Winner in 2016: Shona Robison (SNP)

THERE are some constituencies where the strength of a party can be traced back to the efforts of one particular candidate at one particular point in history, and Dundee City East is an excellent example.

The equivalent Westminster constituency of Dundee East wouldn’t have looked particularly promising as a future stronghold for the SNP when they contested it for the first time in 18 years at the 1970 General Election.

They took less than 9% of the vote, meaning they had underperformed their national showing. But soon afterwards the future party leader Gordon Wilson, described by the BBC in those days as “the SNP’s oil expert”, emerged on the scene and worked the seat hard.

Perhaps with a touch of historical irony, it fell vacant in early 1973 due to the UK joining the European Community and the local Labour MP becoming one of Britain’s first two European Commissioners.

The SNP were, of course, firmly opposed to Community membership at that time. However, North Sea oil was the number one issue on which Wilson fought his by-election campaign, securing a sensational 18% swing from Labour and very nearly capturing the seat outright.

That was a result of tremendous national importance, because it began a snowball effect that helped Margo MacDonald to victory in the Govan by-election later in the year, which in turn paved the way for Scotland-wide breakthroughs in the two general elections of 1974.

Ironically, while MacDonald lost her seat in February 1974, Wilson gained the constituency he’d failed to take at the by-election, and then retained it for 13 years. That meant Dundee East was one of only two seats the SNP held in the whole country during their wilderness years between 1979 and 1987.

The 1987 General Election saw a re-alignment in Scottish politics, with the SNP’s fortunes markedly improving where they were in direct competition with the Conservatives.

However, the reverse happened in places like Dundee East where Labour were the opponents. Even though the SNP made a net gain of seats nationally, Wilson narrowly lost his seat. It was particularly unfortunate for the SNP that the successful Labour candidate was the charismatic left-winger John McAllion, who went on to build up a considerable personal vote.

By the time of the 1997 Blair landslide, the fruits of Wilson’s efforts seemed to have vanished almost without trace, as McAllion surged to a winning margin of

25 percentage points over the new SNP candidate Shona Robison.

McAllion was an ardent devolutionist, and was permitted by the Blairites to contest the Holyrood version of his seat in the first Scottish Parliament election in 1999 – thus avoiding the difficulties faced by his fellow left-winger Dennis Canavan.

He ended up in a rematch with Robison, and once again won through – but it was a very different sort of result which demonstrated that the SNP’s strong local tradition had only been temporarily misplaced, not lost. Robison took a creditable 34% of the vote, turning the constituency back into a marginal.

In the 2003 Holyrood election, the Scottish Socialist Party identified Dundee East as one of the seats in which a fellow socialist was at risk of losing, and thus decided not to put up a candidate against McAllion.

It was widely believed that decision had the opposite effect from the one intended, with the potential SSP vote breaking for the SNP, allowing Robison to gain the seat against the national trend. It’s been SNP-held ever since, although the name was changed to Dundee City East in 2011 when the boundaries were revised.

Robison will be going for a fifth straight victory this week, and absolutely nothing is going to stop her. She had a majority of 38 percentage points over Labour in 2016, meaning that on a uniform swing she would still win even if Labour were 10 points ahead of the SNP nationally. Instead, the weekend polls suggest that Labour are almost 30 points behind. This is as close a thing to an electoral certainty as you’ll ever see.