The National:

Winner in 2016: Willie Coffey (SNP)

KILMARNOCK and Irvine Valley is part of the South Scotland region, one of only two regions where the SNP’s support is patchy enough to currently entitle them to list seats.

However, culturally and politically, the constituency belongs more to the central belt, and indeed the predecessor seat of Kilmarnock and Loudoun was part of the Central Scotland region.

It was distinguished by being one of only a small number of seats in the central belt where the SNP were genuinely competitive prior to becoming Scotland’s leading party. That wouldn’t have seemed very likely back in the 1970s, because the old Westminster seat of Kilmarnock wasn’t caught up in the drama of the 1974 SNP surge.

Labour held on effortlessly in the October 1974 General Election with a majority of more than 7500 votes – although that can probably be explained to a large extent by the fact that the incumbent Labour MP was the formidable Willie Ross, long-serving secretary of state for Scotland in Harold Wilson’s governments.

After Ross vacated the scene, the SNP began to outperform their national vote share in the constituency, but the big step forward had to wait until 1992.

Alex Neil was the SNP candidate that year, and he practically doubled the party’s vote to 31%.

He proved that wasn’t a fluke in 1997 by climbing further to 34.5% – still nowhere near enough to actually gain the seat, but it was a truly remarkable result in the context of Tony Blair’s UK-wide Labour landslide, and it paved the way for an epic tussle for control of the Holyrood version of the constituency in the early years of devolution.

In both 1999 and 2003, Kilmarnock and Loudoun was billed as one of the SNP’s very few prospects of a Holyrood constituency win in central Scotland and the eventual outcomes demonstrated why.

Neil was once again the candidate in 1999 and finished just 7% behind Labour’s Margaret Jamieson. The new SNP candidate in 2003, local councillor Danny Coffey, had an even nearer miss and cut the gap to less than 4%.

It was therefore no surprise that in 2007, when the SNP jumped into a slim national lead over Labour for the first time, Kilmarnock and Loudoun was one of the minority of constituencies that changed hands.

The new SNP MSP was Willie Coffey, brother of the 2003 candidate, who had tragically died in the intervening period. The redrawing of the constituency boundaries in 2011 coincided with the slump of the national Labour vote, which has left the new seat of Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley looking rock solid for the SNP on the two occasions it’s been contested so far.

Willie Coffey was 33% ahead of his Labour opponent in 2016, meaning that on a uniform swing Labour would have to be around 10 points ahead of the SNP nationally before they would take the seat back.

Which is another way of saying that, barring an electoral miracle, Coffey and the SNP will win for a fourth time in a row on May 6.