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Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK
Key by-election battles under way
Ballot box
Scotland's main parties are ready for the polls
By BBC News Online's Thomas McGuigan

The political parties have been keen to stress that two Scottish parliamentary by-elections taking place amid the fervour of the general election campaign are far more than side shows.

And, judging by the prestige of the seats and the profile of their previous incumbents, their assertions are more than justified.

Scotland's main political parties have put up candidates for both the Banff and Buchan and Strathkelvin and Bearsden constituency seats and are hoping for a boost before the 2003 Scottish parliamentary elections.

Both seats have been vacated by two of Scotland's most prominent politicians and polling will take place on 7 June - the same day as the general election.

Sam Galbraith:
Sam Galbraith: Retiring from the political fray
In the case of Banff and Buchan, former Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond decided to vacate his Scottish parliamentary seat and fight the party's corner at Westminster.

Former Scottish education minister Sam Galbraith has opted to withdraw from politics altogether, meaning the Strathkelvin seat is also up for grabs.

In 1999, both Mr Salmond and Mr Galbraith polled more than 50% of the votes in their respective constituencies.

But will their party replacements be able to carry on the torch in 2001?

While the loss of these two politicians offers a chance for other parties to secure the vacant seats, it also sets the respective candidates the significant challenge of succeeding MSPs who have been instrumental in their own parties' electoral success.

The Banff and Buchan seat was created in 1983, taking three quarters of its voters from Aberdeenshire East and a quarter from Banffshire.

In 1987, Mr Salmond was offered the SNP nomination for the seat and replaced Douglas Henderson as the party's candidate.

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond: Sets his sights on Westminster

Five years later he held off a resurgent Conservative challenge at the general election.

He has held the seat ever since, but when John Swinney took over as party leader, he opted to represent the nationalists from further afield.

The SNP's candidate in 2001 is Stewart Stevenson, who will contest the seat with Megan Harris (Labour), Canon Kenyon Wright (Lib Dems), Edward Broklebanck (Conservatives), and Peter Anderson (Scottish Socialist Party).

At the 1999 election, Mr Salmond gained 16,695 votes (52.61%), beating the Conservative's David Davidson on 5,403 (17.03%) into second place.

In March 2001, Sam Galbraith announced that he would be retiring from politics altogether due to health reasons.

Opportunites arose

At the last election Mr Galbraith gained 21,505 votes (50.7%), combating an SNP challenge from Fiona McLeod who clinched 22.1% of the votes.

Labour's Brian Fitzpatrick will contest the vacant seat with Janet Law (SNP), John Morrison (Lib Dems), Charles Ferguson (Conservatives) and Jean McGiven Turner (Independent).

The other parties face the task of overturning significant majorities if they are to wrestle the seats away from Labour and the SNP.

While some may not hold out too much hope of significant success at the Westminster elections, securing one of the vacant seats would represent a fillip before the electioneering for Holyrood gets under way.

The opportunity to gain an electoral foothold is there for all the main political parties, as is the daunting task of replacing two of Scotland's most high profile politicians.


Related stories:

20 Mar 01 |  Scotland
Galbraith announces political exit

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