Winner in 2016: Ben Macpherson (SNP)

IF we want to identify the areas of danger where the SNP could potentially lose seats in May, one obvious angle is to look at constituencies the party won in 2016 but not in its overall majority year of 2011.

Edinburgh Northern and Leith is one such example – Labour veteran Malcolm Chisholm held it narrowly against the SNP tide in 2011, which in theory ought to make it a realistic target for a Labour recapture this time around.

However, when the seat fell to the SNP in 2016, it fell hard – the swing from Labour to SNP was around 10%, double the national average, transforming a Labour-held marginal into what appears on paper to now be a safe SNP seat.

Something else has fundamentally changed since 2011, too. Back then, the equivalent Westminster constituency of Edinburgh North and Leith (which has different boundaries) had never even come vaguely close to electing an SNP MP, but has since done so in the shape of Deidre Brock on no fewer than three consecutive occasions – including, crucially, in 2017, when Labour at a Scotland-wide level were several percentage points closer to the SNP’s vote share than they were in 2011.

The National:

That bolsters the impression that Labour’s underlying position has eroded further in the local area than it has in similar constituencies elsewhere in Scotland, meaning they could need an even bigger recovery to claw their way back into contention.

That’s a major problem for them, because current polling suggests they’re not even within light years of getting back to the 32% share of the national vote they recorded in 2011 – which at the time seemed like an abject humiliation.

One possible explanation for Labour’s location-specific travails in Edinburgh Northern and Leith is the political re-alignment caused by the EU referendum. The Remain vote in the constituency was higher than almost anywhere else in the UK, a fact which opened up an opportunity for the SNP to benefit disproportionately from both the clarity of their own pro-EU message and the clear-as-mud nature of Labour’s compromise stance.

Admittedly, though, that can only help explain Labour’s poor performance in the Westminster constituency in 2017 and 2019, and not in the Holyrood constituency in the 2016 election, which took place a few weeks before the referendum.

The only real disadvantage the SNP face this time that they didn’t have to worry about five years ago is the intervention of a Green candidate – and indeed it’s not just any old candidate, it’s the Greens’ co-leader Lorna Slater.

Although the Greens have never contested the Holyrood seat before, they’ve put up candidates in the Westminster constituency at the last five General Elections, securing 5-6% of the vote in their most successful outings.

A repeat of that sort of result might trim the SNP vote share a little, if it can be assumed that Green supporters have been somewhat more likely to vote for the SNP than for Unionist parties in the absence of a Green candidate.

However, that will probably only have the effect of reducing the SNP’s margin of victory.

If anything, the most competitive battle may turn out to be between Labour and the Tories for the second place spot.