A few hours ago, I received an email revealing that our local SNP candidate for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East has been selected (Stuart McDonald, in case you're wondering). It reminded me of a vague plan that I had of doing occasional blogposts to assess the SNP's chances of winning individual constituencies. So where better to start than with my own home patch?
Within my lifetime, the SNP have always put up Westminster candidates here more in hope than expectation. That's in spite of the fact that there is actually a very long-standing SNP tradition in the town of Cumbernauld. Perhaps because of its status as a New Town, Labour have never been able to weigh the votes here as they've customarily expected to do in most nearby towns. The SNP even controlled the old Cumbernauld and Kilsyth District Council for a spell in the 1970s, and were very unlucky not to regain control in 1988 (Labour and the SNP won an equal number of seats, but Labour retained power after a cut of the cards). Hopes of SNP control were dashed for a generation as a result of the Tory gerrymandering of local authority boundaries in the 1990s, which saw Cumbernauld and Kilsyth chucked into the huge North Lanarkshire authority, even though neither town had historically been part of Lanarkshire. Logically Cumbernauld should have become part of East Dunbartonshire, and Kilsyth should either have returned to Stirlingshire, or gone with Cumbernauld into East Dunbartonshire. But at the time John Major's colonial government was still deluding itself that Stirling and East Dunbartonshire were going to be Tory fortresses, which meant that the inclusion of large working-class towns without Tory representation was unthinkable. So a cacophony of protests was totally ignored, and the whole area was conveniently chucked into a "big Labour dustbin" - albeit a Labour dustbin that was destined to vote in favour of Scottish independence twenty years later!
Cumbernauld's former Dunbartonshire connection meant that it was part of the old East Dunbartonshire constituency until 1983. As a result, Cumbernauld (but not Kilsyth) does have a past history of being represented at Westminster by the SNP - Margaret Bain (later to become Margaret Ewing) was the MP for four-and-a-half years after winning by just 22 votes in October 1974. In Holyrood terms, Labour won the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth seat comfortably enough in the first election in 1999, but thereafter came under severe pressure due to the success of the SNP's list MSP Andrew Wilson in providing a high-profile "shadow" constituency service. In 2003 he defied gravity by almost snatching the seat on an enormous swing, but his failure to make it over the line meant that he was out of parliament altogether. Four years later the SNP fielded the lesser-known candidate Jamie Hepburn, who suffered a small swing in the wrong direction against the national trend - although in truth that was probably just an inevitable unwinding of Wilson's extraordinary personal success. In 2011, the dam finally burst, and Hepburn became the first SNP constituency representative in the area since Margaret Bain lost her seat in 1979.
(While I'm on the subject of Jamie Hepburn, I must just mention how impressed I was that he turned up on my doorstep on referendum day in a sharp suit, asking me if I'd voted Yes yet!)
When you bear in mind that pedigree, it's a bit startling - and sobering - to recall just how far back the SNP will be starting from at the Westminster general election next May.
Swing required for the SNP to gain the constituency from Labour = 16.7%
Any other parties in realistic contention? = No
Now here's the good news, which explains why the SNP are standing a candidate in expectation and not just hope for the first time in decades...
National swing from Labour to the SNP implied by the most recent Poll of Polls = 19.9%
So if an election was held tomorrow, it's logical to conclude that the SNP would probably win the constituency with a bit to spare - an outcome that would have seemed utterly impossible until very recently. Unfortunately, though, the SNP wouldn't have to drop back very much over the next five months for the national swing to be too low, meaning they would have to 'over-perform' locally to still have a chance. Could that be achieved? Well, this was one of the highest Yes-voting areas in the whole country (I believe the result was Yes 58%, No 42% within the Holyrood constituency boundaries), so if anywhere is going to produce a significantly bigger Labour-to-SNP swing than the national average, you'd think this would be the place.
And I also don't think Labour are going to enjoy that much of an incumbency bonus - I'm not an avid follower of local politics, but Gregg McClymont doesn't seem to have made an impact since taking over in 2010, and in spite of his recent stint on the Smith Commission is probably still less well known than Jamie Hepburn.
Overall verdict = I'm cautiously hopeful.