Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross

2015 Result:
Conservative: 2326 (6.8%)
Labour: 3061 (9%)
Lib Dem: 11987 (35.1%)
SNP: 15831 (46.3%)
UKIP: 981 (2.9%)
MAJORITY: 3844 (11.2%)

Category: Semi-marginal SNP seat


Main population centres:



Current MP
PAUL MONAGHAN (SNP) First elected as MP for Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross in 2015.
Past Results
Con: 3744 (13%)
Lab: 7081 (25%)
LDem: 11907 (41%)
SNP: 5516 (19%)
Oth: 520 (2%)
MAJ: 4826 (17%)
Con: 2835 (10%)
Lab: 5789 (21%)
LDem: 13957 (50%)
SNP: 3686 (13%)
Oth: 1396 (5%)
MAJ: 8168 (30%)
Con: 3513 (14%)
Lab: 6297 (25%)
LDem: 9041 (36%)
SNP: 5273 (21%)
Oth: 743 (3%)
MAJ: 2744 (11%)
Con: 3148 (11%)
Lab: 8122 (28%)
LDem: 10381 (36%)
SNP: 6710 (23%)
Oth: 811 (3%)
MAJ: 2259 (8%)

2015 Candidates
ALASTAIR GRAHAM (Conservative) Headmaster. Surrey Heath councillor since 2007. Contested Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross 2010.
JOHN ERSKINE (Labour) Educated at Dingwall Academy and Stirling University. Parliamentary assistant.
JOHN THURSO (Liberal Democrat) Born 1953, Thurso, the grandson of former Liberal leader Archibald Sinclair.. Educated at Eton. Chief executive of a hotel group. MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross 2001 to 2015. The third Viscount Thurso, he sat in the House of Lords from 1995 until hereditary peers were removed in 1999. He is one of three hereditary peers to have sat in the Commons, but the only one who previously served in the Lords (the others are Viscount Hailsham (Douglas Hogg) and the Marquess of Lothian (Michael Ancram) - both of whom inherited their peerages when already MPs).
Comments - 175 Responses on “Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross”
  1. I would imagine that is true, Peter, especially with the spike in membership.

    That will doubtless help the SNP to a great degree. Personally, I think they’ll get ~20-25 seats. The current polling heights will probably slip back at least a bit (I’d guess Scotland will be something like SNP/LAB tied around 30-35% of the vote with everyone else far back), but they should still take more than a few seats.

  2. the vote share in 2010 is very similar to that of inverness, nairn badenoch etc.

    here the v share in 2010 was

    liberal dem 41%
    labour 25%
    snp 19%
    conservative 13%
    others 2%

    in inverness, nairn etc.

    lib dem 41%
    labour 22%
    snp 19%
    con 13%
    others 5%

    As I said, uncannily similar. Granted Thurso isn’t the hate of object that Danny has become, he still looks like a dead duck, i if the snp surge is in any way sustained.

  3. object of hate like danny obviously…i know that each seat is different, but can’t see his lordship holding this one.

  4. John Thurso will have to deliver a reasonably sizeable personal vote if he is to save this seat, which in a remote constituency like this is quite possible. Much may depend on who the SNP candidate is and how effectively (s)he campaigns. It surprises me that there is no name for a SNP candidate on this thread.

  5. Lord Mackie of Benshie, who as George Mackie was Liberal MP for Caithness & Sutherland from 1964 to 1966, has died aged 96.

  6. Yes, a loss, really. Seemed like a decent chap from the little I’ve heard about him. Interestingly, he lost to Maclennan in ’66, who of course later joined the SDP and the Lib Dems.

  7. I wonder, when we get the business end of the election campaign if voters considering voting SNP will switch back to the LD’s. Look at what happened with the “Cleggmania” polling that came to nothing at the last election!

  8. That’s possible, although the SNP polling has been steady for six months since the post-referendum period whereas “Cleggmania” happened over a short period of time IIRC.

  9. Cleggmania didn’t come to nothing. Yes, the Lib Dems only polled 1% up on 2005, but people forget that before April 2010 they were polling five points down on 2005. True, it faded somewhat before polling day, but saying it came to nothing is a bit far.

  10. Very true Saintstevie. If the SNP can sustain these poll numbers into April (which , right now, there’s no reason to suggest they will drop), then we are probably going to witness the biggest change on the political map at a Westminster election in Scotland that will eclipse the 1997 election.

  11. If the SNP go from a half dozen seats to thirty more than that it will mean a 500% increase in seats with 60% of seats changing hands, which in Westminster terms is pretty unprecedented.


