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Winner in 2016: Jamie Hepburn (SNP)

JUST before I was interviewed on livestream by the American academic Dr Mark McNaught a few weeks ago, he asked me where I come from. I told him I live in Cumbernauld, and added that if he was from Scotland himself, he would have given me a reaction at that point. I’d barely got the words out before he smiled knowingly and said: “What’s it called?”

OK, so it turns out that absolutely everyone in the entire world has heard of Cumbernauld. But it’s unlikely they’ve heard much about the town on election nights, because in both Westminster and Holyrood terms it has tended to be part of very safe seats over recent decades – in the past, safe for Labour, and more recently safe for the SNP.

However, there’s been the odd exception to the general rule. In the 1970s Cumbernauld was part of the old Westminster constituency of East Dunbartonshire, which became a three-way marginal due to the rise of the SNP. In February 1974, the big swing from Labour to SNP allowed the Tories to come through the middle and grab the seat from Labour for the first time since it had come into being in 1950.

But Margaret Bain of the SNP (later Margaret Ewing) famously had the last laugh in the second 1974 election in October, defeating the Tories by just 22 votes, with Labour a further 407 votes behind. By 1979 the tide had gone out on the SNP, and the result was reversed with Labour taking the seat and Bain coming in third.

From 1983 onwards, Cumbernauld became part of a new constituency with its neighbour Kilsyth, which essentially guaranteed Labour dominance for a long time, because although Cumbernauld had been SNP-curious since the 1960s, Kilsyth was a very traditional Labour town.

The occasional glimmer of hope for the SNP was confined to local government – in 1988 they managed to draw level with Labour on the old Cumbernauld & Kilsyth District Council, but Labour still retained control on a cut of the cards.

Ironically, the only tight result in the history of the equivalent Scottish Parliament constituency didn’t come in the SNP’s breakthrough years of 2007 or 2011, but in 2003 when the party was going into reverse across most of Scotland. The local SNP candidate, Andrew Wilson, defied the national trend and cut the Labour majority from more than 4000 to just over 500.

That can probably be attributed to the personal vote he earned during his four years as a list MSP, because when he was no longer the candidate in 2007, there was a significant swing back to Labour – again, completely out of line with what was happening elsewhere.

Jamie Hepburn finally took the seat for the SNP in 2011, and then in 2016 something remarkable happened – he retained it with a scarcely believable vote share of 60%. That can probably be explained by the unusually high Yes vote in the constituency, which had helped make North Lanarkshire one of only four local authorities to back independence in the 2014 referendum. The independence factor has plainly not gone away, and for that reason Hepburn can expect something of a victory procession in May.