The National:

Winner in 2016: Alex Cole-Hamilton (Liberal Democrats)

EDINBURGH Western is another part of the capital where the Conservatives should be in the mix, but where they’ve instead been left stranded by anti-SNP tactical voting.

The equivalent Westminster constituency of Edinburgh West was continuously held by the Tories from 1931 until 1997, but in retrospect the crucial turning-point was 1983, when it suddenly became a Tory-Liberal marginal in 1983 due to the rise of the Liberal-SDP Alliance. The Liberals and then the newly-merged Liberal Democrats had a succession of near-misses in 1983, 1987 and 1992, with the Tories’ margins of victory ranging from just 1.1% to 2.5%. The constituency then became the scene of a mini-crisis for the Tories in 1994, when the incumbent MP James Douglas-Hamilton inherited a peerage.

In the normal course of events that would have triggered a by-election in Edinburgh West, which the Liberal Democrats would almost certainly have won due to the severe unpopularity of John Major’s government. But Douglas-Hamilton hurriedly renounced his new title, meaning the near-inevitable LibDem gain was delayed for a few more years.

In 1997, Donald Gorrie became LibDem MP for a constituency he had first contested as a Liberal in 1970. Curiously, though, the local LibDems then turned their backs on Gorrie when selecting a candidate for the new Holyrood version of the seat, and plumped for Margaret Smith instead – although Gorrie to his credit was determined to serve in the Scottish Parliament and found a radically different alternative route via the Central Scotland list.

With the Tories in a prolonged trough, Smith easily won the Holyrood seat in 1999, 2003 and 2007. But due to the collapse of her party’s national vote in 2011, she sensationally lost to the SNP, who claimed a constituency where they had never previously been competitive. In the post-indyref world of 2016, Tory supporters looked at the LibDems’ recent history of strength in the constituency and concluded that they were best-placed to defeat the SNP. In contrast to the Tory surge elsewhere in the country, the Conservative candidate’s vote slipped back slightly, signalling that the Unionist vote had coalesced behind the LibDems’ Alex Cole-Hamilton, who regained the seat from the SNP by almost 3000 votes.

However, this is a very different constituency from Edinburgh Southern, and there’s no obvious reason to fear that Cole-Hamilton will race out of sight this year.

The SNP’s new candidate is Sarah Masson, who contested the Westminster seat in 2019 and kept things tight, losing to the LibDems by less than 7%. Cole-Hamilton is undoubtedly favourite to be re-elected, but the SNP are in with a sniff of a chance.