The Big Count (2): Bellweathers, seats to watch and wildcards

A long, detailed and thoughtful guestpost from fellow election junkie and anorak, Graeme Downie.  But it is designed to complement our joint shorter one simply listing our bellweathers, ones to watch and wildcards.  So dip between the two and enjoy Graeme’s rationale for his selection.

In 2007, and other recent elections, I have been at the count and, although there is nothing quite like the electric atmosphere, I am looking forward to being at home for this one. So, the coffee will be on, a smorgasbord of snacks in the fridge, phone awaiting frantic text messaging and, this year, probably my dog lying at my feet.

So, what next? What fun awaits over the next 12 hours? What will be the first real indication of the story of the night? Were the polls right or wildly wrong? Will the exit poll be as dramatic as that of the UK General Election last year?

Below I look at my personal predictions (not preferences) for who might win some of the key battleground seats, where the indications might lie and then give my humble opinion on a range of different seats across Scotland. To be honest, I will be happy if I get 50% right but it’s always fun to see if those hours of reading newspapers and following gut instincts are worth anything!

So, here we go, first, the bellweathers:

Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

In 2007, this was a bit of a surprise result. A majority of around 200 for Cathy Craigie and it was thought that if Labour could hold this then they would hold on to power. An increased majority to 2000, thanks largely to an excellent local campaign, and Labour looked secure…. and yet look what happened by the time all the results were in.

This time round it would be a shock if Labour didn’t hold this seat. Were the SNP to take this seat then it might indicate that they have finally made a major breakthrough in to Labour’s central constituency base and expect a SNP landslide the likes of which even the polls won’t have predicted. However, even a success in narrowing the majority in this seat will be an early indication that the SNP is going to have a good night.

Prediction: Labour HOLD (and since I have made a big deal about the majority, I think it will be about the 1500 mark.)

Dundee City East

It’s hard to see anything other than an SNP victory here but it will give an indication as to the value of name recognition in some other seats (particularly Edinburgh Eastern) if Shona Robison manages to increase her majority.

Prediction: SNP Hold

Glasgow Kelvin

Now, now, I know, how dare a Glasgow seat is mentioned as a bellweather seat, surely Labour will hold this comfortably. Well, yes they probably will hold it but, in Iain Gray’s nightmares, will they really? Pauline McNeill is a popular and passionate MSP and a defeat here would be a massive setback for Labour in Glasgow which would have far-reaching consequences. Similarly if you hear the words “recount” associated with this seat then get ready for a rocky night ahead for Labour.

Prediction: Labour Hold

North East Fife

Ah, now here we have the Lib Dem equivalent of Glasgow I suppose. Personally I don’t believe the Lib Dems will slip back as far as polls seem to indicate, I think they will hover around 8-10 seats which would still be a pretty disastrous result but not as low as the 5 seats that some polls have predicted. However, if they are going to slip that low then this seat will be the ultimate indication. Also, with the Tories currently in second place in this seat, an SNP victory may also indicate that the anti UK Government vote is going to go the same way in other parts of the country. If that vote splits between SNP and Labour in North East Fife then the Lib Dems will easily hold this seat and will indicate some very mixed results elsewhere.

Prediction: Lib Dem Hold (but majority will be down significantly)

Perthshire South

The profile of Roseanna Cunningham should be enough to hold this seat comfortably but if she manages to increase the majority from the notional 1300 then it would indicate that the Tory vote in Scotland, particularly in semi-rural areas, is starting to shift SNP. Expect Labour to talk about “tartan tories” in the event of a strong SNP showing here, although no-one will really be surprised about an SNP hold here.

Prediction: SNP Hold

Edinburgh Western

A seat very close to my heart having been an agent here in 2007 and went to school in the area. Cammy Day did a remarkable job in the UK election against Mike Crockhart to even put this seat even slightly in play this time round although the Lib Dems can attribute that slightly to having a new candidate. The constituency is a total mixed bag but alot of the Lib Dem votes in the area will, I suspect, will be furious with Nick Clegg over issues such as pensions and, even though they don’t apply in Scotland, tuition fees and NHS reforms. Labour have selected former Lord Provost, Lesley Hinds, to run in this seat which will certainly guarantee a high Labour turnout in some parts of the constituency so this will be a close one.

Prediction: Lib Dem Hold (but with a possible recount and majority under 1000)

Glasgow Southside

A massive seat for both the SNP and Labour with the SNP pouring in resources in here to hold it for Nicola Sturgeon and Labour seeking to create a kind of “Portillo” moment for the night by unseating the Health Minister. This is one of a number of seats where we will see the value of name recognition and also whether or not the SNP strategy of making “the team” such a key part of their campaign. So, cut to the chase:

Prediction: SNP Win

Cunningham North

Perhaps the ultimate bellweather seat this one. With a notional SNP majority of 47, this one is essentially a dead heat. So, you would think, the winner here, will win elsewhere? Well, things don’t work out that way but if either the SNP or Labour secure a majority of over 1000 here then its fair to say they will be odds on to hold the largest number of seats come Friday. Also here you have two well known candidates. Sitting MSP, Kenneth Gibson, for the SNP and former MSP and Minister, Allan Wilson, for Scottish Labour, so also not as big an advantage of incumbency here either. An almost impossible one to call but…. I have to so:

