The National: Yes election 2021 banner image

Winner in 2016: Christina McKelvie (SNP)

CHRISTINA McKelvie’s Holyrood constituency of Hamilton, Larkhall & Stonehouse overlaps with part of the Westminster seat of Lanark & Hamilton East, which was very nearly the Conservatives’ most spectacular gain of the 2017 General Election. Then, they were just 266 votes behind the SNP’s Angela Crawley, amounting to a margin of just 0.5% of the vote.

During the subsequent 2019 election, the Tories utterly convinced themselves – and managed to convince a fair few journalists too – that the seat was certain to fall into their grasp.

In a way it’s possible to see where they were coming from, because a town like Larkhall is noted for its strong Rangers tradition. And if there’s any location in the former Labour heartlands of central Scotland that might just be receptive to the case for voting Tory to stop the SNP and independence, you’d think this could be the one.

But in the end, it turned out that the Tories had fallen for their own propaganda. Angela Crawley’s vote share bounced back by nine percentage points to a healthy 42%, while the Tories’ own percentage remained absolutely static.

If the Conservatives couldn’t quite manage the breakthrough in a Westminster election, it seems fairly improbable that they’ll do it in a Scottish Parliament vote, which for the SNP is more of a “home fixture”.

At the last Holyrood election in 2016, the Tories didn’t actually manage the first step of overtaking Labour for second place in Hamilton, Larkhall & Stonehouse, even though it was the year of the initial Ruth Davidson surge.

To put that right this time would require a swing from Labour to Tory of approximately 5% – enough to put the Tories around 9% clear of Labour nationally if replicated elsewhere.

That seems unlikely on recent polling, although it’s not impossible that the experience of two hard-fought Westminster elections in the intervening years may have caused a very localised swing.

The choice of candidate for both Labour and the Tories may also provide a clue towards each party’s level of confidence about at least finishing in the top two.

Labour are putting up a relative big hitter in the shape of Monica Lennon, who came surprisingly close to winning the party leadership a few weeks ago.

By contrast, the Tories are represented by the lesser-known councillor Meghan Gallacher – an interesting choice in that she’s young, female, working-class, active on social media, and thus someone who might cause voters to look at her party afresh. But she’s probably not the standard-bearer that would have been chosen for a realistic target seat.

That said, she may well become an MSP anyway, because she’s ranked third on the Tory list for the Central Scotland region.

If it can be assumed that Monica Lennon is likely to be the leading unionist challenger, the SNP are probably set for a fairly relaxing time at the count. Labour were nineteen percentage points adrift in the constituency last time around, and even in 2011 they lost by nine points – at a time when they were considerably more popular nationally than polls suggest they currently are.

A comfortable SNP hold can be expected, and an increased majority wouldn’t be a total surprise.