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Ian Miller

<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.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

The south-western extension of the Cairngorms National Park has now come into force. The original park boundary was established in 2000, with the southern edge being a wiggly line connecting Drumochter, the summit of the A93 Blairgowrie–Braemar road, and the Angus glens.

The new boundary takes in northern Perthshire including the Spittal of Glenshee, Killiecrankie and Blair Atholl (but not Pitlochry), and an area west of the A9 to the south of Drumochter, west of Dalnaspidal. The park is now 282 square miles larger than it was a week ago.

There has been considerable media comment on this over the past few days, from politicians such as John Swinney (the local MSP and secretary for finance and sustainable growth at Holyrood) and Ian Miller (leader of Perth and Kinross Council). Also from representatives of groups such as the Perthshire Alliance for the Real Cairngorms and Ramblers Scotland.

Other voices deserve to be heard, however, so The Caledonian Mercury asked six interested parties what they make of the new extension. Opinions vary…

Andrew Bruce Wootton, general manager, Atholl Estates: We are very pleased to now be formally involved with the park, although we have been working with many of their team for some time already.

It will be exciting to participate with projects and initiatives which will enhance the well-being of our land and communities while hopefully increasing opportunities for people to earn a comfortable living from the local economy.

Catriona Davies, access enquiries officer, Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society (ScotWays): ScotWays welcomes the extension of the Cairngorms National Park. Indeed we feel the quality landscape of Highland Perthshire should have been included in the original designation. We have some reservations about the inclusion of the A9/railway transport corridor, as the best-quality landscape lies to the north-east of this man-made boundary. Nonetheless, we hope that local people and visitors to this area will now start to feel the same benefits that those in the rest of the Cairngorms National Park have increasingly enjoyed since 2003.

Dr Adam Watson, retired ecologist and authority on the Cairngorms: I am against the Cairngorms National Park Authority [CNPA] and have been for years, so I am against the extension, because it just gives the CNPA more power to make a bigger mess of things.

Internationally, a National Park is owned by the state and the chief aim is to give better protection long-term to nationally or internationally valued landscape and wildlife. The CNPA have repeatedly ignored their primary aim, the first of the four aims, and the one they are supposed to respect if there is conflict between any of the other three aims and the first aim. [See footnote.]

They have signally failed, and in some ways are pursuing policies on mass housing development that are markedly worse than those of the local authorities whose powers they have taken. None of the CNPA board members including the chairman David Green has any national standing in protected areas, protected landscapes and conservation of wildlife, and likewise the staff.

John Swinney has pushed the extension through. Now we will see more staff and offices, and more new expensive and ridiculous signs.

Peter Willimott, secretary, The Munro Society: The Munro Society has been an active supporter of Perthshire Alliance for the Real Cairngorms (PARC) through the late Irvine Butterfield and also through Glen Breaden our current president. Irvine and/or Glen regularly attended their meetings. We set up an exhibition of pictures at Blair Castle in support of PARC. We were represented before the Committee of Inquiry set up by the Scottish Parliament which, on that occasion, turned down the extension.

The extension of the park to include northern Perthshire is in line with the original proposal. The new boundary is more natural – not a line on a map along an artificial county (political) boundary. A National Park should be defined by natural features. Good sense has prevailed at last. Irvine would have been delighted!

James Reynolds, head of media, RSPB Scotland: RSPB welcomes the extension to the Cairngorms National Park, which is entirely logical and brings in land that should have been included when the geographical limits of the park were originally established. This revision now means that the whole mountain massif is included, and it is no longer divided along artificial county boundaries. As a result it is much more ecologically coherent, with all the high ground and montane habitats that are important for iconic species such as dotterel, snow bunting, ptarmigan and golden eagle, now afforded the same protection.

David Butterworth, chief executive, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority: The extension of the Cairngorms National Park is a clear endorsement of the UK’s approach to national parks. Whilst the Cairngorms National Park was designated comparatively recently, it’s great that people are seeing the benefits designation brings in terms of conservation, recreation and ensuring thriving sustainable communities, and in a relatively short time have seen the advantages of extending designation to this wider area.

The four aims mentioned by Dr Watson form part of the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 and are as follows:

1 – To conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area
2 – To promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area
3 – To promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public
4 – To promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities

The aims also include the following statement: “Scottish National Parks differ from many other national parks around the world in that they have a social and economic development aim alongside the aims of conservation, understanding and enjoyment of the countryside. This is an explicit recognition of those who live and work in the Park.

“The aims all have equal status, however if it appears that there is a conflict between the conservation and enhancement of the natural and cultural heritage and other National Park aims, then the Park Authority must give greater weight to this aim.”