The National:


Winner in 2016: Bruce Crawford (SNP)

WHEN the Scottish Tories suffered their historic collapse under Mrs Thatcher in 1987, Michael Forsyth in Stirling was one of only 10 Conservative MPs left standing. That seemed peculiar in a way because prior to 1983 the town of Stirling had been part of a Westminster constituency that was solidly Labour for decades. After a couple of near-misses for the Tories in the 1950s, the only threat to Labour dominance in Stirling, Falkirk & Grangemouth came from the SNP during its pre-devolution heyday of the 1970s.

Having represented Motherwell in the House of Commons for just a few short weeks in 1945, the SNP’s first-ever MP Robert McIntyre came close to a glorious Indian summer in his career three decades later when he had no fewer than three near misses in Stirling and its related towns. In a 1971 by-election, he secured an impressive 12% swing from Labour and leapfrogged the Tories into a clear second place.

In the February 1974 General Election he finished just 7% behind the Labour victor Harry Ewing, and most agonisingly of all came within 3.5% of winning in October 1974. But that proved to be his final chance – by 1979 the tide had gone out on the national movement and a new SNP candidate could only limp home in a distant third place.

The radical boundary revision in 1983 that placed Stirling in a more Tory-inclined seat seemed to leave SNP hopes of representing the town as nothing more than a distant memory. The story of the next few elections was of anti-Tory voters coalescing behind Labour as the only hope of getting Michael Forsyth out. The push narrowly failed in 1987 and 1992, but in the Blair landslide year of 1997 Anne McGuire was elected the local Labour MP with a hefty majority. Even with the Tory menace having receded, though, the Labour-Tory duopoly wasn’t broken and the SNP remained stuck in a predictable third place for the Holyrood version of the constituency in the first two Scottish Parliament elections in 1999 and 2003.

When the pattern finally changed, it happened very suddenly. Although the SNP had been tipped to take power at Holyrood in 2007, Stirling wasn’t one of the constituency seats that was thought to be on their radar.

As the early results came in showing Labour doing better than expected in other parts of Scotland, the notion of the SNP taking Stirling from third place seemed even more fanciful, but that’s exactly what happened – Bruce Crawford gained the constituency on a swing of over 9%.

In 2011, with a national Labour collapse and no Tory recovery, he predictably held the seat, but much more significant was his comfortable hold in 2016 in the context of the Ruth Davidson surge – although the Tories did overhaul Labour to recapture second place.

In the meantime, the SNP had added the Westminster version of the seat to their collection in the post-indyref landslide of 2015, but that was one of 12 seats they went on to lose to the Tories in the snap general election of 2017. In 2019, the SNP left no stone unturned in ensuring that the higher than average Remain vote in the constituency was galvanised to reverse the 2017 result – and the 14% increase in their vote share was by some measures their most impressive result in the whole country that night.

Above all else, it’s the EU factor that makes it hard to see how the SNP can lose the Holyrood constituency this year. On paper, Stirling is just as much of a Tory target as, for example, Banffshire and Buchan Coast, but the difference is that the latter constituency has a large number of Brexiteer voters and Stirling does not. Nothing can be taken for granted in an area with such a strong Tory tradition, but the new SNP candidate Evelyn Tweed should certainly be considered a strong favourite to hold the seat.