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North East Fife

A boy enjoying the 2011 RAF Leuchars Air Show

A boy enjoying the 2011 RAF Leuchars Air Show

The RAF Leuchars Air Show is an institution. Like many others, I first went as a child. I went again when I had children, first taking them to a hill above the Fife airfield to watch the aircraft from afar – when they were too young to go the show itself – and then taking them to the airfield for the real experience.

But now it has emerged that this year’s show may have been the last.

It became obvious, the moment the Ministry of Defence announced the transfer of Leuchars from the RAF to the Army, that the days of the Leuchars Air Show were numbered.

However, most people assumed – with good reason – that changeover would take several years to implement, leaving room for a few last glorious September days filled with the swooping of jet fighters, the throaty roar of Merlin engines and the sweet tang of unburned aviation fuel in the air.

But maybe not. There does now seem to be a serious question-mark on whether the Leuchars Air Show will ever take place again.

Something seems to have changed inside Whitehall and it doesn’t seem to be good for the future of the show.

According to SNP MSP Roderick Campbell, who has taken up cudgels on behalf of the show, the UK government’s approach to the future of the show appears to have moved. Indeed, no one at the MoD can guarantee anything for next year.

Scottish secretary Michael Moore had previously said the airshow will continue for the “next few years” – however a recent letter from defence minister Nick Harvey to Mr Campbell stated “As yet there has been no major discussion on the future of the airshow as part of the overall plan for RAF Leuchars. Unfortunately, at this stage I cannot tell you what will happen beyond this year’s show.”

Mr Campbell says that he is now seeking assurances from the UK government that the airshow will be backed for at least the next three years.

Mr Campbell, MSP for North East Fife, said: “The UK government must confirm the future of the airshow along with the plans for the future of the base as a matter of urgency.

“The airshow’s future is of paramount importance and is worth over £1 million to the local economy over the next three years. It is crucial to the wellbeing of so many businesses in the area.”

And he added: “The UK government’s position on the future of the Leuchars airshow is a complete shambles.

“Who is telling the truth here – the Defence minister or the Scottish secretary? The continued uncertainty over the future of the base and the transfer of the army is already causing great concern in the local community, the last thing we need now more uncertainty with the questions over the future of this much loved show.”

A Vulcan bomber above Leuchars <em>Picture: Hamish Macdonell</em>

A Vulcan bomber above Leuchars Picture: Hamish Macdonell

The Leuchars airshow regularly attracts more than 50,000 people for the one-day event. In Scottish terms, it is big. For Fife, it is huge.

This year’s show wasn’t a vintage one, to be honest, but that was because of the weather. The cloud was low and thick to start with, which hindered the arrival of some aircraft.

It then poured with rain for half an hour in the afternoon, which caused further scheduling and flight problems – not to mention dampening the spirits of the visitors.

But it was still a fabulous event – and it was not a bad pay day for the makers of earplugs, either.

It would be a shame, a real shame, for the show to go out on the damp note of this year’s show. There are boys – of all ages – all over Scotland who share Mr Campbell’s desire for the government to think again.

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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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Holyrood debating chamber <em>Picture: Paul Buckingham</em>

Holyrood debating chamber Picture: Paul Buckingham

For the first time, Labour and the SNP will share more than 100 of the 129 seats on offer. That was the private prediction made today by a senior figure in the SNP, who stressed that he didn’t think that meant both parties breaking the magic 50-seat barrier.

Clearly, in his mind, this meant the SNP getting 52, 53 or even 54 seats and Labour down at 49 or fewer.

Ask Labour strategists and they would agree with the shared 100-seat prediction but would reverse the allocation, putting Labour at more than 50 and the Nationalists some way below that.

Whichever way it turns out, there seems to be a general agreement that this election will forge a new direction for the Scottish parliament.

In 1999, Labour and the SNP shared 91 of the 129 seats (Labour 56, SNP 35). In 2003, the two main parties shared just 77 (Labour 50, SNP 27), and in 2007 they shared 93 (SNP 47, Labour 46).

If, as now seems likely, the two main parties enjoy a bigger share of the seats on offer, it inevitably means the smaller parties will get squeezed.

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Remember back to 2003? The Rainbow Parliament? There were seven Greens, six Scottish Socialists, three independents and one from the Senior Citizens Unity Party.

That election was supposed to herald a breakthrough, it was supposed to signal the dawn of a new age in Scottish (and British) politics, brought about by proportional representation and a savvy electorate who understood how to use both votes to best effect.

So what on earth has happened?

Put simply, this election has polarised the electorate like never before. It has come about partly because both the main parties are locked in a fierce, tight battle and the electorate has responded to that – but it has also happened partly because the Liberal Democrat vote is collapsing due to the party’s travails in coalition with the Conservatives at Westminster.

The likely result is this: Labour will take seats off the Lib Dems in the urban areas and the SNP will take seats off the Lib Dems in the rural areas.

Two Lib Dem-held Highland seats – Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch – could easily fall to the SNP. The Borders seat of Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale is also expected to go the SNP from the Lib Dems.

But it doesn’t end there. The Nationalists appear to think there is potential in North East Fife, despite a notional Lib Dem majority of more than 4,500. Why else would Alex Salmond change his timetable at the last minute today to make a campaigning stop there?

Then there are the urban areas. Labour believe they can unseat Lib Dems Mike Pringle in Edinburgh Southern and Margaret Smith in Edinburgh Western, again despite notional majorities of nearly 4,000 in both cases.

There have even been whispers that the Lib Dems might be vulnerable, for the first time in a generation, in Orkney.

It really is that bad for the Lib Dems – and it could get worse. Under the proportional system, the Lib Dems would normally expect to pick up seats on the regional lists for all those they lose in the constituencies, but their vote could drop even further on the second vote.

The Greens could be the beneficiaries here, or the Lib Dem vote could be split between the party’s more traditional rivals.

Either way, this election has turned into a straight fight between Labour and the SNP for Lib Dem votes and Lib Dem seats.

After 5 May, the Scottish parliament will be a much more polarised place. Holyrood’s sweeping curve of pale wooden desks, designed to represent all shades of opinion, will look more out of place than ever before. Indeed, the adversarial House of Commons model would suit these two big parties better, whoever emerges on top.

There is one proviso to consider, however. Holyrood’s electoral system was set up deliberately to stop any one party gaining an overall majority. So, even if both of the main parties break the magic 50 barrier for the first time, neither will be close enough to the 65-seat mark to govern with a majority of their own.

The Rainbow Parliament may have long disappeared, but the smaller parties could still have a crucial role to play.

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