As Tory MP Ross Thomson steps down, will the SNP take Aberdeen South?

The Conservative's resignation over groping allegations is to the SNP's advantage. But victory cannot be taken for granted. 

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The Scottish Conservative MP Ross Thomson will not be standing again in his Aberdeen South constituency, following accusations that he groped Labour MP Paul Sweeney. It bodes well, of course, for the SNP’s hopes of re-gaining the seat. Thomson won Aberdeen South from the party at the 2017 general election with a majority of 4,752, and the constituency became a key SNP target in advance of the election. 

The SNP’s candidate, Stephen Flynn, has been capitalising on the “total disarray” that the Conservatives now find themselves in. Following the front-page allegations against Thomson in the Scottish Mail on Sunday, the local Tory association reportedly had to force Thomson out: he only stood aside, it is reported, because the local party chairman refused to sign his nomination papers. The Conservatives face a race against the clock to find a new candidate and start campaigning, losing some of the advantages of incumbency now that it is awkward to point to Thomson’s record in Westminster.  

Flynn, meanwhile, the SNP’s leader on Aberdeen City Council, has a clear run at the seat for a few days (or longer) while his rivals search for a new candidate. He is in the easy position of simply sharing news reports about the downfall of his opponent, accompanied by links to his own campaign’s fundraising page.

But considering the broader national picture in Scotland, matters are slightly more complicated in Aberdeen South. In the SNP’s favour is the constituency’s high support for Remain (67.86 per cent) and the party’s strong polling nationally. The seat is, however, one of the most affluent areas in the UK as a result of oil wealth, and Scottish Conservatives have long hoped that the SNP’s determination to hold a second independence referendum next year, combined with the collapse of Scottish Labour, could unite the pro-Union vote, as well as the Leave vote, behind the Tories. 

Aside from the unique personal circumstances of the candidates in Aberdeen South, this will also be a test of the SNP’s overall electoral strategy, namely, their calculation that it is more advantageous to secure the backing of pro-independence voters than it is Remainer unionists.

The SNP are polling better than in 2017, and have been boosted by the departure of the charismatic Ruth Davidson as Scottish Conservative leader, as well as by this new scandal. Aberdeen South should be theirs for the winning, but victory is far from certain.  

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman

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