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

Winner in 2017: Colin Clark (Conservatives)

AT the election two years ago, the Gordon constituency superficially resembled a large number of other seats in Scotland, in that the Tories and the SNP were the parties that fought it out for first and second place, and the Liberal Democrats were in a distant fourth. But it’s impossible to fully make sense of the race in Gordon this time without bearing in mind that it was a Liberal Democrat fortress for 32 years after its creation in 1983, and that even when Alex Salmond took it for the SNP in the 2015 landslide, the LibDems were in a very clear second place and only saw their vote decline by around 3% – well below the national average. Presumably that happened because people who would otherwise have voted Tory or Labour cast a tactical vote for the LibDems in a failed attempt to keep the SNP out.

If Gordon had followed the same script as East Dunbartonshire and Edinburgh West, the Unionist tactical vote for the LibDems would have got even bigger in 2017, and the sharp fall in the SNP vote would have enabled the LibDems to recapture the seat. That’s exactly what the exit poll predicted – bizarre though it may seem in retrospect, Gordon was listed as a likely LibDem gain. Instead, something extraordinary happened. The LibDems suffered a catastrophic 21% drop in support, but rather than benefiting the SNP, that left enough room for the Tories to come from nowhere and claim outright victory.

In a sense, the exit poll had been right and wrong simultaneously. It had picked up on a significant swing to the LibDems in some of their target seats and assumed the same thing would apply in Gordon. What it couldn’t know was that to some extent Tory and Liberal Democrat votes in Scotland were interchangeable and were going to whichever Unionist party seemed to be putting up the strongest challenge to the SNP locally. Judging from the pattern of the results, it looks suspiciously like there was an informal arrangement by which the LibDems gave the Tories a relatively free run in Gordon, and the Tories returned the favour in East Dunbartonshire.

Assuming that was the main reason for the LibDem collapse in Gordon, it’s doubtful that the constituency will behave this time like other seats in which the LibDems are starting from fourth. As a result of Brexit, some of the people who in past years helped to elect a LibDem MP may be far more reluctant to lend their votes to the Tories. They might revert to their old party in large numbers, or they might even consider a vote for the SNP as the best chance of staying in the EU. The YouGov projection for the constituency published last week suggested that the LibDems had made a modest recovery, but that the Tories and the SNP were still the only parties with a chance of winning.

The SNP were slightly behind but had more than halved the 5% gap from 2017. This one could go right down to the wire.