The National:


Winner in 2016: Iain Gray (Labour)

EAST Lothian is very much like Dumbarton – it’s a seat that should no longer be held by Labour, but is. In the 2016 election, it would have fallen to the SNP on a microscopic swing of 0.3%, far smaller than the swing of 5% that was actually achieved nationally.

The local swing went in completely the opposite direction, with Labour’s margin of victory actually increasing.

Why that happened isn’t entirely clear. It was probably partly to do with the former Labour leader Iain Gray being the incumbent MSP, but it would have made more sense for him to get the bigger benefit from his high profile when he was actually leader in 2011.

Another tempting explanation is a mass Tory tactical vote for Labour, but in fact Rachael Hamilton increased the Tory vote by 7% - almost identical to the 8% achieved by Ruth Davidson nationally.

Whatever the reason, a pattern was clearly set for the following year’s UK General Election. Having jumped from fourth place to spectacularly gain the Westminster constituency of East Lothian from Labour in 2015, the SNP’s George Kerevan lost his seat in 2017 – but in spite of the fact that it was the Tories who were surging nationally, the party he lost to was Labour.

He even narrowly out-polled the Tory candidate to retain second place. That left the constituency as one of the hardest in Scotland to read in the run-up to the 2019 UK General Election.

Part of the problem was that budding tactical voters were thoroughly confused – with Labour’s national vote collapsing, it wasn’t clear to Unionists whether Labour or the Tories were the best tactical option to freeze out the SNP. It was equally hard for left-wingers to decide whether Labour or the SNP had the best chance of stopping the Tories.

In the end, it looked as if all the strategising cancelled itself out, leaving a tight three-way result that probably wasn’t too far out of line with what would have been seen if everyone had voted for their first choice.

Slightly against expectations, Kenny MacAskill took the seat back for the SNP, but with only 36% of the vote, meaning that he could have been beaten if Unionists had moved decisively to Labour or Tory. Instead Labour took 29.5% of the vote and the Tories took 26.5%.

With luck, that could suggest Unionists are still befuddled about how to block the SNP in the Holyrood seat tomorrow.

Iain Gray is stepping down, so the loss of his personal vote could make an even split in the Unionist vote yet more likely. Although his replacement as Labour candidate is Martin Whitfield, who may have a personal vote of his own due to having served as the local Westminster MP between 2017 and 2019.

Meanwhile, MacAskill (along with his predecessor Kerevan) has defected to the Alba Party, although as he is only standing on the Lothian list, that shouldn’t have any direct effect on the constituency contest in East Lothian, which is confusingly part of the South Scotland region.

Hold onto your hats – pretty much anything could happen in this one.