Winner in 2016: Rona Mackay (SNP)

IN most cases it’s possible to spot some sort of correlation between voting trends in Holyrood constituencies and in their Westminster equivalents – but one glaring exception can be found just to the north of Glasgow.

Since the Westminster constituency of East Dunbartonshire was created for the 2005 General Election, it has been a LibDem-Labour battleground and then a LibDem-SNP battleground – with the LibDems’ Jo Swinson coming out on top three times out of five. But if you take a look at the overlapping Holyrood constituencies, you’ll be utterly mystified as to where all those LibDem votes come from.

In Strathkelvin & Bearsden, the LibDems have never done better than third place (and on one occasion were as low as fifth) and have never polled higher than 17% of the vote – in spite of the fact that Swinson was once their candidate.

The most likely explanation is that a lot of the people who vote LibDem for the Westminster seat are not actually LibDem supporters, but are casting tactical votes against a party they strongly dislike. In 2005 and 2010, SNP and disgruntled Labour supporters may have been lending their votes to Swinson to send a message about the Iraq War or tuition fees. From 2015 onwards she was the obvious tactical option for Unionists wanting to keep the SNP surge at bay.

But in Holyrood elections in Strathkelvin & Bearsden none of that logic has ever applied because the LibDems have simply never demonstrated any capacity to win the seat. It’s less favourable terrain for them because in contrast to the Westminster constituency, Milngavie is excluded but working-class areas like the eastern part of Kirkintilloch are included.

Nevertheless, there is a significant history of tactical voting in the constituency, albeit with a very different beneficiary. In 2003, Labour spectacularly lost the seat after the anti-Labour vote coalesced behind the independent candidate Jean Turner, who was campaigning against the closure of services at Stobhill Hospital.

That was a particularly impressive feat given that none of the main opposition parties withdrew in her favour. Labour grabbed the seat back in 2007 – a minor bright spot in an election which saw them lose power nationally to the SNP. However, the SNP moved into second place in the constituency for the first time, setting the scene for battles to come.

In 2011, the former list MSP Fiona McLeod gained the seat for the SNP on a huge swing. If there was still such a thing as an anti-Labour tactical vote, it had presumably gone to the SNP. More likely by that stage is that the electorate was simply delivering a straightforward vote of confidence in the SNP Government.

From then on, though, there must have been Unionists scrabbling around for the most promising Swinson-style repository for anti-SNP tactical votes. The result in the 2016 election suggests that so far they have completely failed in that quest. The combined support for Labour and the Tories slightly exceeded the 43.5% vote share for new SNP candidate Rona Mackay – but it was split right down the middle, with no-one any the wiser as to who the leading challenger will be this year. The LibDems, as usual, weren’t even at the races and that’s unlikely to change in the wake of Swinson’s epic defeat in the Westminster seat two years ago.

It seems almost unnatural to predict a routine SNP hold in a part of the world that has produced such tight results and drama on Westminster election nights. But a routine SNP hold is precisely what the numbers point to.