General Election preview: Gordon

by Jackie_South on December 24, 2014

Gordon iconWith the General Election only four and a half months away, we are starting a series on constituency contests to watch. But first, as it is Christmas, a story…

WEE ECK

The King Beyond The Wall had lost. He had thrown all he had into the epic battle, and he had taken his troops far further than any had thought possible. No-one doubted his bravery.

But he had still lost. He did the honourable thing – he stood down and anointed his successor, an auburn -headed priestess whose tongue matched the fieriness of her hair.

So now he was king no longer, just lowly Wee Eck.

But although he had lost, he was not yet defeated. As the icy blasts whipped around his face, he realised that to win the war he would need to take the fight beyond the Wall, to smuggle himself into the very capital itself of the Four Kingdoms. Only there could his people truly win power – by striking a deal with whichever new king arose in those less-hardy lands.

To start that journey, he would need to start in the land of The Bruces. Once it had been home to the stronghold of the mightiest of Bruces, Robert, the greatest of the Kings Beyond the Wall. But the land was now ruled by another Bruce, a weak man who had become the deputy to the deputy to the most vicious of Kings known south of The Wall. Now that his people could stand Bruce the Feeble no longer, he was to retire.

At last, here was the chance Wee Eck had been waiting for…

***

When Alex Salmond announced that he was standing down as First Minister in September, speculation quickly mounted on where he might seek to stand in next year’s General Election. Early on, a number of commentators salivated at the possibility of a face-off between Salmond and Danny Alexander in Inverness. But Salmond’s decision to stand in the Aberdeenshire seat of Gordon was always more likely.

The constituency

Gordon covers the area north and north east of Aberdeen straddling the boundary between the unitary authorities of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. Much of it is rural, although it also includes the northernmost parts of the Granite City around Dyce (home to the city’s airport), Danestone and most of Bridge of Don. Three small Aberdeenshire towns are included : Inverurie, Ellon and Huntly. Only Inverurie has a population of over 10,000, and then only just.

The seat stretches along the A90, A96 and railway to Inverness, taking in the lower valleys of the rivers Ury and Ythan, and much of the area around the River Don. This is a seat of hills, rather than mountains, covering most of the ancient districts of Formartine, Garioch and Strathbogie.

Gordon map

The name comes from the Gordon family, lairds of Huntly and Garioch. But this is also an area associated with Robert the Bruce: Kildrummy Castle was his stronghold and his defeat of the Comyns at Inverurie removed his last obstacle to uniting the Scottish north of the Tay before turning his attention to the lowlands.

Another aristocratic family based in the constituency is the Leslies – including feisty Game of Thrones actress Rose Leslie, who was born here (hence my George RR Martin inspired intro). Other famous daughters include Ellon-born Annie Lennox.

Gordon is one of five constituencies across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. Two are currently Liberal Democrat: Gordon, and West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine to the south. Both Aberdeen seats (North and South) are Labour. To the north, Banff and Buchan has been in Scottish Nationalist hands since 1987(Salmond was the MP there from that victory until 2010), as has Moray, the county’s western neighbour.

Aberdeenshire constituencies

Past Parliamentary Elections

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Malcolm Bruce held the seat by a fairly comfortable lead of 14 percent ahead of the second placed Scottish Nationalists in 2010.

Gordon 2010 chart

Gordon 2010 pie

Gordon was created in 1983, with the creation of new constituencies following the 1975 reorganisation of Scottish local government. It comprised parts of two former Conservative constituencies (East and West Aberdeenshire) but has been represented throughout its existence by Malcolm Bruce, first as a Liberal and then as a Liberal Democrat.

Since 1983, there have been two boundary changes: in 1997, it shifted northwards to lose the northern Aberdeen section and gain Keith and Turriff. In 2005, the seat moved southwards again, losing those two towns and regaining the north Aberdeen suburbs.

The first change was a traumatic one for Bruce: having only held on to his seat by 274 votes in 1992, the loss of the suburbs where the Lib Dems were strong in exchange for Conservative vs SNP rural areas looked so disastrous that Bruce spent much of the 1992-97 Parliament juggling studies to become a barrister with his shadow Treasury duties. In the end, the anti-Conservative sentiment in 1997 made victory easy for him and he has had no trouble holding on since.

The votes cast in all the elections since 1983 were as follows:

Gordon 83-10 chart

Or, as percentages:

Gordon 83-10 percent chart

Future Prospects

All of this might not seem to augur well for Alex Salmond’s attempt to re-enter Westminster. But there is a list of reasons why Salmond looks to have made a wise choice.

First, Bruce is standing down. It seems likely that much of his support was a personal vote, and with the Liberal Democrats’ appalling current polling it would be an uphill struggle for a new Lib Dem candidate to hold their ground, given the four-party politics of Scotland.

Second, Salmond is already well established in part of the constituency as the local Member of the Scottish Parliament: his Aberdeenshire East seat is one of three that have parts in this constituency (the others are Aberdeen Donside and Aberdeenshire West), but it is the largest of the three in electorate terms. The map below shows how the Scottish parliamentary boundaries overlap with those of the Gordon constituency.

Gordon Holyrood seats

All the Holyrood constituencies in Aberdeenshire are currently held by the SNP. Salmond’s majority in Aberdeenshire East is massive: a lead of over 50% ahead of the second-placed Liberal Democrats.

The SNP’s lead in Aberdeen Donside was also significant in 2011: 27% ahead of the second-placed Labour Party, although this came down to a more modest 9% lead in the by-election there last year. In Aberdeenshire West, the SNP took the seat from the Liberal Democrats in 2011 with a 14% majority and a stomping 13.5% swing.

Gordon Holyrood majorities

 

The pie chart below shows the total votes cast in the three Holyrood constituencies for the four parties who stood.

Gordon MSP pie

In case you think that 55% for the SNP might be the result of local candidate factors, the votes on the party list in those same elections across these three seats hold up well for the SNP. In fact, those results suggest that it was the Lib Dems that probably benefitted most from personal factors, as MSP Mike Rumbles tried to defend his Aberdeenshire West berth.

Gordon Holyrood list pie

Results at a local authority level also show very strong support for the SNP. Like the Holyrood constituencies, the ward boundaries do not fit neatly into the constituency (due to the ward boundaries being redrawn since their predecessors were used to establish the current Westminster seats) but if we look at the 2012 results across the six Aberdeenshire and two City of Aberdeen wards that most closely match Gordon’s boundaries, we find indications that the 2011 Scottish elections were far from a flash in the pan for the SNP.

Gordon locals pie

In fact, the SNP won the most votes in every single ward in the constituency, as the map below shows. Despite the fact that Banff and Buchan has been an SNP fiefdom for over a quarter of a century, it was Gordon’s Ellon and district ward where they had their second best result (after Banff and district ward) in the county.

Gordon locals map

With a retiring MP, an incumbent party at a historic low ebb, very strong SNP support at local and Holyrood elections and the personal vote from being the local MSP, Salmond looks very well-starred indeed to become Gordon’s next Member of Parliament.

We are confidently predicting an SNP win here.

***

But there again, to borrow from Rose Leslie,

“You know nothing, Jackie South”

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