The National:


Winner in 2016: Annabelle Ewing (SNP)

IF Dunfermline is the best illustration of how the 2014 independence referendum was a watershed in Scottish politics, the neighbouring constituency of Cowdenbeath is probably the second best.

Both constituencies were contested in by-elections between the 2011 election and the 2014 vote, and in both cases Labour won with a substantial swing from the SNP. The Cowdenbeath by-election took place in January 2014, which meant the referendum year got off to the worst possible start for the SNP and the independence movement more broadly.

The SNP candidate was Natalie McGarry, the future Westminster MP for Glasgow East, and her vote slumped by 13% compared to the 2011 result. Alex Rowley, who later became Scottish Labour’s deputy leader and then interim leader, was victorious with a hefty 9% increase in the Labour vote.

The difference from Dunfermline, though, is that Labour was not regaining the seat from the SNP – they’d managed to hold on to it even when the SNP won an overall majority in 2011.

So it’s not a seat that anyone would necessarily have been expecting the SNP to win in 2014 – the disappointment was simply the size of Labour’s triumph.

Jump forward to the post-indyref world and Cowdenbeath suddenly does very much look like a constituency the SNP should usually win.

Rowley lost the seat in 2016 to the SNP’s Annabelle Ewing, who had served as a list MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife since 2011, and many years earlier had been the Westminster MP for Perth. The swing from Labour to SNP since the by-election was enormous at around 19 percentage points, which arguably gives a better indication of the underlying changes caused by the indyref than the more modest swing of around six or seven points that was recorded if the 2011 election is used as the baseline.

In the three Westminster General Elections that have taken place since the indyref, the overlapping Westminster constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath has been won twice by the SNP – although the latter of those wins occurred in weird circumstances in 2019 after the party withdrew all support from its own candidate, Neale Hanvey amid allegations of antisemitism.

He has since defected to the Alba Party and will be standing in this year’s election, albeit solely as a list candidate.

But his predecessor in the Westminster seat was Labour’s former Shadow Scottish Secretary Lesley Laird – which is a reminder that this part of Fife is one of the places where Labour’s rump Scottish vote remains strongest.

Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath was one of only seven Scottish seats won by Labour amid the Corbyn resurgence in 2017.

Ewing’s victory margin for the SNP in Cowdenbeath in 2016 was just over 10 percentage points, which means that on a uniform swing Labour could gain the seat even if the SNP have a double-digit national lead.

On current polling evidence she’s likely to hold on, perhaps even with an increased majority, but there’s a touch more uncertainty for her than there is for most SNP constituency MSPs facing a challenge from Labour.