Winner in 2017: Pete Wishart (SNP)

ALTHOUGH Na h-Eileanan an Iar has a tradition of SNP parliamentary representation stretching back to 1970, the area that has been in the party’s hands for the longest unbroken period is actually Pete Wishart’s constituency of Perth and North Perthshire. A portion of the seat has been SNP since Roseanna Cunningham’s landmark 1995 by-election gain from the Tories in the old Perth & Kinross constituency. Another part was in the North Tayside seat which switched from Tory to SNP in the 1997 General Election. But we’ve been scratching our heads for the last two years about the fact that it’s still in the SNP column because by all rights it should have fallen to the Conservatives in 2017.

It was an easier target for the Tories than some of the seats they did take and on the type of anti-SNP swing that was seen in many rural areas, Wishart would have suffered a very heavy defeat. Instead he somehow restricted the drop in the SNP vote to 8%, way below the national average, and clung on by 21 votes.
That Houdini-like escape may be partly explained by Wishart’s personal popularity, but it may also have been partly due to the nature of the constituency. A higher proportion of its population live in urban-type surroundings than is the case in some of the other seats that were Tory targets in 2017. Indeed, there are pockets of real poverty in the city of Perth.

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Consequently, there was a staunch anti-Tory vote to be mobilised. But squeezing out every possible vote required a Herculean campaigning effort and Wishart’s team may have to replicate that feat this time just to stand still. If they’re unable to do so, there might be a swing to the Tories against the national trend as a sort of “correction” to the 2017 result.
Wishart does have two factors in his favour, though, and in those he’s the envy of several other SNP candidates. In contrast to the situation in Stirling, a similar knife-edge Tory-SNP marginal, the Greens have decided to sit the contest out and it’s likely that most of their supporters will now back Wishart as the main alternative to the Tories. But the Brexit Party are standing, because technically there’s no breach of their self-denying ordinance about giving Boris Johnson a free run in Tory-held constituencies.

Even if Farage’s outfit can take as little as 1% or 2% of the vote away from the Tories, that could potentially swing the balance in the SNP’s favour.
The SNP have also been boosted by the second and final update of YouGov’s projection model, which suggests they are doing somewhat better in Tory-SNP battleground constituencies than had been previously assumed. But the projection for Perth and North Perthshire only puts them 5% ahead, which is still far too close for comfort. The count looks set to be a tense one.