The National:

Winner in 2016: Finlay Carson (Conservative)

THERE can’t have been many greater frustrations for the SNP in recent years than the continued Tory dominance at constituency level of the most south-westerly part of Scotland.

The seat of Galloway and West Dumfries has been in Conservative hands since it was created for the 2011 election, and the predecessor seat of Galloway and Upper Nithsdale was Tory for the last eight years of its existence after Alex Fergusson unexpectedly gained it from the SNP in 2003 – although he technically gave up his party affiliation during four years as presiding officer.

The Westminster version of the Galloway and Upper Nithsdale constituency had been an equally unexpected gain for the Tories in the 2001 General Election, although they initially fared less well in the successor seat of Dumfries and Galloway due to the infusion of areas favourable to Labour, who won the new constituency in both 2005 and 2010.

It took the unique circumstances of the post-indyref 2015 landslide for the SNP to get back on top but the breakthrough was shortlived, because Alister Jack benefited from the Ruth Davidson surge two years later to capture the seat for the Tories, and then narrowly retained it two years later in the face of an SNP resurgence.

It was one of only six Scottish constituencies that the Tories clung on to.

And yet, if past history is any guide, this is an area where the SNP should be winning even when they’re doing moderately well on a national basis, and not just when they’re enjoying a 2015-style blowout.

George Thompson was the SNP MP for the old Westminster seat of Galloway between 1974 and 1979 – at a time when the party held “only” 11 of the 71 Scottish seats in the House of Commons on the basis of 30% of the vote. Even more strikingly, Alasdair Morgan was the MP for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale between 1997 and 2001 when the SNP had just six out of 72 seats, and 22% of the Scotland-wide vote.

So why did the SNP fail to win the Holyrood constituency in 2007 when they took power nationally on 33% of the vote? Why couldn’t they do it even when they scored an unprecedented 46.5% of the national vote in 2016?

Perhaps the latter can be explained by the Tories’ own good performance that year, but there was no such alibi in 2011 when the SNP won an overall majority on 45% of the national vote and the Tories were languishing on 14%.

There’s no getting away from the fact that, in relative terms, the SNP have been underperforming in Galloway in recent times.

However, the personal vote for Tory candidates has probably been a factor, particularly in the case of Alex Fergusson, and demographic changes may also have played a role.

And it’s not as if the Tories are completely out of sight, in any case – it would require just over a 2% swing from the 2016 result for the SNP to make the gain.

The snag, though, is that the SNP were around 24 points ahead of the Tories in the national vote five years ago, and it’s not clear from recent polls whether they’ll improve on that result sufficiently to make their candidate, the list MSP Emma Harper, the favourite to win Galloway and West Dumfries.

She has a real chance, but it could be very close.