  12. Another difficult one to call, going with:

    SNP Majority 3% over Lib

    I think Thurso will hold up better than most Lib Dems, but it probably won’t be quite enough to save him – I could well be wrong.

  13. snp are 1/2, or 2/5 at the bookies. always a good sense check. his lordship will struggle methinks.

  14. Sure they’re a good sense check, but they often get it wrong. I’d like to think the combined wisdom of the more sensible posters on a site like this can outmaneuver the bookies.

    I suspect the bookies (and a lot of commentators) are over-estimating how well the SNP will do. Scottish politics is a funny business, and I wouldn’t rule out them doing as well as current polling suggests and swiping 45+ seats. At the same time, I think it’s more likely that they will end up a little ahead of Labour on popular vote, and the seat gains will be much less impressive.

    I plan to predict (or rather guess) every Scottish seat individually before the election, and will tally up thereafter to make a Scotland-wide prediction for seat numbers.

  15. “Sure they’re a good sense check, but they often get it wrong. I’d like to think the combined wisdom of the more sensible posters on a site like this can outmaneuver the bookies.”

    I agree, but I would say that they bookies’ odds make more sense at a constituency level than at the “most seats”, “con majority”, “lab majority” level…the more specific the political odds market, the more reliable…

    I also have a rule of thumb that in constituency betting markets anything shorter than 1/2 is probably right, or put it this way you have to have a really good handle on the seat to bet against those kind of odds.

    for a lot of the marginals the odds are 8/11 or some such. 1/2 is quite aggressive pricing.

    I also think that the SNP is being over hyped. I am detecting a slight closing of the snp lead with latest crossbreaks but they are unreliable. I can’t see the snp winning more than 25 seats off labour, i.e labour should retain at least 15-20 seats. I would be surprised if labour lost more than half their seats in scotland (20+) tbh.

  16. I agree with that and I also think that there is a possibility that the Labour – SNP gap could narrow further as the big day approaches. Surely some sense of political gravity will start to take effect.

  17. LDs upbeat about their chances in Scotland:

    “The private polling data and canvassing returns suggest the party is in the lead in several constituencies including East Dunbartonshire, being defended by Jo Swinson, and West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, which is held by Sir Robert Smith.

    At least five more seats where the Lib Dems are fighting to overturn an SNP lead, including Edinburgh West, Argyll & Bute and Inverness, could be held because of an upsurge in tactical voting by pro-UK party supporters, the party believes.

    The Lib Dems also expect to hold Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, which is the most northerly seat on the UK mainland and being defended by John Thurso, as well as Orkney and Shetland just to the north, one of the party’s safest, held by Alistair Carmichael, the Scotland secretary.”

  18. No shortage of wishful thinking there

  19. Let’s be realistic about this. There are 11 Lib Dem defences in Scotland – one of those is surely safe, even in a major landslide – the rest are in play.

    Of those 10, Ashcroft has polled seven (RSL, Inverness, Gordon, W Aberdeenshire, Berwickshire, East Dunbartonshire and Fife NE). In all of them except Berwickshire, where they were a very close third, the Lib Dems were more than 10 points behind the SNP.

    The three he hasn’t polled are Caithness, Edinburgh W and Argyll & Bute. The latter of those is a goner. The other two they have fighting chances in but they are underdogs.

    There’s no doubt that the Lib Dems are fighting hard and are better placed to attract tactical support than Con or Lab, but you’re not going to win a majority of seats where you are clear underdogs according to both local and national polling.

  20. I noticed that they’re really putting out everything in Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine, when you enter this constituency you’re greeted by Robert Smith Lib Dem banners everywhere, I think they’re putting their resources into the few constituencies which they see as possible to remain LD.

    I think Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine is in the SNP’s pocket, but it could go either way. I think on a good night they could possibly hold 1-3 mainland constituencies in Scotland.

  21. So, in 2010, this seat voted almost identically to Inverness. In Inverness, the Lib Dems are about 35% behind. But John Thurso is cuddlier than Danny Alexander, so this seat is still in play?

  22. @ Simon – Inverness voted Yes (whilst the Inverness-shire seat itself voted No – marginally I assume – and Ross, Skye & Lochaber voted Yes), I’m pretty sure that Caithness, Sutherland & East Ross had the highest No vote out of all Highland seats so it’s plausible to assume based on the figures on the above article that Labour/Tory voters in the area could vote tactically Lib Dem to keep the SNP out. I’m not saying they’ll win (far from it), but they’ll possible lose less than in the other two Highland seats.

  23. Even in a wishful thinking scenario, I don’t think there’s any Scottish PPC that two other parties (from leadership to grassroots) are united in being more desperate to beat than Danny Alexander. It’s not unlike Sheffield Hallam in that respect.

