Scottish election 2016: Mid-Scotland and Fife preview

4 May 2016

The Kingdom of Fife is one of the few of Scotland’s regions which has returned a variety of different parties in elections both to Westminster and Holyrood. Here, Juliet Swann offers an overview of electoral fortunes since 1999 and details the 2016 contests. She writes that while a strong performance from the SNP is inevitable, the regional lists could see a variety of other parties secure seats in Holyrood.

The electoral history of the region

The 1999 election saw Labour win six of the nine constituencies, the SNP took two and the Liberal Democrats won North East Fife. This broadly reflected the make-up of the Westminster constituencies in the region with the central stronghold of Kirkcaldy represented by Gordon Brown, the North East by Menzies Campbell and the SNP’s Pete Wishart in Perth.

In 2003 little changed, although the SNP won the seat of Ochil from Labour – sending George Reid as a constituency MSP, although he served as Presiding Officer for the second Parliamentary term. Fife also sent its first Green MSP to Holyrood in the person of Mark Ruskell, who is hoping to repeat that feat in 2016. The 2003 – 2007 term saw the Liberal Democrat’s list MSP, Keith Raffan, resign, introducing Fife to the rule that the next party candidate on the list takes over without a by-election, and Andrew Arbuckle entered Holyrood. Another list MSP, the Conservative’s Brian Monteith resigned the party whip but continued to sit as an independent – another curiosity of the list system (although Margo MacDonald was the first MSP to sit as an independent after being elected on the SNP list).

Fife’s affection for Labour showed signs of waning in 2007 with the party losing Fife Central to the SNP and Dunfermline West to the Liberal Democrats. The list system ensured they kept five MSPs but the Liberal Democrat total of two constituencies meant they didn’t return a list MSP in this session.

The SNP landslide in 2011 engulfed Fife, with both Liberal Democrat constituencies moving to the SNP and Labour losing all but Cowdenbeath – held by Helen Eadie. The list system again played its role in keeping the region balanced, with the Liberal Democrats winning back a list seat, Labour holding three, the Conservatives two, and the SNP one.

Since that election, mid Scotland and Fife has seen a high turnover of its MSPs. The lead Labour list candidate, John Park, resigned to take a job with the trade union Community. He was replaced by the next available Labour list candidate – Jayne Baxter. Bill Walker of the SNP had been a surprise winner in Dunfermline and when he was convicted of domestic abuse his resignation triggered a by-election which was won by Cara Hilton for Labour. The death of Helen Eadie also saw a by-election, with Labour’s Alex Rowley holding the seat. Tricia Marwick was elected to serve as Presiding Officer and is now standing down, with Jenny Gilruth contesting the seat. After all that tumult during the session, the other constituencies are all being defended by the incumbent, and the list candidates remain broadly the same.

The 2016 contests

Clackmannanshire and Dunblane

Ex-marine Keith Brown is defending this seat for the SNP against a Labour challenger, Craig Miller who has been working as a researcher for former Fife MSP Dr Richard Simpson. As one of the early SNP wins in the region it seems unlikely that Keith will be too troubled on May 5th.

Cowdenbeath

Having held the seat in the by-election caused by the death of Helen Eadie, Alex Rowley will be hoping that he can withstand the SNP tidal wave. Annabelle Ewing, daughter of SNP heroine Winnie Ewing, current list MSP and a Minister in Nicol Sturgeon’s cabinet will be seeking to defeat that hope. Alex did substantially increase Labour’s majority in the 2015 by-election, but whether he can hold out against the national trend remains to be seen. As deputy leader of the party he is the lead list candidate – and Annabelle is second behind certain-to-hold-Perthshire North John Swinney so it’s fair to assume both candidates will be returned to Holyrood.

Dunfermline

Dunfermline has a complicated history. Its former status as the capital of Scotland and the upcoming electoral context suggests this is not the end of that complexity.

Bill Walker took Dunfermline in 2011 as part of the surprise SNP majority win. His opponent was Alex Rowley, former Labour council leader in Fife, who has since won a by-election in neighbouring Cowdenbeath. Bill’s small majority was dwarfed by Cara Hilton in the Dunfermline by-election called after Bill Walker eventually resigned following pressure after his conviction for domestic abuse.

Bill’s conviction caused substantial discussion about the SNP’s approval process. It also led to the SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems selecting a woman to contest the seat in the by-election (the Conservatives stuck with James Reekie, their candidate from 2011, and the Greens selected Zara Kitson – her first outing as a candidate for election). Despite Shirley-Anne Somerville’s strong reputation she failed to hold the seat for the SNP and it was won by Cara Hilton. Cara is the daughter of long-time Labour representative and former Falkirk MSP Cathy Peattie.

