Constituency profile: Nationalists face Unionist challenge in ‘big Remain constituency’

Anstruther, East Fife coastline. Pic: Phil Wilkinson/TSPL staff.

Anstruther, East Fife coastline. Pic: Phil Wilkinson/TSPL staff.

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North East Fife and its roughly equivalent predecessor constituency of East Fife is no stranger to having A-list politicians as candidates.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell represented the constituencies for nearly 20 years, as did former Liberal prime minister H.H Asquith.

Meanwhile, a young John Smith cut his teeth as a losing Labour candidate in the seat, as did former first minister Henry McLeish.

The seat takes in a number of coastal areas, and is mainly affluent and partly rural, with a number of towns and villages around the Firth of Tay.

It is home to St Andrews, home of golf and Scotland’s oldest university, and further inland towns including Cupar and Aucthermuchty.

The SNP’s Stephen Gethins, defending the seat he won by just over 4,000 votes in 2015, might not have the profile of his famous forebears, but he thinks he has done enough to win over voters in the face of a two-pronged Unionist challenge.

“This is a very big Remain constituency,” Mr Gethins told The Scotsman during a break in campaigning.

“We voted to stay in the EU by a higher margin than the rest of the country, and this constituency relies on that relationship with Europe for so much, not just through the university [of St Andrews] but with tourism as well, being the official home of golf.

“I think my work on the EU will help me with voters next month, I’ve built up a profile here and further afield through my work as Europe spokesman at Westminster and on the foreign affairs select committee.”

Mr Gethins’s bullishness is in spite of the Lib Dems, who are traditionally strong in the area, winning the equivalent Holyrood seat last year, with party leader Willie Rennie taking pundits by surprise by overturning a 3,000 SNP majority.

But it’s a lazy assumption, insist the SNP in the area, that the two constituencies are the same. The Westminster seat is larger, with some parts more likely to be friendly to Nicola Sturgeon’s party, such as Leven.

Mr Gethins, who says he works well with Mr Rennie, is keen to see off the challenge of Elizabeth Riches, the Lib Dem candidate, by seeking a number of key endorsements. He has been backed by Andy Myles, a former Scottish Lib Dem chief executive and special adviser to Nicol Stephen who has since left the party and backed independence.

Ms Riches stood down from her seat at the local elections earlier this month and is the bookmakers’ favourite to win in North East Fife, where Mr Rennie is taking a hands-on approach.

The Lib Dems are confident of trebling their representation from Scotland at Westminster, with Edinburgh West and Orkney and Shetland targeted alongside Mr Gethins’s target seat.

Mr Rennie has made a number of visits to the constituency, one of the party’s main target seats at the election.

However, perhaps the biggest threat to Mr Gethins could come from Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives, who were a distant third two years ago, but are enjoying a revival.

There were few places that was more pronounced at the local elections than Fife, where the party gained 12 seats at the expense of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

North East Fife candidate Tony Miklinski was one of those new councillors, and has adopted the independence-centric campaign favoured by Scottish Tory candidates, putting their opposition to another poll on the constitution front and centre.

Conservative candidate Huw Bell was 11,000 votes behind Mr Gethins two years ago, but there are Tory target seats predicted to overcome bigger margins, such as in East Renfrewshire.

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