The National:


Winner in 2016: Stuart McMillan (SNP)

THE swing from Labour to SNP in Greenock & Inverclyde in 2016 vastly exceeded the national average, which may have been a correction to an equally unusual result in 2011 when Labour’s vote had appeared to creep up slightly against the national trend. Although it was impossible to be sure of that due to boundary changes.

The 2011 outcome allowed Labour veteran Duncan McNeil to retain his seat and retire at a moment of his own choosing, but it seems inevitable that the electorate would have pushed him if he hadn’t jumped. His successor as Labour candidate, Siobhan McCready, lost in 2016 to the long-standing SNP list MSP Stuart McMillan by the colossal margin of 26 percentage points.

As in most places where the SNP’s vote shot up in 2016, the obvious explanation is the independence referendum and the political realignment that followed it.

Although Inverclyde was not one of the four local authorities that voted in favour of independence, the result couldn’t have been any tighter – 50.1% of local residents voted No, and 49.9% voted Yes. Among that Yes vote was a substantial number of traditional Labour supporters who suddenly twigged that there was a fundamental disconnect between their own aspirations and their party’s.

The impact was seen not only in the Holyrood election but also in Westminster general elections, with Ronnie Cowan being elected SNP MP for Inverclyde on three successive occasions in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

In the 2017 local elections, there was a huge 12% swing to the SNP on Inverclyde Council, allowing them to top the popular vote for the first time – although the vagaries of the electoral system frustrated their hopes of taking control of the local administration.

Before the independence referendum changed the political weather, what distinguished Greenock & Inverclyde most from its neighbours was its persistently strong LibDem tradition. Ross Finnie, the rural development minister in the Labour-LibDem coalition government between 1999 and 2007, finished a solid second for the LibDems in the constituency in the first two Scottish Parliament elections, with his vote share nearing 30% in 2003.

He inherited that support from a long succession of Westminster candidates for the LibDems and Liberals. In almost every UK general election between 1959 and 1987, the Liberals had finished as runners-up in Greenock & Port Glasgow and its predecessor constituency of Greenock.

Ironically the sole exception was October 1974 when the future party leader Menzies Campbell was the candidate – although he did have a reasonable excuse in that the SNP reached their national pre-devolution high in that election.

The LibDem vote vanished practically overnight due to the Cameron-Clegg coalition at Westminster, with Finnie slumping to a dismal 7% in 2011. Worse was to come, though – the new LibDem candidate in 2016 took only 4%.

The seat is now a very straightforward two-way battle between SNP and Labour – and, for the moment, the odds are tilted overwhelmingly in the SNP’s favour. Stuart McMillan should face little difficulty in being re-elected tomorrow.