2016 sees Cara and Shirley-Anne battle it out again, but without the Bill Walker scandal it seems likely Shirley-Anne will win Dunfermline and return to Holyrood. (She was an unlikely Lothian MSP in 2007 after Stefan Tymkewycz decided to stick with his local council post ahead of being an MSP but then lost her list seat when the SNP took all but one of the Lothian constituencies in 2011 – meaning they didn’t win any list seats).

Mid-Fife and Glenrothes

Tricia Marwick’s retirement sees new SNP candidate Jenny Gilruth fighting to retain this seat against Labour’s Kay Morrison. Jenny currently works as a teacher but previously worked in Tricia Marwick’s constituency office so will have a good sense of the lay of the land and will be familiar to constituents. Kay is Fife’s deputy provost so will also be well known in the area. However, she seems unlikely to overturn the SNP majority of 4,188.

North East Fife

Roderick Campbell doubled the SNP vote and leapt from third to first place in this traditionally Liberal Democrat constituency to take the seat with a majority of 2,592 over Iain Smith in 2011. In the 2015 Westminster election, the larger Westminster constituency that includes Holyrood’s North East Fife saw a 27% swing to the SNP who had previously taken fourth place. Willie Rennie will be hoping he can persuade the former Liberal Democrat voters in the seat to back him but his hopes may be forlorn. He is also the lead Liberal Democrat list candidate. Roderick Campbell meanwhile is 8th on the SNP list.

Kirkcaldy

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has seen his old seat fall to the SNP both at Holyrood and at Westminster. The current MSP, David Torrance has a majority of 182 – the small margin with which he took the seat from Labour’s Marilyn Livingstone. This time around, current Labour list MSP Claire Baker is standing for Labour and will be trying to win back those 182 votes – and more. At the Westminster election Kirkcaldy saw a 38% swing to the SNP, so Claire’s chances seem fairly slim. She is second on the list so if all goes as predicted she should still be back in Holyrood.

Perthshire North

John Swinney will hold Perthshire North. He has a majority of over 10,000. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Perthshire North is that the Conservatives have historically come in second. Murdo Fraser, current MSP and lead Conservative list candidate in the region, is reprising his battle against John even though there is no hope of a win.

Perthshire South and Kinross-shire

Another seat where the Conservatives come second, and second placed Conservative list candidate Liz Smith is standing against Roseanna Cunningham. She won’t win. For all that Roseanna is a bit Marmite, and was responsible for the unpopular Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, she will hold this seat comfortably.

Stirling

Bruce Crawford leapfrogged his 2003 Conservative rival candidate Brian Monteith (who had re-joined the party by this time) to beat both Brian’s successor, Bob Dalrymple and Labour’s Sylvia Jackson in 2007. He substantially increased his majority in 2011 despite boundary changes which theoretically made the seat more winnable for Labour. Bruce Crawford isn’t standing on the SNP list but he will be back at Holyrood.

The regional lists

As with every other region where the SNP seem likely to take most if not all of the constituencies, the lists are where the interest will lie on election night.

The SNP’s first five list candidates are also standing in constituencies, which they will probably win. The only doubts lie with the Labour-held Cowdenbeath and Dunfermline but with Annabelle Ewing sitting in second behind John Swinney (who will win his seat) and Shirley-Anne Somerville in fourth behind Keith Brown (who will also win his seat), the magical balancing act that is the Holyrood voting system should see them both returned on the list even if Labour do hold those two constituencies.

If the SNP win all the constituencies and do well enough to win a list seat, we could get to see Alycia Hayes at Holyrood. Alycia is currently a councillor for the Trossachs and Teith ward and has worked for Bruce Crawford in the past. She worked as a freelance opera singer for 18 years.

Labour’s list is headed by Alex Rowley and Claire Baker. Alex should be returned to Holyrood – either as the constituency MSP for Cowdenbeath or as that first list MSP. Labour’s regional vote should be large enough that even once divided by two after he wins, Claire will also be returned to Holyrood. Sitting third on the list, and not standing in a constituency, is Thomas Docherty, who stands an outside chance of taking a place at Holyrood. Thomas lost his seat as an MP in 2015 after serving 5 years at Westminster.

Murdo Fraser and Liz Smith should be back in Holyrood for the Conservatives, and if the Conservative vote grows back to 2003 levels they could be joined by Dean Lockhart.

Willie Rennie will be hoping the Liberal Democrat list vote holds up and gets him back in, but Mark Ruskell for the Greens will be looking to repeat his 2003 list win, and there will probably not be a huge number of votes in it. And then there’s UKIP. UKIP won around 10% of the vote in this region in the European elections in 2014. The Liberal Democrats won a list seat in 2011 with just 6% of the vote, so Colin Mitchelson may also be in the mix towards the end of the list seat allocation.

This post represents the views of the author, who writes in a personal capacity, and not those of the Democratic Dashboard or the LSE. This post first appeared on the Democratic Audit blog.

Juliet Swann is an elections expert who has worked at the Electoral Reform Society Scotland and the Citizens Advice Bureau.