This may well end up being one of those ‘type as you think and learn as you type’ type posts but I thought that, given that we don’t have the appealing system of one big region for all of Scotland, I’d look at one region in particular as May approaches. And, well, might aswell start at the top in the Highlands & Islands.

As a Central Belt lad and now a big City London immigrant, I would never seek to pass myself off as being au fait with the local concerns and electoral considerations at the very North of Scotland, but I can always have a go at some election predicting.

The eight constituencies can arguably be expected to go as follows:

Argyll & Bute – a close contest in 2007 with the SNP only 800 votes ahead of the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems will throw a lot of their dwindling resources at this seat as it is one of only a few potential gains for them in May and Jim Mather may have enjoyed a significant personal vote which masks just how precarious a seat this is for the Nats but, while a Barnsley by-election disaster does not a national tragedy make, one cannot see the Lib Dems going any direction other than backwards this time around. Against a weaker candidate than Mike Russell they may have had a chance, but this surely has to be an SNP hold – Mike Russell.

Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross – A 2,500 majority for the Lib Dems over the SNP in the 2007 result (under the new boundaries). I really might as well toss a coin over what the 2011 result will be but given that the incumbent Jamie Stone is stepping down and the SNP’s Rob Gibson has gone from 3rd to 2nd from 2003 to 2007, I have to suggest he’ll go one better this time. SNP Gain – Rob Gibson

Inverness and Nairn – An easy enough hold for the SNP as it defends a 5,000 majority. SNP hold – Fergus Ewing

Moray – Again, an easy SNP hold with a 7,300 majority as things stand. SNP hold – Richard Lochhead

Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles) – It’s toss a coin time again. Labour finished a close second in 2007 with 5,667 votes to the SNP’s 6,354 in what will be a clear two-horse race in 2011. I expect there will be disagreement to this, Malc has already voice his objection, but I expect Labour to shade it here going by recent polling. Labour gain – Donald Crichton

Orkney – Lib Dem hold – Liam McArthur

Shetland – Lib Dem hold – Tavish Scott

Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch – I didn’t realise there were so many close calls in H&I. Lib Dems had 11,318 votes in 2007 and the SNP 8,534 (Labour – 3,857, Cons – 3,170). The question is whether the Lib Dems will fall far enough for the SNP to overhaul their lead and, like C, S &ER, the seat involves a retiring MSP in John Farquhar Munro. Indeed, the SNP’s Dave Thompson is the only candidate standing in 2011 that stood in 2007 and I have to predict that, all things considered, he will win through. SNP gain – David Thompson

This takes us onto the regional allocation and, with a national voteshare of Lab-36%, SNP-32%, Con-15%, LD-11% and Green -6%, weighted for H&I in relation to the 2007 result in this region, we have the following:

(1) Conservative (Jamie McGrigor)
(2) Labour (Rhoda Grant)
(3) Labour (David Stewart)
(4) Green (Eleanor Scott)
(5) Conservative (Mary Scanlon)
(6) Lib Dem (Jamie Paterson)
(7) SNP (John Finnie)

(8) Labour (Linda Stewart)

So, expected Highlands & Islands result (2007 in brackets):

SNP – 6 (6)
Labour – 3 (3)
Lib Dem – 3 (4)
Conservative – 2 (2)
Green – 1 (-)

So a Green gain from the Liberal Democrats once the dust has settled.

Tactical Voting considerations:
Greens – Vote Lib Dem to minimise the number of regional seats they can pick up? It looks quite clear that the SNP (and Labour) will win/lose regional MSPs for any FPTP seats that they lose/win. You’d need a real thorough analysis to pull some concrete conclusions though.

SNP – There’s not really any avoiding the Conservatives getting two seats here and Labour can only really expect to take 1 FPTP seat at most, Western Isles, so the tactical voting opportunities are minimal with the SNP challenging all seats in this area.