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The 15 Scottish seats that could decide the general election

8 December 2019

8:01 PM

8 December 2019

8:01 PM

For at least a generation — something we define loosely up here — Scottish hacks have been trying to interest London newsdesks in Scotland’s role in general elections. Then, in 2015, we had the good fortune of Scotland deciding to up and turn into a one-party state overnight. Then, in 2017, we revised our arrangements to a one-and-a-bit-party state when Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives liberated 12 seats from Nationalist control.

Scotland may end up being the main story of this election too, if, as Eeyore types like me have been warning, the Tories do not romp home on December 12. In those circumstances, the Tories’ performance in Scotland could be the difference between a majority and a minority government, the latter of which would struggle to remain long in office.

There is an added complication in that Scottish Tories are trying to shift the conversation in this election away from Brexit and onto Scexit, Nicola Sturgeon’s proposal that Scotland leave the UK.

The health of the Scottish Tory vote differs depending on which poll you turn to. YouGov’s MRP modelling has them retaining 11 of their 13 seats; Ipsos MORI shows the party holding on in just six constituencies. There are also one or two seats where the Conservatives came close last time and which might defy the polls to give them some pick-ups.

First, seats currently held by the Conservatives:

Aberdeen South
Incumbent: None
Majority: 4,752
EU Referendum: 68 per cent Remain

On paper, the SNP should run away with this one. Former MP Ross Thomson stood down amid personal allegations and he had already spent two years tub-thumping for Boris and Brexit in an overwhelmingly Remain seat. The fact YouGov has the Tories just three points behind in Aberdeen South is testament to  the growing frustration in the North East towards the SNP and its distant, Central Belt-first Scottish Government. Should the Tories claim victory here, they will be relieved more than overjoyed but it will be a serious triumph over circumstances.

Angus
Incumbent: Kirstene Hair
Majority: 2,645
EU Referendum: 52 per cent Remain

Kirstene Hair, the only female Tory MP from north of the border, has a fight on her hands in Angus. Before her victory in 2017, this constituency was safe Nationalist territory and the SNP hopes it will return to the fold. Locally, Hair is banging the drum against Scexit and the SNP’s record on health. Will it be enough to save her?

Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock
Incumbent: None
Majority: 2,774
EU Referendum: 56 per cent Remain

Bill Grant, who unexpectedly won this seat for the Tories in 2017, has retired and in this election the Tory flame is being carried by local cop Martin Dowey. This part of Scotland tends to trend Right but, given opposition to Brexit, it’s no surprise YouGov puts the SNP within just four points of the Tories.

Banff and Buchan
Incumbent: David Duguid
Majority: 3,693
EU Referendum: 61 per cent Leave

Banff and Buchan is Brexit ground zero in Scotland, a constituency of trawlermen and dependent businesses whose loathing of the Common Fisheries Policy makes Nigel Farage sound like Gina Miller. Tory MP David Duguid — pronounced ‘Dew-kit’ to confuse the Sassenachs — should be returned with relative ease given his reputation as a hard worker and unapologetic defender of his constituents. Following the death in 2016 of Sir Albert McQuarrie, the last Tory to hold this seat, his nickname ‘the Buchan Bulldog’ has been up for grabs. If he’s returned on December 12, Duguid might be its rightful inheritor.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
Incumbent: John Lamont
Majority: 11,060
EU Referendum: 57 per cent Remain

John Lamont, a leading light of the liberal Tory wing, has spent years building up a reputation and a support base in BRS. If he loses, it probably means the entire Scottish Tory delegation has been wiped out and with it eight years of slog by former leader Ruth Davidson.


Dumfries and Galloway
Incumbent: Alister Jack
Majority: 5,643
EU Referendum: 55 per cent Remain

This is the seat of Scottish Secretary Alister Jack and the Tories will want to avoid a Portillo moment here, though given Jack’s low profile it’s doubtful most Scots would recognise him. DumGal is Remain country, though in the outer fringes rather than the heartland, and Jack benefits from a pro-EU opposition split three ways.

Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale
Incumbent: David Mundell
Majority: 9,441
EU Referendum: 55 per cent Remain

DCT is deep in Scotland’s southern Tory redoubts and for many years was the only constituency north of the border to return a Conservative MP. David Mundell has had a lot more time to spend in the rural, picturesque seat since being sacked as Scottish Secretary by Boris Johnson. He should be returned comfortably, despite local anti-Brexit sentiment, thanks to a strong personal vote and his opposition to Scexit.

East Renfrewshire
Incumbent: Paul Masterton
Majority:
4,712
EU Referendum: 74 per cent Remain

Brexit rebel Paul Masterton faces an uphill battle to retain this leafy, suburban seat in the Scottish heartlands of Remain. Masterton has walked a fine line between honouring the EU referendum result and opposing no deal, but his formidable SNP opponent, former MP Kirsten Oswald, has a simpler message: No Brexit. Masterton is well-liked locally and that, combined with his steadfast ‘no more referendums’ stance, could carry him over the line, but it’s likely to be close.

