Every day until the election we will profile all 59 of Scotland’s contests. Can the SNP hold what they have or win any new seats? James Kelly of ScotGoesPop has the answers


Winner in 2017: Ian Blackford (SNP)

During the wave of unwarranted negativity that followed the 2017 election, an anonymous SNP figure was quoted as saying the next election could reduce his party to a rump of just three seats: the two Dundee constituencies plus Ian Blackford’s seat of Ross, Skye and Lochaber. Now that the campaign is actually upon us, the expectation is that the SNP will mostly retain their dozens of seats and perhaps gain plenty more, and yet stories in the press suggest that the Unionist parties fancy their chances of bucking the general trend by taking out Blackford.

What has changed in just two years to transform the perception of Ross, Skye and Lochaber from being one of the few truly safe SNP seats to being – allegedly – one of the few potentially vulnerable seats? In a nutshell, it’s the unexpected recovery of the Liberal Democrats. Given that the constituency was Charles Kennedy’s backyard between 1983 and 2015, it’s intuitively much easier to imagine the SNP being seriously threatened if the LibDems can re-establish themselves as the main challengers after slipping to third place behind the Conservatives in 2017. And remarkably, in spite of a catastrophic 15% drop in support at the last election, the seat currently ranks as the second-top target for the LibDems in Scotland (after the ultra-marginal of North-East Fife) and their 17th top target in the whole of the UK.
But those statistics perhaps make a stronger case about how tough it will be for the LibDems to make widespread gains in this election than it does about how easy it will be for them to gain Ross, Skye and Lochaber. Leaving aside the difficulties of trying to win from third place and from 19 percentage points behind, they also face the additional problem of the powerful personal vote that incumbent MPs in the Highlands & Islands tend to build up.

In the run-up to the 2015 election, Blackford’s campaign was extremely sceptical about polling evidence suggesting they were on the verge of ousting the hugely popular Charles Kennedy. What happened next demonstrated that Highland “local heroes” can occasionally be dislodged – but it took a perfect storm to do it. The LibDems were at their lowest ebb nationally, while Yes supporters were far more preoccupied with making a post-indyref statement than they were with the personality of their local MP. It would be pretty hard to claim that the stars are aligning in a similar way for a spectacular LibDem gain now. Jo Swinson’s “stop Brexit” pitch can only take her local candidate so far, because after all Blackford himself is one of the best-known Remain voices in the House of Commons.

The likelihood is, then, that the LibDems will leapfrog the Tories into second place – but that the highly-regarded SNP group leader will be safely returned to Westminster.