Winner in 2019 of predecessor seat of East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow – Lisa Cameron (elected  as SNP, switched to Conservatives in 2023)

THE Conservative Member of Parliament for East Kilbride” sounds like the punchline  to a joke but it’s been a very  real phenomenon over the last few months due to Lisa Cameron’s extraordinary decision to defect from the SNP to the Tories in October last year. 

It had been widely known that she was unhappy with what she regarded as her SNP colleagues’ intolerance towards her views on social issues such as abortion, and she was in line to be deselected as the local SNP candidate anyway.

So it wouldn’t have been a massive shock if Cameron had resigned the whip to sit as an independent MP, or even if she had defected to a smaller pro-independence party. 

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But by taking the more extreme step of joining the one party that is completely anathema to the type of constituency she represents for well-known historical reasons, she destroyed the theoretical chance of using any personal following she had built up to try to defend her seat under a new banner.

The Tories won’t even be fielding Cameron as their candidate in the redrawn constituency of East Kilbride and Strathaven, which means it’s entirely possible that the defection will end up having more or less zero effect on their local electoral fortunes.

On the notional results last time they took 22% of the vote and that will probably go down sharply in line with national trends. But the more interesting question is whether the defection will have some impact on the battle between the SNP and Labour for the seat.

Labour have punted the line that people “voted SNP and got Tory”, which is cheeky of them, given that Labour MPs themselves haven’t been immune to switching party in the past.  It also shouldn’t really ring true as a reason not to vote SNP this time, because the new SNP candidate Grant Costello couldn’t be more different from his predecessor and presents no plausible risk whatsoever of defecting to the Conservatives in the future.

But it’s an unfortunate truth that some voters are “low information” and are thus vulnerable to simplistic and misleading messaging.

It can’t be ruled out that there will be a drag on the SNP’s local support due to the Cameron episode, which would be the last thing they need because the odds are probably slightly against them in East Kilbride and Strathaven. 

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On the notional 2019 results, their lead over  Labour in the constituency was just under 25 percentage points, very close to the Scotland-wide gap between the two parties.  So if Labour have any sort of national lead over the SNP at all on July 4, they would likely gain the seat on a uniform swing. 

But if the SNP are looking around for signs of optimism, one thing that leaps out is that 66% of the constituency’s voters are believed to have backed Remain in the 2016 EU referendum, four points higher than the Scotland-wide figure. 

(Image: PA)

That ought to pose a significant problem for the Labour Party following Angela Rayner’s clear statement in the recent ITV debate that Labour would never take Britain back into the EU, and Stephen Flynn’s (above) equally clear statement that the SNP do want to take Scotland back in. 

But it’s doubtful that the SNP have really made Brexit a prominent enough issue in the campaign, so far at least, for it to be the decisive factor in a seat like East Kilbride and Strathaven.

This is a race that may go down to the wire, and the SNP will perhaps only be truly confident of holding the seat if they can re-establish a decent national cushion over Labour prior to polling day.