Morton Dunlop has the latest on the general election news in Stirling.
One area widely identified as a key Scottish battleground in the upcoming general election is that of Stirling. The SNP has made no secret of their desire to recapture the sought-after seat in the heart of the central belt with the selection of high-profile MEP Alyn Smith to contest it. Looking to retain his slender advantage as Conservative MP is Steven Kerr, who in 2017 prised the constituency from Steven Paterson by just 148 votes. Its importance is reflected in the deployment of significant figures to the marginal from both camps, such as former Prime Minister Theresa May and, on the very first day of the campaign, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Both sides will hope they have a path to victory on election night. As an area which voted strongly to remain in the UK (68%) but which also voted 5% above the national average to vote against independence (60%), both the SNP and Conservatives will inevitably seek to frame the contest under the terms of remaining in the EU and UK respectively. Alyn Smith has positioned opposition to Brexit and his 16 years of experience in the European Parliament, both in representing Scotland and more recently fighting for its place in Europe, front and centre of his campaign. Stephen Kerr has aimed to portray himself as a “pragmatic” Brexiter in terms of his belief in upholding the result of the 2016 referendum and has looked to further distinguish himself from his rival by emphasising his roots in the local area.
In other respects the area is one which some have argued as being a microcosm of Scotland itself. The constituency contains both rural and urban areas, with around a third of its population making up the former. As in many other areas of Scotland, much will depend on how turnout is affected by the early nights and potential bad weather for the December general election. With its historic significance and the presence of attractions such as Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, tourism is an important asset to the local economy, but like many parts of Scotland and the UK, there is also a significant disparity in socio-economic conditions, for example between areas such as Dunblane and the Raploch. However, despite the stated preference of many who live there that the campaign be fought on local issues such as broadband, transport, jobs and housing, the outcome of the campaign in Stirling seems destined to be used to take the political pulse in Scotland due to its varied demographics and previous decisive stances on constitutional issues.
Both parties will be looking to extract key messages from the outcome should they take the seat. Should Stephen Kerr be returned as MP in the seat, the Conservatives will take it as a sign they may be able to retain the bulk of their seats north of the border and potentially play a notable role in delivering a Conservative majority. The party would take confidence they could retain support without Ruth Davidson and claim the result as a firm rebuke against any second independence referendum. The SNP will be confident of doing enough on the night to reclaim Stirling and are broadly predicted to secure eight additional seats, bolstered by current PM Boris Johnson’s unenviable approval ratings in Scotland. By securing Stirling, the party would argue such an outcome was representative of further protest both to Scotland being taken out the EU against its will and the impact of Westminster-led policies. But with SNP gains only estimated to come at the expense of the Conservatives in the constituencies of Stirling and East Renfrewshire – lending both areas an additional air of psychological importance – they will be eager to take nothing for granted. It is often said that “he who holds Stirling, holds Scotland”. If one thing seems certain it’s that one of the SNP or Conservatives will agree with that assertion on the morning of Friday 13 December.