency is Ross, Skye and Lochaber, which is 12,779 square kilometres.

Across the UK, the number of constituencies is being reduced from 650 to 600. In Scotland there will be a decrease from 59 to 52 constituencies, with similar reductions in each part of the UK: England 502 in place of the current 533; Wales 30 in place of the current 40; and Northern Ireland 16 in place of the current 18.

The smallest permitted electorate for a constituency is 72,810 and the largest permitted electorate is 80,473. In Scotland, however, exceptions to these electorate limits apply for Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency (the Western Isles), and Orkney and Shetland constituency, each of which are defined in the legislation.

An exception to the minimum electorate requirement can be made if a constituency is larger than 12,000 square kilometres, which can only occur in very sparsely populated areas.

Information on the proposals is available on the Boundary Commission’s website, and is being distributed to more than 170 libraries and council offices around the country. Five Public Hearings are being held around Scotland during November.

The new constituencies –

● Aberdeen North; Aberdeen South; Airdrie and Coatbridge South; Angus East and Kincardine; Argyll, Bute and Lochaber

● Banff and Buchan; Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

● Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty; Clackmannanshire and Dunfermline West; Clydesdale and Larkhall; Cumbernauld and Coatbridge North; Cupar and St Andrews

● Deeside and Gordon; Dumfries; Dundee East and the Glens; Dundee West and Gowrie; Dunfermline East

● East Dunbartonshire and Kilsyth; East Kilbride and Rutherglen; East Lothian; East Renfrewshire and Hairmyres; Edinburgh Central and Leith; Edinburgh East; Edinburgh South West; Edinburgh West

● Falkirk

● Galloway and Carrick; Glasgow Central; Glasgow East; Glasgow North East; Glasgow North West; Glasgow South East; Glasgow South West

● Hamilton

● Inverclyde; Inverness and Skye

● Kilmarnock and Loudoun; Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes; Kyle and Cumnock

● Linlithgow and Falkirk East; Livingston

● Midlothian and Tweeddale; Moray and Strathspey; Motherwell, Wishaw and Bellshill

● Na h-Eileanan an Iar; North Ayrshire and Arran

● Orkney and Shetland

● Paisley and Renfrew; Perth and Kinross-shire

● Renfrewshire South and Largs

● Stirling and Crieff

● West Dunbartonshire and Bearsden

The Thames below Westminster <em>Picture: Claude Monet, 1840–1926</em>

The Thames below Westminster Picture: Claude Monet, 1840–1926

Among the changes to specific council areas are the following:

● Aberdeen City – Aberdeen North and Aberdeen South constituencies exactly cover the council area.

● Aberdeenshire – Banff and Buchan constituency and Deeside and Gordon constituency are wholly within Aberdeenshire council area, Angus East and Kincardine constituency covers parts of Aberdeenshire south of Aberdeen City and the eastern part of Angus council area.

● Angus – Angus East and Kincardine constituency covers the eastern part of Angus and parts of Aberdeenshire south of Aberdeen City, Dundee East and the Glens constituency covers the western part of Angus and the eastern part of Dundee City.

● Argyll and Bute – Argyll, Bute and Lochaber constituency covers all of Argyll and Bute and Lochaber (ward 22) of Highland council area.

● Clackmannanshire – Clackmannanshire and Dunfermline West constituency covers all of Clackmannanshire and western part of Fife, including western part of Dunfermline.

● Dumfries and Galloway – Dumfries constituency covers the eastern part of the council area, including all of Dumfries; Galloway and Carrick constituency covers the western part of the council area and southern part of South Ayrshire.

● Dundee City – Dundee West and Gowrie constituency covers the western part of the city and the eastern part (wards 1 and 2) of Perth and Kinross, Dundee East and the Glens constituency covers the eastern part of city and the western part of Angus.

● East Ayrshire – Kilmarnock and Loudoun constituency is wholly contained in East Ayrshire, Kyle and Cumnock covers the southern part of East Ayrshire and the northern part of South Ayrshire.

● East Dunbartonshire – East Dunbartonshire and Kilsyth constituency covers most of East Dunbartonshire and the northern part (ward 1) of North Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire and Bearsden constituency covers ward 2 of East Dunbartonshire and all of West Dunbartonshire.