    There will be a significant difference in the size of swing in the constituencies you talk about Simon, though your point about how big the difference might be is well made.

  24. Fair enough. I wouldn’t argue if people were suggesting a 15-20% SNP lead here.

  25. I now don’t think the LD’s will defend any seats on the mainland, only holding onto Orkney & Shetland.

    The strange thing for me is the Unionist party strategies are actually playing into the SNP’s hands and here is my take on them in Scotland:

    Scottish LibDems – Understandably totally on the defensive in Scotland. A Scottish electorate that has become more left wing than our neighbours down south meant that them going into coalition with the Tories was always going to mean they took a bigger kicking than in the rest of the UK. Their only strategy in Scotland is to try and persuade voters that they are the only party that can stop the SNP in seats which they hold and get other party voters to vote for them tactically. This strategy might get some traction from Tory voters, but a very tough sell to Labour voters and is likely going to fall short and cost them dearly. Could they have been better in the interests of Unionism handing over the reigns to one of the other Unionist parties in these seats for this one election? True benefactor to LD strategy = SNP

    Scottish Labour – A real baffling one for me. I have always liked and respected Jim Murphy, despite his incessant Tory bashing. However, his selection as leader of Scottish Labour in my opinion was an error. He is perceived as too much of a Blairite in Scotland which counts against him. He has done nothing to listen to the reasons why the electorate have deserted Labour and purely gone on negative tactics talking about second referendums. How is he meant to shore up a Labour vote given that 45% of the electorate that voted YES would likely welcome a 2nd referendum? Having his wings clipped by the UK Labour Party also reinforced the belief that he is just a puppet for the UK Party.
    True Benefactor to Scottish Labour strategy = SNP

    Scottish Conservatives – A party that seems to have quite happily watched its popular vote share continuously slowly erode from one election to the next (Scottish and UK). A habit of picking leaders who are regarded as “nice people” but who lots of people wouldn’t vote for regardless. Trouble getting their message listened to here either by the public or getting sufficient airtime in the media. Increasingly being seen as an irrelevance by the electorate, with no firebrand personality to get people behind them (They could learn a lot from Salmond and the SNP here in how to come from nowhere) focusing instead on their shrinking core support. Potential impact of driving centre-right minded voters either to SNP (independent Scotland being one way to make centre right politics relevant again in Scotland) or to the other Unionist parties to defeat the SNP. True benefactor to Scottish Conservative Strategy = SNP & Labour predominantly

    SNP – Anti austerity rhetoric, claiming to give Scotland a bigger voice in Westminster. They are right when they say this election is not about a 2nd referendum, they are playing a longer game than that. Set to benefit when Labour and Tories vote together post election to implement Trident and further austerity measures when they can then claim the rUK “ignores” Scotland. Even though their manifesto doesn’t match their anti austerity rhetoric, that doesn’t matter as the Unionist parties cannot come up with a coherent attack on them, and anyway since they are playing the emotional game in tandem very few people are currently willing to listen. True benefactor to SNP Strategy = SNP

    Any thoughts on this long winded ramble from me welcome 🙂

  26. Great summation….

  27. Thanks Antiochian 🙂

  28. Yes, excellently written. Not many posts of that kind of quality on here.

    Re: Murphy as LiS leader…I agree he wasn’t a great choice, but this is all with the benefit of hindsight, plus the other contenders were pretty uninspiring. As you said, no other Scottish politicians can match the energy or gusto of Salmond or Sturgeon. The only problem for the SNP if they win 55/59 seats? The only way is down, and expectation levels are going to be very high.

  29. Well, I have to say that if the Scottish Lib Dems are so sure that the Ashcroft polls are wrong that they are putting lots of effort into Aberdeenshire West, where Ashcroft shows them in 3rd place, then they should perhaps be worried about some of the English seats where Ashcroft has put them in a strong first place….

    As LesserSpottedScottishTory says, all the old parties have been like rabbits caught in the headlights in the post-referendum era, which no idea how to counter the SNP… But all the talk in England about the dangers of the SNP, ruling them out of coalitions etc etc is really irresponsible if the people saying it really want to preserve the Union…

  30. Thanks Tristan.

    Re Murphy – I agree it is with hindsight. There is such a dearth of talent in the Scottish Labour Party now (and the Unionist parties in general in Scotland) that there really was no other choice for them. He is good to have as a tactical rottweiler, being given a task and chasing it down, however thinking of a counter strategy to a long term SNP one doesn’t seem to be his forte

  31. @Andrew111 – I know the LD’s are putting up a big fight in Aberdeenshire West, that’s understandable from the LD front. Their core support in that seat is not a Social Democratic left of centre one, it’s a legacy centre-right Tory supporting one. It follows that therefore the local party won’t have seen the huge desertion in volunteers evident in more left leaning LD areas.

