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


Winner in 2017: Bill Grant (Conservatives)

Despite being one of four large neighbouring constituencies that are responsible for turning the southernmost portion of Scotland into a sea of Conservative blue, it’s doubtful whether Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock should be considered a natural Tory seat. One of its two predecessors prior to the 2005 boundary revision was the rock-solid Labour seat of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, which for most of its existence recorded Tory vote shares that were lower than the Scottish national average.

The SNP’s Jeane Freeman is the current MSP for the still-existing Holyrood seat of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, and was way ahead of the third-placed Tories in the 2016 election. So it’s safe to assume that most of the Tory strength in the Westminster constituency is inherited from the other pre-2005 predecessor seat of Ayr, which was one of only 10 Scottish seats that remained loyal to the Conservatives when Margaret Thatcher’s popularity hit its lowest depth in 1987.

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But even Ayr’s Tory credentials can be exaggerated. The Conservatives’ Scotland-wide vote share in 1987 was 24%, just five percentage points lower than their high watermark under Ruth Davidson, and yet Ayr turned into an ultra-marginal that year, with a gap of only 182 votes between Tory and Labour. In 1992, when the Tories’ vote in Scotland was a touch higher at 26%, they still couldn’t shake off Labour in Ayr, and held on by an even tighter margin of 85 votes. Inevitably, the Blair landslide of 1997 saw the seat finally switch to Labour by a substantial margin.

More recently, the Holyrood seat of Ayr has been held by the Tories for almost two decades, but not always very convincingly – at both the 2011 and 2016 elections, the SNP came agonisingly close to a gain.

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You’d have thought, then, that the Tories aren’t really dominant enough in Ayr to offset their large deficit in Carrick and Cumnock. For that reason, the relatively comfortable Tory victory in the 2017 General Election was a major shock. We know that one of the problems the SNP faced throughout Scotland in that election was a high abstention rate among their natural supporters, and it could be that the effect was magnified in a hybrid seat such as Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, with Tories in Ayr highly motivated to make the trip to the polling stations, and SNP sympathisers in Cumnock more likely to stay at home. If that’s the explanation, there are grounds for optimism that the result could be reversed this time, now that the SNP are campaigning with a much more inspirational pro-independence pitch. But YouGov’s initial projection for the constituency still had the Tories – who are fielding a new candidate – slightly ahead, so every vote will have to be battled for.


Winner in 2017: Patricia Gibson (SNP)

Forget the pro-independence majorities in Glasgow and Dundee. The truly dazzling consolation prize for the Yes campaign in the 2014 referendum was victory against all the odds on the Isle of Arran, once known as a Tory mini-stronghold within a safe Labour constituency.

What made the result even more remarkable is that a significant minority of the island’s residents originally hail from England, and by all accounts many of them became passionate Yes voters. Unfortunately though, Arran accounts for less than 5% of the population of the North Ayrshire Council area, which recorded an overall majority for No of 51% to 49%.

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That was still a better showing for Yes than the national average, so it’s no surprise that North Ayrshire and Arran emerged from the post-indyref political realignment as a relatively safe SNP seat. Even after the large anti-SNP swing in 2017, the incumbent MP Patricia Gibson retained a lead of almost 8% over the second-placed Tories, giving her the 11th strongest SNP majority in the country in percentage terms.

In some other seats it would be a cause for concern that the Tories are the main challengers, because they’re currently polling much more strongly than Labour in Scotland. But in this case the SNP advantage is big enough that there’s no realistic threat. On a uniform swing, the Tories would essentially have to draw level with the SNP nationwide before they could expect to defeat Gibson, and it’s obviously unlikely they’ll even come close to doing that.

Labour, meanwhile, appear to be in a sorry state. Until not very long ago they were the dominant local force, and famously could have overturned the SNP’s historic Scottish Parliament election victory in 2007 if they had received only a few dozen more votes in the equivalent Holyrood seat of Cunninghame North. But that’s a fading memory now. They limped to third place in North Ayrshire and Arran in 2017, and YouGov’s first projection for the constituency suggests their vote share could be virtually halved this time to just 14%. In all likelihood, Gibson will not only win, she’ll also enjoy the bonus of seeing the party she originally gained the seat from in 2015 drop out of contention completely.