The National:

Winner in 2016: David Torrance (SNP)

THE fact that an area was represented at Westminster in the recent past by a serving prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer would normally be a strong indication that it’s politically very dull, because such a senior figure would almost always represent an ultra-safe seat.

However, Gordon Brown was still the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath when the sister Holyrood constituency of Kirkcaldy fell spectacularly to the SNP in the 2011 landslide, and after his retirement in 2015 the seemingly impossible happened with the Westminster seat going exactly the same way on a breathtaking swing of 35%.

One of the great unanswered questions is whether Brown would have been able to withstand the SNP tide in the 2015 election if he had tried to defend his seat. Even the much-loved former LibDem leader Charles Kennedy was defeated that year, but it’s just possible that Brown would have been the one person with a strong enough personal vote to cling on.

The unaccustomed excitement has continued since his departure, because the Westminster seat has changed hands twice more, and due to a suspension and a defection it’s been held by four different political designations over the last couple of years – first Labour, then Independent, then SNP, then Alba.

Lesley Laird unexpectedly took it back for Labour in 2017 by a narrow margin, leaving her as one of only seven Scottish MPs for her party, and putting her in line to become shadow Scottish secretary.

Consequently, the constituency became one of the SNP’s biggest opportunities to claim a major scalp at the 2019 General Election but they seemed to have squandered that chance in the middle of the campaign after withdrawing all support from their candidate Neale Hanvey in response to allegations of anti-Semitism.

In normal circumstances it ought to be nigh-on impossible for a suspended candidate to hold a seat, let alone to gain one – and indeed on paper Hanvey’s result was the worst of the night for the SNP, with his own vote share dropping back while the party surged forward everywhere else.

However, Labour’s performance was dismal enough to allow Hanvey to make the gain even on a lower vote. In a paradoxical way, the SNP’s poorest result was also their most spectacular. Once in the House of Commons, Hanvey was deprived of the party whip for an extended period and thus served as an independent, but was eventually brought back into the fold as the 48th SNP MP.

He remained in the party until the start of the current election campaign when he launched a bid to become an Alba MSP – but of course he won’t be in competition with the SNP for the Kirkcaldy constituency, because Alba are confining themselves strictly to the list ballot. It’s doubtful whether the Westminster seat technically falling into another party’s hands will prove to be any sort of problem for the incumbent SNP MSP David Torrance.

Alba will be urging its supporters to vote for him, and he’ll start with a massive 24-point advantage over Labour, who are represented once again by the list MSP Claire Baker. On a uniform swing, Labour would practically have to draw level with the SNP on the nationwide constituency vote before they can expect to recapture the seat – instead recent polls have suggested they’re trailing by as much as 30 percentage points. In a very short space of time, the fact that Kirkcaldy was once Gordon Brown country has become a very distant memory.

The SNP can confidently expect to be dancing in the streets of Raith in early May.