Every day until the election, James Kelly of ScotGoesPop is profiling Scotland’s UK Parliament constituencies


Winner in 2017: Jo Swinson (LibDems)

TO imagine the psychological impact if the SNP were to depose the new leader of the LibDems in her East Dunbartonshire constituency, all we have to do is cast our minds back to the media’s hysterical reaction when Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson were beaten by the Tories two years ago. If those were the losses that supposedly left independence “dead”, vanquishing Jo Swinson would be the shock that symbolically brings it back to life again.

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It’s not hard to construct a plausible-sounding case for the SNP being in with a shout. They’ve beaten Swinson, here before, in the 2015 landslide. They currently hold both of the overlapping Scottish Parliament constituencies, and the LibDems are in a dismal fourth place in those seats. In the European elections in May, the SNP comfortably outpolled the LibDems by 35% to 25% in the East Dunbartonshire Council area. And in the most recent elections to the council itself, they narrowly defeated the Tories, with the LibDems a fair distance back in third.

If factors such as tactical voting and Swinson’s personal vote were to be stripped away, it seems highly doubtful that this would be a LibDem seat at all. So how did it ever come to be one? Odd though it may seem, part of the explanation is Charles Kennedy’s decision to vocally oppose the invasion of Iraq.

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In the first post-Iraq General Election in 2005, voters used the LibDems as a convenient vehicle for punishing Tony Blair’s warmongering, and the party unexpectedly picked up a number of Labour constituencies on big swings. East Dunbartonshire was one of only two in Scotland. As has so often proved the case, once the LibDem genie is out of the bottle in a particular locality the original reason for the breakthrough gradually ceased to matter. Voters tend to be adept at finding a variety of complicated and contradictory reasons for tactically opting to keep a LibDem incumbent, and Swinson’s coalition of support has somehow mutated over the years from being an anti-war vote against Labour to an anti-independence vote against the SNP. But even though a lot of Swinson’s voters are essentially Tories who wouldn’t vote LibDem if this was anything other than a Westminster election, it would be a mistake to think she can’t rely on them. Many Tory supporters these days seem to be anti-SNP partisans first and foremost, and all that matters to them is that Swinson has established herself as the person who can beat the SNP locally.

What might help the SNP would be if the Tories actually run some sort of campaign in support of their own candidate, but on past form they’re much more likely to leave the field clear for Swinson. Bearing in mind that Swinson starts with a 10% lead over the SNP from 2017, that LibDem support nationally seems to have increased significantly since then, and that Swinson can expect the traditional bonus from voters who like the idea of being represented by a party leader, this looks like a very steep mountain for the SNP to climb.