Prediction: SNP Win

Ones to watch:

Eastwood

In the UK General Election, this seat won me some cash because the bookies seemed to apply the UK national swing to this seat indicating a Conservative victory which I just couldn’t see happening. The notional Conservative majority here is almost 3500 so in normal circumstances you would see that as a safe, Conservative seat. Certainly a Conservative win here and Annabelle Goldie could claim that the dislike of the UK Government is not as strong in Scotland as was thought. However, I actually think this will be a Labour highspot on election night. Ken Macintosh has been working the seat hard and seems to have a good cross-party appeal so I think that a mix of SNP and Lib Dem voters will unite to keep the Tories out in a repeat of the UK General Election.

Prediction: Labour win

Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley

Right, this one is a bit more straight-forward. A Labour win here and they can be quite confident of being largest party. The disadvantage here for Labour is that of incumbency. Willie Coffey will be much better known in the area and is defending a decent majority so I think he will hang on but think Matt McLaughlin will succeed in reducing the notional majority here.

Prediction: SNP Win

Galloway and West Dumfries

I understand there was a bit of surprise when the Presiding Officer indicated that he was going to stand again this year. Only really the SNP are in a position to challenge Alex Fergusson here and, if they do manage to take this seat it would be an indication, again, that the anti-UK Government vote was going to the SNP. I think being Presiding Officer might mean that some Lib Dem (and even some Labour voters) might not mind lending support to Fergusson.

Prediction: Tory Win

Dumfriesshire

This seat is almost Labour’s version of Galloway and West Dumfries. This is notionally a Tory seat but Gillian Dykes is up against a popular, and one of the more academic MSPs, in Elaine Murray. If the polls are right and both Labour and SNP will pick up seats from the Tories and Lib Dems to both increase their number, I think you will see enough of an anti-UK Government vote here to mean that Labour will take this seat.

Prediction: Labour Win

Midlothian South

Traditionally, this area has always had a volatile electorate so perhaps fitting that it could have massive significance this time round. In rural areas, how angry are Lib Dem voters with the Federal Party and, if they are dissatisfied, how will they express their anger? The Lib Dems have held events, launches and visits in this area since well before the start of the campaign to try and save manifesto author Jeremy Purvis but I suspect this will all be for nought. Labour have ran an excellent local campaign with Ian Miller, Chairman of the Co-operative Party which will undoubtedly boost their showing and I think will be enough to push the Lib Dems into third place.

Prediction: SNP Win

Edinburgh Southern

One of the biggest shocks in the UK General Election was how quickly Labour was able to organise in this seat and take it from the Lib Dems. Ian Murray’s election agent then was Paul Godzik, the candidate this time round so he certainly knows most of the seat well and where the potential switch voters are. Also, like Edinburgh Western, the types of Lib Dem voters in this area are, I suspect, the ones who will be most unhappy with the UK Coalition and also perhaps with a family history of supporting Labour.

Prediction: Labour win

Edinburgh Central

There are three seats where I genuinely think that Parliament would benefit from having both of the leading candidates, this is the first of them. Sarah Boyack enjoys great respect from all parties in Holyrood for her approach and eagerness to make real progress. Similarly, I think Holyrood would benefit from someone of Alex Cole-Hamilton’s character and intelligence. Had it not been for the UK Coalition I would have predicted him to nick this but I think Sarah’s approach and local following will be enough to see her returned but I hope that somehow Alex will be able to get in through the list.

Prediction: Labour win

Edinburgh Eastern

The second of the seats where I wish two people could be returned (who said multi-member constituencies would be a bad idea?) Whatever criticism can be made about Kenny MacAskill’s over issues like the release of Al Megrahi, he has the gravitas, intelligence and passion that is sadly lacking amongst all parties in Parliament. Similarly, Ewan Aitken would bring similar qualities to Holyrood, along with his management experience from Edinburgh City Council and his background in helping vulnerable groups in society. This really is going to be a toss of a coin for me and a tough one but I have been asked to predict who I think will win, nothing else so……

Prediction: SNP win

Almond Valley

Similar to Cunninghame North this seat begins as a notional dead-heat (sorry, the SNP have a majority of 4) and the SNP have been desperately trying to help increase Angela Constance’s profile to help her win the seat. This is also Labour’s number one target seat so the resources have been pouring in as well. I think this is a seat where the SNP’s “air-war” and the building of profile of the candidate will make the difference although I don’t think losing this seat should mean that Labour lose all hope for the night.

Prediction: SNP win

Dunfermline

This seat is probably an indicator or whether or not there is any impact of the UK coalition on the Scottish Lib Dems, as most suspect there is. A Lib Dem hold would blow all of the polls out the water and indicate that their support was going to hold up. I can’t see that happening and the profile of the area as being a Labour heartland make it even less likely.

