The National:


Winner in 2016: Keith Brown (SNP)

THERE aren’t many parts of Scotland where the SNP have deeper roots than in Clackmannanshire & Dunblane. The predecessor Westminster constituency of Clackmannan & Eastern Stirlingshire was one of seven taken by the SNP in the February 1974 General Election and also one of the “football team” of seats they took in October 1974.

And unlike some of his colleagues, the local SNP MP George Reid was by no means humiliated in his re-election bid in 1979 – he came within just two percentage points of holding off Labour candidate Martin O’Neill.

After a prolonged gap, Reid was coaxed to return to electoral politics in 1997 due to the impending prospect of devolution – by then O’Neill had been an MP for 18 unbroken years and the constituency had been renamed Ochil. An SNP gain that year was always a long shot due to the popularity of Tony Blair, but Reid did manage to increase the SNP vote to 34%, effectively turning the seat into a marginal for future elections.

He turned his focus to the new Holyrood version of the constituency in 1999 and in an echo of the result 20 years earlier he lost to Labour by the frustratingly narrow margin of 3.5% – although he did become a list MSP anyway.

In 2003 he finally made the gain, in what he had already made clear was to be his last ever election. It was a considerable personal achievement given that the national trend was unfavourable for the SNP – although ironically he only remained an official SNP constituency MSP for a matter of days because he had to give up his party affiliation after being chosen as Presiding Officer.

Due to the loss of Reid’s personal vote, Labour had high hopes of taking the seat back in 2007 – which again would have been against the national trend, but instead the new SNP candidate Keith Brown held on by 490 votes. He’s retained the constituency ever since, with the name being changed to Clackmannanshire & Dunblane in 2011. Due to the progressive collapse of the Labour vote, Brown’s majority in the last election rose to an enormous 6721.

Given subsequent trends in the equivalent Westminster seat, it’s entirely possible that Labour will cease to be the main challengers in the constituency this year – although outright victory looks like a very tall order for the Tories. Barring an improbably big change in the national state of play, there shouldn’t be too much drama for the SNP depute leader at the count in May.