    They have a chance if the Tory voters go tactical in significant numbers there, but there would have been a better chance of keeping out the SNP if they had stepped aside and let the Tories run with it as the Tories had a very good baseline to work from and build on.

    With the UK parties after this election they need some kind of cross party focus group on how to work together for the benefit of the Union….

  32. I think there’s a fair bit more to it than that.

    I don’t particularly like Jim Murphy, and he probably ends up being the fall guy for what’s going to happen to Labour, but I don’t think it’s his fault. There are three main reasons why Labour is in its current mess, and none of them are specifically Jim’s fault.

    The first is that one of the risks of taking the centrist/Blairite path is that if you stop being perceived as competent, there’s not that much of a reason to vote for you any more. If you have a stronger ideological point of view, it’s easier to sustain support even if you aren’t doing so well on the competence side. But when your main claim is that you are the best at managing the economy, and then there’s a big crash on your watch, you have a problem, especially when people have an alternative. Labour had a long time in power at both Westminster and Holyrood, and the perception among many is that they didn’t do that much with it.

    The second problem for Labour is how they respond to the independence referendum. It matters much more to Labour than to anyone else, because their 2010 vote, at least, was much more split than anyone else’s. The Tories can continue along saying the same old things, and it won’t matter, because almost all of their supporters voted No. Labour cannot win most of the seats in Scotland without getting a whole load of Yes supporters to vote Labour. That’s not going to happen quickly, and it may be that nothing can be done – certainly most Yes voters I know are not even considering Labour – but they need to have a very good think about it, and work out what to do. Scottish Labour used to be much more diverse constitutionally, with people like McAllion and Canavan and others who came pretty close to supporting independence within the party. Now it seems to be very much a closed shop. Maybe that’s something they need to look at again.

    The third issue for Labour is that everyone had already left before Murphy took over, and they weren’t coming back soon. In 2011, the SNP got pretty close to 45% across the country and Labour were a long way behind. Excluding 2010, Labour hasn’t won a Scotland-wide election since the 2007 locals, but it’s almost like they haven’t even noticed that. What the referendum did was crystallise this. People who would lend their votes to Labour in certain situations are no longer willing to do so, and most of them have ended up with the SNP. If you decided to vote Yes, having the Labour Party lambast your views non-stop for two years probably doesn’t endear them to you. I do think Labour made a serious error in signing up to a single pro-Union campaign, and then by having it focus so heavily on finance/risk. There was precious little on solidarity with the rest of the UK, on what could be done to improve people’s lives across the whole country and so on.

    Given all of that, it’s hardly surprising that Jim Murphy hasn’t been able to make much progress. That’s not to say he hasn’t made mistakes – he doesn’t seem to know whether he’s a hardline Unionist or chaing Yes voters, or whether he’s a socialist, a populist or a Blairite – but I think by the time Lamont went, the die was largely cast.

    The problem for the unionist parties now is how to react to the SNP, who are driving the agenda in Scotland. To me, it often appears that the SNP are the only ones with a long-term strategy, while the other parties bicker among themselves, and trade off long term benefit for short term gain – as the Tories are doing just now with all the anti-SNP propaganda. I don’t know how that’s working out for them in England, but it’s really not helping the unionist cause. When the DUP have a go at you for the way you’re behaving, maybe it’s time to take a step back.

    I do think that the main unionist parties now need to separate from their UK parties – the CSU model, perhaps – and use the freedom that this allows them to diverge from the UK party where appropriate, and allows the Scottish parts of the parties to focus much more exclusively on Scotland. This blunts the strategic edge that the SNP currently enjoys. I don’t think some sort of pan-unionist front helps – in some ways that’s how Labour especially ended up in its current mess.

    Anyway, this has ended up being much longer than I intended already, so I think I’ll stop rather than making a full length blog post.

  33. I don’t agree that the Lib Dem’s core support in seats like West Aberdeenshire is really centre-right. As in most of the more affluent parts of Scotland, there has been, until now, one left of centre party fighting the Tories, with tactical votes from other left of centre voters. In West Aberdeenshire it’s been the Lib Dems. In Perthshire, it has been the SNP, but I think which is the anti-Tory option is largely an accident of history. A lot of Lib Dem support in West Aberdeenshire and similar seats is left of centre.

