Winner in 2019 of predecessor seat of Ochil and South Perthshire: John Nicolson (SNP)

FROM the perspective of many independence supporters, and indeed even some activists on the anti-independence left, there is quite simply no more important constituency in this election than the one that contains Grangemouth.

The forthcoming closure of Scotland’s only oil refinery, which is located in the town, will leave this country in the anomalous position of being a substantial oil producer which is entirely reliant on refineries beyond its borders – something which would arguably be unlikely to happen in an independent state.

It’s extremely timely, then, that the Boundary Commission have just created a constituency that actually includes the name Grangemouth for the first time since 1983.

Alloa and Grangemouth is arguably the most genuinely “new” constituency in Scotland, because unlike other constituencies with a new name, it isn’t recognisably just a rebranded version of a previous seat.

The largest portion of its population comes from the outgoing Ochil and South Perthshire constituency which was held by John Nicolson of the SNP, but only a small percentage of the vast geographical expanse of that constituency is being carried across.

Nevertheless Nicolson has identified Alloa and Grangemouth as the closest thing there is to a successor to his seat, and he will be the SNP candidate there.

The challenge before him could scarcely be more different from the one he faced in 2019, when he had to dislodge the sitting Tory MP Luke Graham.

Although the notional results from 2019 suggest the Tories would have been in a clear second place in the new constituency, that can be explained entirely by Labour’s historically poor result.

Alloa and Grangemouth contains relatively little territory that is naturally favourable for the Tories, and the seat would be essentially unwinnable for them even in a good year.

To put it mildly, 2024 is not a good year for the Conservative Party.

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So the only plausible threat to the SNP comes from Labour, but they start 36 percentage points behind Nicolson in the notional 2019 results. That means, assuming a uniform swing, that Labour would have to be around 10 points ahead of the SNP nationally if they are to win Alloa and Grangemouth.

That’s not impossible, and there was one YouGov poll that showed exactly that scale of Labour lead, but the majority of polls have shown the SNP faring somewhat better than that.

Nicolson therefore has a golden opportunity to secure the welcome relief for the SNP of a key hold in central Scotland.

Ironically, the main stumbling block could come from the pro-independence side, because the Grangemouth issue has motivated other well-known Yes-supporting candidates to stand against Nicolson.

For the Alba Party, Grangemouth is one of the main campaigning topics, and consequently they have chosen one of their two sitting MPs, the former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, to be their candidate in Alloa and Grangemouth.

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That strategy is not without a downside, because it means MacAskill (above) cannot defend his own East Lothian seat and thus Alba may squander a precious incumbency bonus there.

A further complication is that before MacAskill confirmed his candidacy, Alba’s former equalities convener Eva Comrie had already announced that she was standing in Alloa and Grangemouth as an independent.

Comrie was one of Alba’s most popular figures before she left the party earlier this year, meaning that any natural Alba support in the constituency is likely to be split.

Even with MacAskill’s status as a household name, it may be hard for him to build up enough of a head of steam to get into genuine contention, and thus the most telling effect of any pro-independence votes he takes could be to eat into SNP support and somewhat increase the danger of a Labour gain.