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Peter Duncan

<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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Scottish woodland sceneBy John Knox

Spare a thought for the losers, cast out into the wilderness of political oblivion by our cruel mistress Democracy. I came home from two constituency counts on Friday morning with the fallen faces of the losers burnt into my memory like masks in a Greek tragedy. And in the afternoon I went off to work in the community woodland near my home thinking of them wandering back to their neck of the woods exhausted, despondent, vowing never to get involved in politics again.

It must be a huge emotional effort to climb onto the stage of public life, expose yourself to opposition and ridicule and then “watch the things you gave your life to broken”.

Willie Rennie, the Liberal Democrat candidate in Dunfermline and West Fife, walked stiffly into his count in the Glen Pavillion towards the end of the churning democratic process. By then he obviously knew the worst but he tried to smile, his wife shed a tear, he shook hands with all around him, even a Labour party worker standing by.

“Look after the people of Fife,” he told the victor, Thomas Docherty, in his speech from the platform. “It’s been a privilege to serve them for the past four years.” He then went through the gruelling ordeal of the media interviews explaining why he thought he had lost. He even had a funny story about coming face to face with a python on the election trail.

In Alloa Town Hall a couple of hours later, the SNP’s Annabelle Ewing was on the platform explaining how the TV debates had “locked the SNP out of the election”. But she congratulated Gordon Banks on retaining the Ochil and South Perthshire seat for Labour. Again she could not help looking hollowed out.

Even the candidates who had no realistic chance of winning, stood there on both platforms, shoulders hunched, long-faced, with expressions that said: “Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams.”

It takes a special sort of courage to put your ideas and ideals out in the open where everyone can see them. And it involves an awful lot of work, getting selected, leading a local campaign, raising funds, inspiring a team of helpers, distributing leaflets, knocking on doors. All against a background of suspicion or even hostility from a grumpy public.
There were at least five times as many losers as winners. Even among high-profile candidates, some deserved to lose, like the scandal-hit Jacqui Smith in Redditch or Peter Robinson in Belfast.

But most lost out through circumstances not of their own making. They fell victim to the geological forces working beneath them, like Conservative Peter Duncan in Dumfries and Galloway and Liberal Democrat Fred Mackintosh in Edinburgh South. As Rudyard Kipling said, they not only watched the things they gave to life to broken, they must now stoop and build them up again with worn-out tools.

My work in the woods that post-election afternoon was to clear away young trees burnt in a forest fire started by some mindless vandal. As we stooped over the stumps and pulled up the stakes and plastic protectors, melted in the heat, the grass was beginning to re-grow around the trees. Some of the trees themselves were struggling back into life. It’s what all living things do. No matter how badly damaged or disappointed we are, we somehow rise to try again.

When I got back from the woods, there was a letter waiting for me from the Scottish aid charity Mary’s Meals. The founder, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, told us about his latest trip to Haiti where he came across a team of men rebuilding a school from the rubble left by the earthquake. And under temporary shelters, they were again providing the children with a lunchtime meal. Rebuilding is in our DNA.

The biggest loser of all, of course, is the two-party system we have been living with for the last 36 years. Now the politicians have to make a balanced parliament work. Britain joins the rest of Europe in moving to this new from of government. It’s rather like the move from a monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. Instead of a five-year dictatorship by one party and one prime minister we move to a system of a parliamentary prime minister. His powers are limited by what he can persuade the parliament to vote for, issue by issue.

Shocking though this may seem – to the financial markets – it’s already happening in Scotland. This may be a wild place, but it is not a wilderness.

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Jim Devine: Hitting Labour vote?

Jim Devine: Hitting Labour vote?

The result of the election in Scotland on Thursday will hang on a small number of marginal seats, including.

Angus

The Tories had high hopes of taking this from the SNP’s Mike Weir and it has been a very nasty and bitter campaign between the two parties with posters ripped down, placards defaced and billboards trashed. The Tory candidate, Alberto Costa, is a combative Glaswegian Italian lawyer and he has certainly taken the fight to the SNP but Mr Weir is an experienced parliamentarian and well-known in the area. He should have enough support to hang on.
Prediction: SNP hold.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

This is another top Tory target seat and the Tory candidate, John Lamont, is well known locally because he is already the MSP for a large part of this seat. He has made this a very tight marginal and he could still win but the Lib Dem boost from the Clegg debates should keep this with the incumbent, Lib Dem Michael Moore.
Prediction: Lib Dem hold.

Dumfries and Galloway

This is a Labour seat, held by Russell Brown with a 3,000 majority, which the Tories believe they can take. They are strong in this area and, with Peter Duncan they have a candidate who is a former MP and is well known. They may well win here, but it may be their only gain on the night. Prediction: Conservative gain from Labour.

Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

David Mundell, the Conservative’s sole Scottish MP is the incumbent here and he is expected to win. Mr Mundell has boosted his profile with combative performances in the Scottish leaders’ debates and he faces a threat from the Lib Dem candidate, who has family pedigree in politics in the Borders – she is David Steel’s daughter – but the Lib Dems and Labour will probably split the opposition vote. Prediction: Conservative hold.

Dundee West

This is a top SNP target seat. It is the last remaining Labour hold-out in a city which is now otherwise completely SNP (the Nationalists hold both MSP seats, the council and the other MP seat). A win for the Nationalists, which is likely, would see the SNP in complete control of Dundee.
Prediction: SNP gain from Labour.

Dunfermline and West Fife

This was won by the Lib Dems’ Willie Rennie in a 2006 by-election. Labour has long held high hopes of taking it back and, at the start of the campaign, the Lib Dems appeared anxious about it. The “Clegg effect” has hardened the Lib Dem vote here too and should be enough to hold off the Labour vote.
Prediction: Lib Dem hold (from by election).

Edinburgh South

This is one of the top targets in Scotland for both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. It used to be held by Labour’s Nigel Griffiths who stood down before the election. The Lib Dems came second last time by just 405 votes and, although this was an evenly-balanced three-way marginal at the start of the campaign, the “Clegg bounce” has hardened up the Lib Dem vote and made their candidate Fred Mackintosh the favourite to win it.
Prediction: Lib Dem gain from Labour.

Edinburgh North and Leith

This used to be solid Labour territory but, at every election since 1997, the Labour majorities have gone down (11,000 in ’97, 9,000 in ’01, 2,000 in ’05). Part of this has been because boundary changes brought in more affluent middle-class areas but the result is that this is now a tight Labour-Lib Dem marginal. This contest is really neck and neck but the Lib Dems believe the surge in their support across the country will propel them to victory.
Prediction: Lib Dem gain from Labour.

Edinburgh East

The SNP made a big push here in this campaign, having won a similar seat at the Scottish Parliament elections in 2007 but it is the Lib Dems who are in second place to Labour and their vote is likely to hold up, robbing the SNP of the chance to take it. The Lib Dems haven’t made much of an effort here and Labour should hold on with the SNP and Lib Dems splitting the opposition vote. Prediction: Labour hold.

Glasgow East

This was won by the SNP’s John Mason in a by-election in 2008. His time as an MP, though, is expected to come to an end this week when Labour re-assert their dominance in Glasgow and take back this seat with local MSP and well-known candidate Margaret Curran.
Prediction: Labour gain from SNP (by-election).

Glasgow North

This is a Labour-held seat with solid majority of more than 3,000 over the Lib Dems but such has been the “Clegg effect” that the Liberal Democrats believe they can take it – so much so that they asked Nick Clegg to go there today, on his last visit to Scotland when he could have gone anywhere in Scotland. To take a seat in Glasgow would be a huge result for the lib Dems and would deprive Labour of their expected (and usual) clean sweep in Scotland’s biggest city. This would be a surprise but this is now well within range for the Lib Dems.
Prediction: Lib Dem gain from Labour.

Livingston

This should be a solid Labour seat but the last MP was Jim Devine, who is facing court charges for expenses fraud. The “Devine effect” has certainly angered thousands of Labour voters who may stay at home. If they do, they will hand the seat to the SNP who won a similar seat in the Scottish elections in 2007.
Prediction: SNP gain from Labour.

Perth and North Perthshire

This is a similar contest to Angus with the Tories trying to unseat another SNP MP in Pete Wishart. The Tory candidate Peter Lyburn found embarrassing pictures of himself splashed over the front of the Daily Record early in the campaign, which probably didn’t help, nor has the presence of one of the only decent UKIP campaigns in Scotland.
Prediction: SNP hold.

West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

This is a Lib Dem-held seat (Sir Robert Smith) which the Tories hoped to take but the early strides they made in the campaign have been eaten away by the hardening of the Lib Dem vote right across the country.
Prediction: Lib Dem hold.

Overall change predicted (of Scotland’s 59 seats)

Labour – to win Glasgow East and lose Edinburgh South, Edinburgh North and Leith, Glasgow North, Livingston, Dumfries and Galloway and Dundee West.  Current total (39) + 1 – 6 = 34 (-5)

Lib Dems – to win Edinburgh South, Edinburgh North and Leith and Glasgow North, to lose none. Current total (12) + 3 = 15 (+3)

SNP – to lose Glasgow East, to win Livingston and Dundee West. Current total (7) -1 +2 = 8 (+1)

Conservatives – to hold Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale and win Dumfries and Galloway. Current total (1) + 1 = 2 (+1)

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