The National:

Winner in 2016: Angus MacDonald (SNP)

DENNIS Canavan’s coalition of support in Falkirk West consisted of natural SNP supporters as well as Labour voters, and the best evidence of that is the fact that the SNP performed far better in the neighbouring Falkirk East constituency in the first two Scottish Parliament elections.

Keith Brown, nowadays the SNP’s depute leader, was the candidate in 1999 and managed to keep Labour’s margin of victory down to 12% – a highly creditable result in a Labour heartland, and a demonstration of the SNP’s relative strength in Falkirk.

That was further underscored in 2007 when the former Westminster MP Annabelle Ewing came within 6% of making it a clean sweep for the SNP in the Falkirk seats.

And in many ways her result was just as impressive as Michael Matheson’s outright win, given that it was achieved without an endorsement from a popular figure trusted by Labour voters.

Ewing ended up being elected as a list MSP in the 2011 election, so it was left to Angus MacDonald to finally capture Falkirk East from Labour on a large swing – although it’s impossible to calculate with certainty exactly how large it was due to boundary changes. With the further national collapse of the Labour vote in 2016, MacDonald’s margin of victory roughly doubled to 25.5% – and remarkably the Tories weren’t all that far away from overtaking Labour for second place.

Meanwhile, Labour’s local position has been further eroded by events relating to the Falkirk seat at Westminster.

In 2012, the sitting Labour MP Eric Joyce was suspended by his party due to an arrest on suspicion of assault.

That triggered an internal selection battle for his replacement as Labour candidate that descended into prolonged chaos due to allegations of vote-rigging. More recently, at the 2019 General Election Labour suffered a spectacularly huge drop in their Falkirk vote, slipping into third place well behind the Tories, after they withdrew support for their own candidate Safia Ali.

None of that provides a particularly ideal springboard for Labour as they seek to pull off the huge swing that will be required to take back Falkirk East in May.

Angus MacDonald is stepping down, but it seems highly likely that the new SNP candidate, Michelle Thomson, will shortly be making a triumphant return to parliamentary politics.