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

Winner in 2017: Ian Murray (Labour)

UNTIL a little local difficulty in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, the equation for the SNP in the seven Labour-held seats in Scotland seemed straightforward – there were six that they could expect to gain on a relatively modest swing, and one that appeared to be totally out of reach under any circumstances whatsoever.

The odd one out was, of course, Edinburgh South, the only Labour seat that didn’t fall to the SNP in the 2015 landslide, and now the safest seat in all of Scotland. To put in perspective what that means, the incumbent MP Ian Murray’s position is on paper more secure than even David Mundell in Dumfriesshire, Alistair Carmichael in Orkney and Shetland, or John Lamont in the Borders.

And yet something doesn’t quite add up. Only a few years ago Murray was one of the most vulnerable of Labour’s 41 Scottish MPs, and in 2010 won by only 316 votes. Bearing in mind that Labour’s support across Scotland has collapsed since then, he really ought to be toast. So is his apparent unassailable status an illusion?

The reason for the seat’s sudden transformation from marginal to fortress was simply that the constituency bucked the national trend at the 2017 election in a colossal way. Labour’s share of the vote increased by 16%, roughly five times greater than the minimal boost they enjoyed across Scotland. And, strangely, there was almost no sign at all of the Ruth Davidson surge in a seat that the Tories had held until 1983. It was fairly obvious that people who would have voted Conservative in practically any other constituency in Scotland had decided to lend Labour a tactical vote, after the practical demonstration in 2015 that Murray was capable of keeping the SNP out. But when a single constituency is so out of step with the rest of the country, there are good reasons for wondering whether there will be an almighty correction at the subsequent election.

The most obvious way that it could happen would be for the tactical voters to return to the Tory fold, perhaps because they feel the threat of any SNP gain has passed. If Murray is left only with the “natural” Labour vote, the seat would suddenly look a whole lot more competitive. However, Edinburgh South is also one of the most pro-European constituencies in the United Kingdom – it voted Remain in 2016 by a margin of 78% to 22%.

It’s safe to assume many of Murray’s tactical voters are Remainers who will be reluctant to stray from the Labour column in this particular election unless they can find an alternative that is both anti-independence and pro-EU. Step forward the Liberal Democrats, who were runners-up when Murray had his 316-vote victory, and who held the equivalent Holyrood seat between 2003-2011.

Given they’d slumped to just 3% of the vote by 2017, they ought to have the potential to massively cut into Murray’s support, if they can convince pro-EU voters that it’s best to back a Remain party, rather than an individual Remain MP who belongs to a party that is at best neutral on Europe.

And if the Unionist vote ends up being split due to Brexit, there might even be an opportunity for the SNP to sneak through the middle and claim an improbable victory. But if YouGov’s projection model is to be believed, the LibDems are failing to gain anything like enough traction. It appears that the conventional wisdom is correct, and that Unionist voters will keep faith with Murray.

READ MORE: General Election analysis: Motherwell and Wishaw SNP