The National:


Winner in 2016: Fiona Hyslop (SNP)

IF you ever doubt the power of the Boundary Commission, just remember that they’re responsible for the fact that we have a “West Lothian Question” rather than a “Linlithgow Question”.

Labour’s Tam Dalyell was Westminster MP for West Lothian when he first posed his question about the contradictions inherent in a system of asymmetric devolution, and it wasn’t until 1983 that his constituency was redrawn and renamed as Linlithgow, which became the basis for the current Holyrood constituency.

Dalyell faced a very different West Lothian Question of his own for many years – whether or not he’d be able to hold his seat against an SNP challenge. He was first elected in 1962 in a landmark by-election that saw the SNP, at that time a fringe party, surge into second place out of nowhere.

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Their candidate was William Wolfe, who carried on standing against Dalyell in every General Election until 1979, and for much of that period was party leader. He came relatively close to victory when the SNP reached their pre-devolution high watermark in October 1974,

but Dalyell clung on by less than five percentage points. That ensured Wolfe ended his otherwise impressive career without having served in parliament.

Even in the 1980s and 1990s, there was still a perception that Linlithgow was one of the SNP’s most promising targets in the central belt, as can be seen from the fact that Jim Sillars was the candidate in 1987, with Kenny MacAskill taking over in 1992 and 1997.

It was only in 1992 that Dalyell came even vaguely close to being threatened, though – MacAskill took the SNP’s local vote to a healthy 30%, but that still left him 15 percentage points behind Dalyell.

Nevertheless, the SNP’s strong local government results in West Lothian in the 90s supported the notion that Labour were being flattered by the outcome of Westminster elections, and that the new Holyrood version of the seat could turn out to be much more closely fought.

So it proved: in the first two Scottish Parliament elections in 1999 and 2003, Labour’s Mary Mulligan took Linlithgow by the relatively modest margins of 9% and 7% respectively. That meant it was one of the constituencies that should really have changed hands when the SNP won a national election for the first time in 2007.

Instead Mulligan held on by a little more than 1000 votes, which was one of the startling Labour successes that created a false impression for a few hours that the SNP weren’t going to take power after all. Mulligan was unable to buck a much stronger national swing in 2011, and Fiona Hyslop finally took the seat for the SNP by the solid margin of 12 percentage points. Five years later, Hyslop indirectly benefited from the large national swing from Labour to Tory, with her majority more than doubling to 9335 votes.

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Perhaps more tellingly, though, the SNP’s own vote share crept above 50% for the first time, meaning that Labour would have to do far more than just take Unionist votes back from the Tories if they’re to return to being competitive in the seat on Thursday.

With polls at the weekend suggesting that the SNP are outperforming their constituency vote share from 2016, it looks almost certain that Fiona Hyslop will be elected for a third consecutive term as Linlithgow’s representative, and indeed for a sixth consecutive term in Holyrood – because she served as a list MSP for 12 years before taking the constituency. She may even increase her majority still further.