● East Lothian – no change. East Lothian constituency exactly covers the council area.

● East Renfrewshire – East Renfrewshire and Hairmyres constituency covers all of East Renfrewshire and part (ward 9, East Kilbride West) of South Lanarkshire.

● Edinburgh – four constituencies exactly cover the city.

● Falkirk – Falkirk constituency is wholly contained in the council area, Linlithgow and Falkirk East constituency covers the south-eastern part of council area and the northern part of West Lothian.

● Fife – three constituencies are wholly contained in Fife, Clackmannanshire and Dunfermline West constituency covers the western part of Fife and all of Clackmannanshire.

● Glasgow City – six constituencies exactly cover the city.

● Highland – Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty constituency and Inverness and Skye constituency are wholly within Highland council area; Argyll, Bute and Lochaber covers Lochaber (ward 22) of Highland and all of Argyll and Bute; Moray and Strathspey covers Badenoch and Strathspey (ward 21) of Highland and all of Moray.

● Inverclyde – Inverclyde constituency covers all of Inverclyde council area and the northern part of Renfrewshire.

● Midlothian – Midlothian and Tweeddale constituency covers all of Midlothian and the western part (wards 1 and 2) of Scottish Borders.

● Moray – Moray and Strathspey constituency covers all of Moray and part (ward 21 – Badenoch and Strathspey) of Highland council area.

● North Ayrshire – North Ayrshire and Arran constituency is wholly contained in North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire South and Largs constituency covers the northern part of North Ayrshire and the southern part of Renfrewshire.

● North Lanarkshire – Airdrie and Coatbridge South constituency, Cumbernauld and Coatbridge North constituency and Motherwell, Wishaw and Bellshill constituency are wholly contained in North Lanarkshire, East Dunbartonshire and Kilsyth constituency covers ward 1of North Lanarkshire and most of East Dunbartonshire.

● Perth and Kinross – Perth and Kinross-shire constituency is wholly contained in the council area, Dundee West and Gowrie constituency covers wards 1 and 2 of the council area and the western part of Dundee City, Stirling and Crieff constituency covers the south-west part of council area and all of Stirling council area.

● Renfrewshire – Paisley and Renfrew constituency is wholly contained in Renfrewshire; Inverclyde constituency covers the northern part of Renfrewshire and all of Inverclyde; Renfrewshire South and Largs covers the southern part of Renfrewshire and the northern part of North Ayrshire.

● Scottish Borders – Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency covers most of the council area, Midlothian and Tweeddale constituency covers wards 1 and 2 and all of Midlothian.

● South Ayrshire – Galloway and Carrick constituency covers the southern part of South Ayrshire and western part of Dumfries and Galloway council area, Kyle and Cumnock covers the northern part of South Ayrshire and southern part of East Ayrshire.

● South Lanarkshire – Clydesdale and Larkhall constituency, Hamilton constituency and East Kilbride and Rutherglen constituency are each wholly contained in South Lanarkshire, East Renfrewshire and Hairmyres constituency covers part of South Lanarkshire (ward 9, East Kilbride West) and all of East Renfrewshire.

● Stirling – Stirling and Crieff constituency covers all of Stirling council area and the south-west part of Perth and Kinross.

● West Dunbartonshire – West Dunbartonshire and Bearsden constituency covers all of West Dunbartonshire and part (ward 2 – Bearsden North) of East Dunbartonshire.

● West Lothian – Livingston constituency is wholly contained in the council area, Linlithgow and Falkirk East constituency covers the northern part of West Lothian and the south-eastern part of Falkirk.

● Na h-Eileanan an Iar (the Western Isles), Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands – no change since the constituencies are defined in the legislation.

Map images of the proposals are available on the Boundary Commission website.

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Aberdeen Central <em>Picture: Richard Slessor</em>

Aberdeen Central Picture: Richard Slessor

The second in our series on key swing seats for the 5 May election.

Aberdeen Central
Labour’s Lewis Macdonald has represented the centre of Aberdeen since the parliament opened in 1999. However, his majorities have been going down with each election as the SNP has chipped away at the Labour vote.

