20 December 2009

On Changing Chambers

We learn this morning that Cathy Jamieson, the Labour MSP for Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley and Shadow Housing Secretary, seeks to replace Des Browne as MP for Kilmarnock & Loudoun.

She should be wary as history is against her: only one sitting MSP has managed to make it to Westminster - David Mundell, then MSP for the South of Scotland and now MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale. Other Tory MSPs have tried and failed to make it : Alex Johnstone (who is trying again in West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine after not managing to win in 2005), Jamie McGrigor (who stood in Argyll & Bute in 2005) and Phil Gallie (who sought to return to the Commons in 2001 after being caught in the 1997 wipeout). The only other former MSP to make it to Westminster is Ben Wallace, who stood down in 2003 having been MSP for North East Scotland, and ended up the successful Tory candidate in Lancaster & Wyre (ironically, that seat is being split up next year and Wallace is now fighting Wyre & Preston North). Meanwhile, the only precedent of a sitting Labour MSP trying to move to the Green Benches is not a happy one: Margaret Curran suffering a 22% swing against her to come second in the Glasgow East By-Election. However, she is trying again at the General Election.

Together with the aforementioned Johnstone and Curran, Cathy Jamieson is one of four present MSPs looking to re-locate to London: the fourth is John Lamont, Tory MP for Roxburgh & Berwickshire, who has his eye on Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk. It should also be noted that Jamieson is merely seeking her Party's selection and her candidacy is still to be formally confirmed. The other three have been selected and barring any hiccups, will appear on a ballot paper in their respective constituencies next Spring.

For the record, if Cathy Jamieson were to win the nomination, she would be defending a majority of 8,703 against the SNP, and a 10% swing would prevent her from making the transfer However, her present Holyrood Constituency (or at least, her revised constituency following the boundary changes) will require only a 7% swing for her to be dislodged.

There are other factors to consider: Cathy Jamieson will have to rely on being seen as a prominent Labour politician as her current seat only just overlaps with the constituency she's after at Westminster: about 10,000 voters around Mauchline and Auchinleck are in both Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley for Holyrood and Kilmarnock & Loudoun for Westminster. This situation is analogous with Alex Salmond's position as MP for Gordon and MSP for Banff & Buchan, and he did manage to take the SNP from third to first in Gordon in 2007, but 1) that was a good election for the SNP anyway, whereas a bad election is forecast for Labour; and 2) he was and is a bigger draw than Cathy Jamieson: he was and is the SNP Leader and sought to be First Minister; she was Labour Deputy Leader at Holyrood, is the current Housing Spokesperson and seeks to be a Backbencher.

Accordingly, she will find it tough: particularly as the SNP candidate will have been able to 'work' the area for some time, while she's stepping in quite suddenly. That Electoral Calculus categorises this seat as 'Not Safe' won't help.

And if she does win, that'll create a new problem in Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley, where Labour will have around a year to find a new candidate. Further, they're vulnerable to a smaller swing than Kilmarnock & Loudoun, while the probable SNP opponent will be Adam Ingram, Minister for Children and sitting MSP for South of Scotland since 1999. History shows that sitting regional MSPs get a bonus swing when the incumbent constituency MSP stands down: Christine Grahame slashed the LibDem majority when Ian Jenkins stood down in 2003; Kenny MacAskill overturned the Labour majority altogether in Edinburgh East & Musselburgh in 2007 after Susan Deacon stepped down, and you'd have thought that Dennis Canavan's retirement in Falkirk West ought to have seen the seat revert to Labour; instead, Michael Matheson won it for the SNP. So a Jamieson victory in Kilmarnock & Loudoun makes Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley a very tempting and realistic SNP target.

One last thing: there's a wider problem for Iain Gray in that having lost one frontbencher to a Westminster campaign, he now stands to lose another. Worse still, Cathy Jamieson's post as Shadow Housing Secretary means that she represents the Party on Gray's 'priority' (for which read 'fad') for the parliamentary year.

It now transpires that his Housing Spokesperson's primary aim is to re-house herself.

1 comment:

subrosa said...

Aye Will it's risky for Cathy. Makes me wonder why the wish to get to Westminster. More money? More job security? Or perhaps she's just fed up with her incompetent colleagues.