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20 October 2016

Last Scottish Labour MP risks losing seat in boundary changes

Ian Murray has a fight on his hands. 

By Julia Rampen

The SNP’s leader in the Commons has described plans to shrink the number of constituencies in Scotland as “unacceptable” – but it’s Labour which has more at stake in boundary changes. 

The Boundary Commission for Scotland has published initial proposals for a reduction in the number of constituencies from 59 to 53. The boundary changes for English constituencies have already been published

However, Labour may be more concerned about the boundary changes in practice – one of the seats affected is that of its only remaining MP, Ian Murray. He has also denounced the Tory-introduced plans as “unfair, undemocratic and unacceptable”.

A new constituency of Edinburgh South West and Central encompasses parts of Murray’s existing Edinburgh South seat, but also that of his next door neighbour’s, the Edinburgh South West SNP MP Joanna Cherry. Another part of his existing constituency now falls under Edinburgh East. He must now decide whether to contest Cherry or his other neighbour, Tommy Sheppard, an SNP MP popular with the grassroots.

Scotland’s only Tory MP, David Mundell, is also affected by the change, with his seat Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale disappearing in the shake up.

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Two MPs have been spared from changes – SNP MP for the Western Isles, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Angus MacNeil, and the Liberal Democrat Orkney and Shetland islands MP Alistair Carmichael. 

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As a result of the boundary changes, all but these island constituencies will have broadly the same number of electors.

SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson MP said: “The proposals to cut the number of elected representatives in Scotland are unacceptable.”

He added: “It is outrageous and undemocratic that the UK government is planning to cut the number of Scottish MPs while it continues to pack the unelected and unaccountable House of Lords with yet more Tory donors and cronies to do the government’s bidding.”

SNP MPs in the Highlands are also concerned about having to travel even greater distances to reach one side or another of their constituency, a journey which can already take hours.

Dr Paul Monaghan, the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: “For the Highlands, the proposals are particularly significant. What we are talking about here is a geographic area, which at almost 36,000 km2, is getting on for twice the size of Wales and is almost 6,000 km2 larger than Belgium. 

“It is fact an area similar in size to Denmark, the Netherlands or Switzerland. Within this vast area one proposed constituency, ‘Highland North’ at 13,000 km2, is roughly the same size as the whole of Northern Ireland.

“These comparisons highlight the fact that in bringing forward proposals to meddle with the boundaries of Scotland’s parliamentary constituencies absolutely no account whatsoever has been taken of the geographic challenges that Scotland’s rural communities face.”