At the last election, Mr Macdonald only secured the seat with a majority of 382 over the SNP – and, according to one authoritative assessment, this has been eroded even more by boundary changes so that the SNP now actually has a notional majority of 349.

Either way, this is a very tight contest. Mr Macdonald has worked very hard to keep this seat, but in Kevin Stewart he is up against the deputy leader of the city council.

If even a small fraction of the pro-SNP swing detected in national polls is translated through into this constituency, then Mr Stewart will be elected on 5 May.

Also standing: Sheila Thomson (Liberal Democrat), Sandy Wallace (Conservative), Mike Phillips (National Front).

Prediction: SNP gain from Labour.

Argyll and Bute
There is one issue dominating the election in this west coast constituency – school closures.

The council proposed a series of school closures a year ago, which caused a massive backlash. Then the SNP group on the council (after taking advice from Mike Russell, the education secretary) decided to start opposing the cuts.

Mr Russell – whose wife is a teacher in the area – is now the SNP candidate. The issue of school closures – which ones will actually close and who is to blame – is still swirling around Mr Russell and the SNP and has the potential to damage the SNP vote.

However, this seat did elect an SNP MSP in 2007 in the popular Jim Mather, and Mr Russell will be hoping that he can take over where the retiring Mr Mather left off.

He does face a strong challenge, though, from Alison Hay of the Liberal Democrats. Privately, senior Lib Dems have been talking up her chances, but she will have to buck the national trend of anti-Lib Dem voting to take this constituency.

Also standing: Jamie McGrigor (Conservative), Mick Rice (Labour), George White (Liberal), George Doyle (Independent).

Prediction: SNP hold.

Caithness, Sutherland and Ross
The Liberal Democrats have a very good record of getting elected then working an area so well that they guarantee their re-election for many years to come.

That happened here with Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MSP from 1999 until his decision to retire from politics this year.

Without that personal vote for Mr Stone, the Nationalists believe this seat is vulnerable, and although an assessment of the boundary changes gives Lib Dem Robbie Rowantree a notional majority of 2,500, SNP strategists believe that is vulnerable.

The SNP candidate is the experienced list MSP Rob Gibson, who is well known in the area.

The Liberal Democrats expect their vote to decline, but are hoping enough of their supporters stay with them to keep the SNP at bay.

Also standing: John MacKay (Labour), Edward Mountain (Conservative).

Prediction: SNP gain from Liberal Democrats.

Edinburgh Central
This appears to be one of the most open constituencies of all in Scotland. All four of the main parties now appear to be within 3,500 votes of each other, so – conceivably – it could go to any of them.

Labour’s Sarah Boyack is the sitting MSP, but she holds a notional majority of just 719 over the SNP.

Nationalists have been suggesting that Ms Boyack knows she is vulnerable: why else, they ask, would she put herself on the regional list as well?

But it appeared to Labour before the campaign started that the Liberal Democrats would be their main rival in Edinburgh Central, and that was why Ms Boyack was worried about her position.

With the Lib Dem vote falling away, Labour managers hope they will attract enough wavering Lib Dems to head off Marco Biagi’s SNP challenge.

Also standing: Iain McGill (Conservative), Alex Cole-Hamilton (Liberal Democrat).

Prediction: Labour hold.

Edinburgh Southern
This should be one of the most comfortable Liberal Democrat seats in the country. Sitting MSP Mike Pringle enjoys a notional majority of nearly 4,000 – but, ever since the campaign started, Labour strategists have been insisting that their canvass returns show a big swing from the Lib Dems to Labour.

Labour leaders believe it will be enough to send Paul Godzik, their candidate, to Holyrood for the first time, while the Lib Dems think that Mr Pringle has a strong enough personal vote to confound the national anti-Lib Dem voting patterns.

Labour will need to start picking up seats from the Lib Dems in Scotland’s urban areas if they are to match the SNP’s success in doing that in rural Scotland. This would be as good a place as any for them to start.

Also standing: Gavin Brown (Conservative), Jim Eadie (SNP).

Prediction: Labour gain from Liberal Democrats.

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<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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