Election 2017: Labour eyes battlegrounds

By Nick Eardley
BBC Scotland

  • Published
Tony Blair after 1997 general election victoryImage source, PA
Image caption,
Tony Blair's general election victory in 1997 saw the party take 56 of Scotland's then 72 seats

Twenty years ago on Monday, Labour won a landslide in the 1997 election. As part of Tony Blair's victory, the party took 56 of Scotland's then 72 seats.

Labour hasn't had its troubles to seek in Scotland recently.

Two years ago it went from being the dominant force in general elections in Scotland with 41 seats to holding just one. Areas which had been Labour heartlands for decades turned SNP yellow.

This time the party will first and foremost be looking to hold on to Edinburgh South, the seat Ian Murray took to remain the party's sole Scottish MP. He had a majority of 2,637 in 2015.

Party sources are confident they can do that; Labour won the equivalent seat at Holyrood last year and this area voted remain like its pro-EU MP.

But the Conservatives think they could attract some votes here - and some in the SNP think that could be good news for them if unionist votes are split.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Ian Murray became Labour's sole Scottish MP following the general election in 2015

Insiders say suggestions Labour will only target three seats in Scotland are incorrect.

Sources say there are a number of seats where they think they are "in play". But there are two seats other than Mr Murray's that will receive a lot of attention over the next few weeks.

Firstly, East Renfrewshire - the seat lost by then Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy a couple of years ago.

The party thinks this is a seat where the independence question will be key - 63.2% of voters hear voted No in 2014 (although that didn't stop the SNP winning by nearly 4,000 votes in the following year's general election).

Labour has picked former Better Together chief Blair McDougall to fight the seat to try and, it hopes, attract the unionist vote.

But the Conservatives are also keen on this one - not least because they took the similar seat at the Holyrood election last year (Paul Masterton is their candidate).

Image source, Blair McDougall
Image caption,
Blair McDougall was campaign director for Better Together in 2014

The SNP will also work hard to keep this constituency too - Nicola Sturgeon visited the seat last week.

The other seat Labour is optimistic in is East Lothian. At the Holyrood election last year, the party's education spokesman Iain Gray increased his majority over his nearest SNP challenger.

The party has picked Martin Whitfield to take on incumbent George Kerevan (who won a quite remarkable victory in 2015, overturning a 12,258 Labour majority to win by 6,803 votes).

This is another area which voted strongly against independence in 2014 - 62% voting No.

Labour is hoping it can win back some of the support it used to enjoy here (Ruth Davidson visited last week, so the Tories are paying attention here too).

Image source, Martin Whitfield
Image caption,
Martin Whitfield has been picked to contest the East Lothian seat

There are other areas where party strategists think they can be competitive.

They include (though aren't limited to) Glasgow East, Aberdeen South, Edinburgh North and Leith, Paisley and Renfrewshire North and Paisley and Renfrewshire South.

But elsewhere the party acknowledges there are places it isn't competitive, so it's likely it will focus on some of the areas above.

You can read more about what the other parties are thinking ahead of 8 June below. We'll have a blog on the Conservatives' targets on Monday.

* There will be a full list of candidates online after the close of nominations.

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