Situated in the North East of Scotland, surrounded by spectacular forests and stunning Lochs, it provides a home to exquisite castles including the royal favourite of Balmoral. It stretches all the way to The Cairngorms National Park in the shadow of the picturesque mountains. No, this is not a tourism pitch; this is my local Westminster constituency.
British politics has been invigorated, and so have I and the millions of individuals that in May will cast their votes to elect the next government. These feelings are typified in my local seat of West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, where any of three parties have a realistic chance of securing the constituency. A sentiment characterised by Alexander Burnett, the Tory candidate for the seat – “the people of West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine`s votes have never counted more”.
What adds further to the contest is that the constituency is part of Scotland’s keenly fought electoral mass. Scotland is widely considered vital to the election outcome, in part because, as analysts have suggested –“the people of Scotland may prove crucial in deciding the outcome of the Westminster election…, with opinion polls continuing to suggest that the SNP could poach dozens of the country’s 59 seats from Labour”.
A little history regarding the constituency illustrates its fascinating nature. West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine is an old Conservative stronghold in Scotland, which since 1997 has been dominated by the Liberal Democrats. The 38% of the vote garnered in the 2010 election is the only time the Lib Dems have won the seat with less than 40%, but this still saw them achieve a comfortable 8 point margin. However, the areas that constitute the constituency in the 2011 Holyrood Election were all comprehensively won by the SNP.
The Independent named this constituency as one of 100 seats that will decide the election – “although now a Lib Dem seat with the Tories in second both Coalition parties could be punished by the SNP in May”. Labour, traditionally strong in Scotland, have never proven popular in this area, and are likely to come a distant fourth.
The Tories have been as popular in Scotland since Thatcher as an England footballing triumph, however West Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire offers a chance for a rare seat north of the border, with Burnett providing a strong candidacy. The major considerations amongst the locals include land ownership. Significant numbers of land owning families are residents in this vast constituency, one of which is Burnett himself. This demographic has historically provided a strong Tory support base here. With the Conservatives the only party not campaigning for the perpetuation of inheritance and land reforms, offering strong incentives to the farming industry, they have a strong foundation within the region.
The prospect of a Conservative gain within my locale quite frankly fills me with dread, as it would many in the area and the masses across Scotland which have largely been firmly entrenched to the left. Yet, despite this I believe it to be a positive. The Tories are seen to be competitive in a few seats in Scotland, which contemporarily has been rare. Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk or Edinburgh South could realistically have a Tory MP after May 7th. However, across Britain in regions considered safe or historical Tory seats there is also uncertainty. This can only be healthy for British politics, which has consistently offered two stale and uninspiring options.
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine’s long-standing incumbent is Sir Robert Smith, who has occupied the seat since 1997. Again another land-owner, Smith has comfortably won this seat across three decades. Nevertheless, across the country Lib Dem support is dwindling and that pattern is expected to be repeated here.
The SNP will be represented by Stuart Donaldson, who aged in his 20’s will be one of the youngest MP’s if elected. His youth will worry voters, particularly those in older generations. Nevertheless in this unique election, where the SNP support across Scotland shows no sign of abating, a young fresh candidate could offer great appeal.
Other primary considerations to the local electorate could provide a basis for strong SNP support. The constituency is on the outskirts of Aberdeen which is dominated by the North Sea oil industry. The protection of the industry from falling oil prices will be a concern for many voters, who work for and benefit from the industry. The Tories may suffer in this regard due to initiatives coming from the Conservative government in Westminster being deemed lethargic and underwhelming thus far. Teacher shortages also plague the surrounding areas and a recent SNP initiative through the Scottish Government to address this situation has been well received in local areas.
So who will win? The majority of polling suggests that the Liberal Democrats will be the big losers and the chance of winning a fifth straight victory in the constituency is improbable. Election Calculus gives them a miserly 2% chance of claiming the seat.
A series outlets and analysts are predicting a strong Conservative showing, largely due to the immense funding the Tories have provided to the constituency, making it one of their primary targets. However I believe it will be Donaldson and the SNP celebrating in May. Lord Ashcroft’s recent polling data gives the SNP a healthy 14 point lead, and that is in spite of the Liberals and Tories (who both trail heavily) contacting more people within the constituency. The smart money, like with many other constituencies in Scotland, would be on an SNP victory.