Prediction: Labour win

Stirling

Historically Conservative, then Labour and now SNP, a very interesting seat to watch indeed. Boundary changes have made this a notional Labour seat so an SNP win here would be almost as seismic as it was in 2007 when Bruce Crawford won the seat. I think the key factors here are that the anti-UK Government vote will go with the SNP and Bruce Crawford’s reputation as a reasonable, safe pair of hands. A Labour win here would indicate that the polls have been wrong and they can stand up to the SNP in key swing seats.

Prediction: SNP win

Aberdeen South & North Kincardine

Right, short and simple. The Lib Dems must hold this seat to prevent a catastrophic night. Lose here and they will be down in the 7-9 seat range I suspect. Standing against a sitting MSP in Maureen Watt will make it tough and I just don’t quite think they will make it.

Prediction: SNP win

Caithness, Sutherland and Ross

Similarly to Aberdeen South, the Lib Dems simply must hold this heartland seat to avoid total disaster. The difference with this one, along with Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, is that the majority is just slightly bigger than in Aberdeen South. Again a sitting MSP is the opponent, and a popular, local one at that, in Rob Gibson so this one is going to be mightily close.

Prediction: Lib Dem win

Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch

Similar to the two seats above, this is a must hold for the Lib Dems in their rural heartland and, once again, it is a new candidate against a sitting SNP MSP. Dave Thomson is a thoroughly likeable guy who has been working the seat very hard over the past few years and I think he will get closer than many think but I think the Lib Dem vote here will be more loyal than in other areas so expect them to hang on,

Prediction: Lib Dem win

Western Isles

Losing this seat in 2007 really hurt the Labour Party and I always felt was a bit of a psychological blow. I don’t think they will have enough to take this back from Alistair Allan but, then again, I am not sure that it really is a seat they expect to take.

Prediction: SNP Win

Argyll and Bute

Having lost this seat in 2007, the Lib Dems would have seen this as a target seat for this year until two factors got in the way. First, that pesky Coalition Government again and, second, that in selecting Michael Russell for this seat guaranteed a high profile campaign from one of the SNP “big beasts.”

Prediction: SNP win.

Airdrie and Shotts

Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t even thought about this seat as being up for grabs and yet now I have started to look at it I really don’t know why I ignored it before. A Notional majority of just 600 and a popular SNP Candidate make this a massive seat for both parties. This will be clear illustration of “air war” versus “ground war.” If Labour’s strategy is to be proven correct then this will be where it shows itself. To win here they need to get their vote out with bodies on the ground. If they manage that, they could hold this (similar to Cumbernauld & Kilsyth in 2007) but if that falters, or if the “air war” proves to be more effective then expect an SNP win which would almost certainly mean they become the largest party.

Prediction: SNP win

Aberdeen Central

A notional SNP majority at the moment against a sitting Labour MSP in Lewis MacDonald. I suspect that, to some extent, this might become a bit of a referendum on the performance of Aberdeen City Council, with the SNP Candidate, Kevin Stewart, being Depute Convener. If it were not for that factor I would think this would be a comfortable SNP hold but I think the combination of a sitting MSP and some of the difficulties in the Council will make it close.

Prediction: Labour win

Linlithgow

Another brilliant seat to watch with very interesting factors in play and the third of my “can’t they both win” seats. Mary Mulligan is, in my opinion, an underrated MSP and one I think Labour could make better use of at Holyrood. She is up against Fiona Hyslop who, after some difficulties in her previous role as Education Minister seems more at home with the culture brief. I think this really is a crucial seat. I need to make sure my head rules my here because, again, I would like both women to be returned to Holyrood.

Prediction: SNP win

Clackmannanshire and Dunblane

Similarly to some of the other seats where there is a sitting MSP with a relatively high ministerial profile, I think the SNP will win this one. However, I don’t think it will go entirely with the national polls and the majority will be slimmer than expected.

Prediction: SNP win

Clydesdale

For Labour, a defeat here would signal a disastrous night and some serious soul-searching I suspect. However, Karen Gillon is so well known in the area and has impressed more and more over the last couple of years at Holyrood I think this should be a relatively comfortably Labour win although perhaps with a slightly smaller majority.

Prediction: Labour win

Dumbarton

I know that The Burd thought a few weeks ago that this one might be at risk but seemed to back away from that position. And yet, I don’t know why everyone is so sure. The majority for Jackie Baillie is a notional 1500 and I have certainly predicted bigger swings than that above. I suppose this is in the unthinkable category because of Baillie’s high profile and her reputation as one of the most able members of Labour’s front bench. If this seat SNP then I would expect the front page of the papers to lead with this one.

Prediction: Labour win

The Wildcard:

Shetland
Now I should begin by saying that I really don’t see this seat changing hands but if it does, or even if it’s closer, then it would be nothing short of cataclysmic for the Scottish Lib Dems. The loss of their leader in an election wipe-out could also have major implications for the UK -wide party. Could this be the excuse that Scottish Lib Dems unhappy with the coalition need to begin more of a campaign against the UK overnment? Would Charles Kennedy rush to the aid of the Lib Dems at Holyrood? All interesting to speculate about.