The National:

Winner in 2016: Graeme Dey (SNP)

THERE’S no part of Scotland that has had continuous SNP parliamentary representation since the party’s pre-devolution purple patch in the 1970s. But the place that comes closest is Angus, or at least parts of it.

The Westminster seat of Angus South stayed in Conservative hands when the SNP made a partial breakthrough in the February 1974 General Election, but it fell in the much stronger second SNP wave of October 1974.

The new pro-independence MP was Andrew Welsh, who eventually went on to become one of the SNP’s longest-serving parliamentarians –but not before an enforced hiatus in his career.

He lost the seat in 1979 by the agonisingly narrow margin of 2%. The Tory victor was Peter Fraser, who in later life became best known as the Lord Advocate who drew up an indictment against the two Libyans suspected of the Lockerbie bombing.

After a major boundary revision in 1983, the closest thing to a successor constituency was called East Angus, and the two leading candidates from 1979 once again slugged it out, with Fraser defeating Welsh by the wider margin of 8% – although that was still a respectable result for the SNP in an election that saw their national vote slip to just 12%, which to this day remains their post-1970 low.

The third and final head-to-head battle between Fraser and Welsh occurred in much more favourable circumstances for the SNP in 1987.

Although there was only a minimal recovery in the SNP’s national vote, Margaret Thatcher was at the peak of her unpopularity in Scotland, and there was a huge tactical voting push to defeat sitting Tory MPs by voting for whichever party was in second place locally.

In East Angus that was clearly the SNP, and Welsh took full advantage to narrowly defeat Fraser and return to the House of Commons after an eight-year gap. This time he was there to stay – he was re-elected in East Angus and the successor seat of Angus on two further occasions before he stepped down in 2001 to concentrate on his work in the new Scottish Parliament.

Mike Weir then retained the Westminster seat for the SNP for another 16 years until it was lost to the Tories in 2017 – along with Banff and Buchan and Moray, which were the other seats that the SNP had taken in 1987 and then held for 30 years.

But in contrast to those two seats, Angus returned to the SNP fold in 2019 amid scenes of exuberant celebration for the successful candidate Dave Doogan.

As for the Holyrood seat of Angus South and its predecessor Angus, there’s been no Tory interlude thus far – the SNP have been in constant possession since the Parliament was set up in 1999, with the MSP being Andrew Welsh for the first 12 years, and Graeme Dey subsequently.

Even in the Ruth Davidson surge year of 2016, Dey held on by a very comfortable 13.5% margin, in spite of the fact that his Tory opponent was Kirstene Hair, who went on to win the Westminster constituency the following year.

The lesson appears to be that the Tories can win in Angus, but only with a 2017-style result, when they were in the high 20s in the national percentage vote.

They’re much less likely to win the seat with more moderately successful 2016-style or 2019-style results, when they were only in the low-to-mid 20s.

Unfortunately for them, the opinion polls at the moment are pointing towards the latter scenario, and that means the SNP should be considered reasonably warm favourites to win Angus South yet again.