  34. Another great piece… I particularly agree with “I do think that the main unionist parties now need to separate from their UK parties – the CSU model, perhaps – and use the freedom that this allows them to diverge from the UK party where appropriate, and allows the Scottish parts of the parties to focus much more exclusively on Scotland”.

    The LibDems have badly botched the whole matter.. My (short) two cents worth is that beyond unionist tendencies of their own (I exclude myself from that as I believe in self-determination for Catalans or Basques or Croatians or Scots) the party also saw eleven seats as too many to have carved off their Westminster total in the situation of a split and having the Scottish Secretary’s portfolio was a case of “careful what you wish for…”.

    Theoretically, Scotland going independent should have been six of one – half a dozen of the other for a Europhile party… shouldn’t it??

  35. I agree Antiochian.

    The LDs should have gotten a Scottish equivalent of Ian Hislop to front their (separate) campaign, sniping at both sides’ tactics and American election style bull, before coming down on the side of No once Cameron and Miliband came out with the vow, on the basis that both campaigns were full of garbage and that rUK doing something different on the EU to Scotland really would be the worst possible outcome.

  36. Simon: my view is that Alexander will lose by 20-25%, Thurso by 5-10%, assuming of course that the two constituencies are in other respects a good like-for-like comparison.

    An additional 5-10% swing against one of the most despised politicians in Scotland seems about right. Indeed the only reason I think it could be as low as 5% extra (relative to Caithness) is if Alexander is relatively successful in convincing voters that his personal clout has done more for the area than an SNP MP could possibly deliver.

  37. Simon – a good analysis, and longer than mine!

    On your point of LDs in Aberdeenshire West being on the left though I disagree. It is split but there are a lot of ex Tory voters who have voted LD to stop Labour and SNP getting traction.

  38. And totally agree on parties needling to break from UK like CSU in Germany. Have made that point in other posts, mainly on Tories but clear now Labour and LD’s too

  39. @lesserspotted – IIRC Murdo Fraser tried that back in 2011 and it didn’t prove to popular with grass roots Tories

  40. Maybe we’ll see Scottish politics split on nationalist / Unionist lines….like Northern Ireland, the unionist side could be split between a middle class Tory leaning party like the UUP, and a working class Labour leaning party like the DUP, perhaps standing down for each other in key seats.

    The new terrain of Scottish politics seems very barren indeed for the Lib Dems…they could perhaps rename themselves the Orkney & Shetland party.

  41. I’m not sure that scenario works, because the left-leaning unionist party couldn’t bring its voters with it if it stood down in favour of the right-leaning unionist party. There are many Labour supporters who would prefer an SNP MP to a Tory MP, as can be seen from the details of the various Ashcroft polls. Too many unionists still care more about voting for someone who will support their preferred Government in Westminster than they do about defeating the SNP, and I think that’s unlikely to change in the short-medium term.

    On the Lib Dems, there may be something of a way back for them. There are certainly people who used to vote Lib Dem as a progressive alternative to Labour, especially in rural parts of the country where Labour has never done well, who currently don’t have any party that’s a good fit for them. If the Lib Dems were to end up with a more left of centre leader and platform, then they may revive somewhat. Whether it would be enough to regain seats or not is another question, as is whether it would be wise for them across the UK.

  42. Will John Thurso’s personality be enough for him to hold on, or will he be TOAST?

  43. Thurso will lose, but I don’t think toast will be appropriate, as he won’t lose by anything like as much as Alexander in Inverness. I still think, despite Ashcroft, that Kennedy has a chance of holding on in Ross & Skye.

  44. Always thought Thurso would hang on in the end. But I think now I will go for a narrow SNP Gain.

  45. I would have epected John Thurso to hang on if it hadn’t been for the size of the SNP landslide. however, now that Thurso has lost I think that this seat may be harder for the LIbDems to regain than, say, North-East Fife where they are seeking to build on an establishment vote rather than a personal one.

    Much may depend on whether Paul Monaghan can build up a local reputation.

  46. The new SNP MP here features in the latest “New Boys” column of “Private Eye”

    I see that Paul Monaghan has a degree in Psychology and Social Policy from University of Stirling. I was a postgraduate at Storling myself for a time and I feel sorry for anybody who studied there because the campus is largely self-contained and does not, or any rate then did not, give students the degree of independence that many other universities offer.

  47. P.S. Arguably it might have been worse. He might have gone to Eton!!

  48. This seat falls lower down the target list for the Liberal Democrats – behind the more suburban seats of East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh West and North East Fife.

  49. There are four and a half years for a candidate from perhaps the LIbDems or even the Conservatives to make a name in this remote constituency where personalities matter a lot.

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