Gordon
Incumbent: Colin Clark
Majority: 2,607
EU Referendum: 61 per cent Remain

Gordon provided the iconic moment of the 2017 election in Scotland, when Tory Colin Clark defied all expectations to oust Alex Salmond. Two years on, Gordon is too close to call and the SNP could well wrestle the seat back given the strength of anti-Brexit feeling locally.

Moray
Incumbent: Douglas Ross
Majority: 4,159
EU Referendum: 50.1 per cent Remain

A tough one to call. Moray is one of the Brexitiest seats in Scotland (albeit having voted overall for Remain) but from 1987 to 2017 it was solidly Nationalist. Douglas Ross is five points ahead according to YouGov but the SNP is fighting a hard campaign to regain the seat.

Ochil and South Perthshire
Incumbent: Luke Graham
Majority: 3,359
EU Referendum: 61 per cent Remain

Luke Graham took this seat from the SNP in 2017 and the Nationalists are determined to reclaim it. Unfortunately, their candidate, former East Dunbartonshire MP John Nicolson, has had some trouble remembering which constituency he’s standing in this time. Nicolson is 24 years Graham’s senior and the Tory’s youth and vitality could prove an advantage in a constituency that ranges across urban sprawls, suburban conurbations and open countryside. The SNP is confident it will be victorious on the night but Graham has the stamina to put up a fight.

Stirling
Incumbent: Stephen Kerr
Majority: 148
EU Referendum: 68 per cent Remain

Stephen Kerr doesn’t like to make things easy for himself. In possession of the narrowest Tory majority in Scotland, he still went all-out in support of Boris Johnson; in a seat where more than two-thirds voted Remain, he is an outspoken Brexiteer. The local Tory party is well-organised and ramming home the message that a vote for the SNP will mean another referendum on Scotland. Devout Christian Kerr will need a miracle to hang on here but if he does, bring him five loaves and two fish and announce a feast.

West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine
Incumbent: Andrew Bowie
Majority: 7,950
EU Referendum: 61 per cent Remain

Bowie is talked up as the Future of Scottish Toryism and most recently served as Theresa May’s PPS. MRP has him on 47 per cent but the SNP has cannily put up a Tory-lite candidate in Fergus Mutch, the Nationalists’ chief spin doctor at Holyrood and a member of the old Ewingite Right of the party. If the Tories lose WAK, it would suggest a worse night than any of the polls are predicting.

 

A couple of seats are also worth watching as possible Conservative gains:

Lanark and Hamilton East
Incumbent: Angela Crawley (SNP)
Majority: 266
EU Referendum: 64 per cent Remain

The Tories came unexpectedly close here last time. The party has put serious resources into its campaign this time around and has a well-regarded candidate in Shona Haslam. Given the unpopularity of Brexit in this constituency, Haslam has her work cut out, but an upset is not impossible.

Edinburgh South West
Incumbent: Joanna Cherry (SNP)
Majority: 1,097
EU Referendum: 72 per cent Remain

The Conservatives would love to topple Joanna Cherry, the Brexit-litigating QC seen by some as a potential successor to Nicola Sturgeon. Her Edinburgh South West constituency has a strong Unionist vote, which brought the Tories to within a thousand votes of victory last time, but it is also staunchly Remain, which makes it a towering hurdle for Conservative candidate Callum Laidlaw to clear. A Tory triumph here would be A Big Deal.

 

A few Scottish seats are worth watching even if the outcome won’t affect the Tories’ (in)ability to win a majority.

Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Incumbent: Ian Blackford (SNP)
Majority: 5,919
EU Referendum: 57 per cent Remain

The Highland fortress of SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford. The pro-Union parties would sorely love to see an upset here but not enough to have agreed on a single Unionist candidate to take on the Nationalist heavyweight. The result is a mess: the Tories and Lib Dems on roughly equal footing and the Tory vote split further by the decision of several small right-wing parties to contest the seat. All this makes Blackford’s re-election look inevitable and any other outcome would be extraordinary.

North East Fife
Incumbent: Stephen Gethins (SNP)
Majority: 2
EU Referendum: 64 per cent Remain

That’s not a typo. The Nationalists really did cling on here in 2017 by just two votes, an agonising margin of defeat for the Lib Dems. This time, they say, they’re ready for the separatists and hope to capitalise on the twin appeal of their opposition to both Brexit and Scexit. Incumbent Stephen Gethins is well-regarded, however, and shouldn’t be written off out of hand.

East Dunbartonshire
Incumbent: Jo Swinson (Lib Dem)
Majority: 5,339
EU Referendum: 73 per cent Remain

The SNP really, really, pretty please with a cherry on top wants to fell Jo Swinson, not so much because she’s a party leader but because she stole their seat last time round. Her strident Brexit-bashing might chime here in Remainland but it will put off Tories who backed her last time to get the separatists out. The SNP has been playing up her votes as a Coalition minister, which will cost her Labour support. Swinson has a strong personal vote, which should save her, but the Nationalist candidate Amy Callaghan has proved an impressive campaigner. This one is anyone’s guess.

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