Profile: New Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson faces SNP challenge for her seat

Jo Swinson has already claimed victory in one major political battle this year by becoming the UK leader of the Liberal Democrats. But the Scot faces the prospect of another stern test if voters are asked in the coming months to go back to the polls for a third general election in four years.

Lib Dem supporters erect signs promoting Jo Swinson in Bearsden ahead of the 2017 snap general election, which saw her return as an MP. Picture: John Devlin

Her East Dunbartonshire seat, a leafy suburban area outwith the Glasgow municipal boundaries that includes the affluent commuter towns of Bearsden and Milngavie, is one of the SNP’s key targets at any future Westminster poll.

Swinson first won the redrawn constituency in 2005 and comfortably retained it in 2010.

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But five years later she was one of several high-profile victims of the SNP surge which saw the Nationalists claim 56 of 59 seats north of the Border, with broadcaster John Nicolson returned with a majority of 2,167.

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Two years later Swinson was back, winning her old seat with an impressive 5,339 majority on a seven per cent swing from the SNP.

When asked by The Scotsman in 2017 as to why she had decided to stand again, she said: “I couldn’t not do it.

“Particularly in the aftermath of Brexit, and having real concerns about the direction of the country, and then Nicola Sturgeon’s comments about indyref2.

“As someone who cares about those issues I had to do what I could. And one of things that will help us keep the UK together is to make sure the SNP don’t have the seat of East Dunbartonshire - and that was something I knew I could do something about.”

Swinson is an East Dunbartonshire local. She was educated at Douglas Academy, a non-denominational state school in Milngavie which is consistently ranked as among the best in the country.

She went on to graduate from the London School of Economics with a first class degree in management, by which time she was already an active member of the Lib Dems.

In 2001, at the age of 21, Swinson stood unsuccessfully in the Hull East constituency but gained a six per cent swing from John Prescott, the then Labour deputy leader.

Swinson was elected an the MP for East Dunbartonshire at the 2005 general election, when she defeated Labour’s John Lyons to become the first ever MP born in the 1980s.

As an MP for over decade, albeit with a two-year gap, she already enjoys a high profile in her constituency. That can only now grow thanks to the increased number of broadcast appearances she will make as the leader of a major UK party.

Swinson and her supporters will be confident that profile - when added to voter disillusion over Brexit - will ensure she can retain her seat whenever an election is called.

The Nationalists, however, are buoyed by consistent polling that shows they are in the running to win back many of the constituencies they dropped in 2017. The SNP has already proved adept at winning Remain voters fed-up with the UK’s protracted exit from the EU.

And Nicola Sturgeon’s party wasted no time in setting out its stall in opposition to the new Lib Dem era. Within minutes of the leadership announcement being made, the SNP press office issued a release demanding that Swinson apologise for her role in the Tory-Lib Dem coaltion governmet.