If you were hoping to rest your brain this holiday weekend, you might want to mosey on over to some other blog.  This week’s election round-up is taking a wee look at target seats and voters.  And it’s complicated.

It is one of those sad but true facts that some constituencies matter more than others to the outcome of this, and indeed, any other Holyrood election.  For example, for the SNP to overtake Labour in Uddingston and Bellshill would require some kind of cataclysmic event and a swing of hitherto unseen enormity.  So, even if Michael McMahon never issued a leaflet and spent the whole of the campaign sunning himself in Majorca, he would still be a shoe-in. 

On the other hand, Glasgow Southside is a battleground where every vote counts.  The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon took it from Labour at the third time of asking, and just as she was getting herself comfy, along came the Boundary Commission to remove her majority.  A few streets added in, a few taken out and suddenly, this constituency has a wafer thin, notional Labour majority.  Ms Sturgeon is in the unenviable position of having to win her own seat back.

The SNP and Labour have key targets up and down the country which they must gain or hold in order to emerge with the biggest number of seats in Parliament and win the election.  However, it should not be assumed that they are only battling each other – some targets involve the other parties.  So where in Scotland might we find the gladiatorial battles?

Glasgow Southside;  Linlithgow;  Stirling;  Almond Valley;  Edinburgh Eastern;  Cunninghame North;  Dundee City West;  Aberdeen Central;  Clydesdale;  Falkirk West;  Kilmarnock & Irvine Valley;  Clackmannanshire and Dunblane; Na h-Eileanan an Iar (all are marginals with either the SNP and Labour in first or second place in 2007)

Midlothian South, Argyll and Bute, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and Aberdeen South (SNP – Lib Dem tussles)

Dunfermline;  Edinburgh Central;  Edinburgh Southern (Labour – Lib Dem fights)

Dumfriesshire is a rare beast indeed being a Labour-Conservative battle, while the Conservatives still dream, occasionally, of taking Perthshire South (Roseanna Cunningham’s seat) from the SNP.

But things are not static during an election campaign:  trends and intelligence emerge from polls and parties’ own voter identification activity that bring other seats into play.  Thus, SNP and Labour have both clearly scented weakness in seats held by the Lib Dems and Conservatives;  constituencies like Edinburgh Pentlands, Galloway and West Dumfries, Ayr, North East Fife and Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch are now in the mix.

Of course, the existence of a regional vote that provides a top up of seats through the list system complicates things somewhat.  Parties now cannot focus on these key marginals and ignore everywhere else.  Every vote really does count on the list so there also does have to be a universal campaign to ensure that seats are won through this route.  It is of particular importance to the SNP (and parties like the Scottish Greens who do not put up constituency candidates at all) which is why everyone from Alex Salmond down realised being in the lead on the constituency vote in polls was not enough.  Thus, the SNP has been promoting the regional vote as required to elect the government, which is somewhat massaging what the list system is supposed to do. 

Labour, meanwhile, is working to ensure it does not cede seats on the regional vote, and can pick up the odd one as a kind of bonus.  But its beam is focused firmly on winning in about twenty very marginal constituencies in order to deliver them a majority of seats and election victory.

So, what does it mean to be a target seat?  A shed-load of leaflets;  support from parties’ central resources;  activists being sent in from neighbouring constituencies to help out;  morale-boosting visits from party leaders and other national figures;  remote canvassing by telephone;  and if voters are really, really lucky, a doorstep visit from the candidates.  By this stage, less than two weeks out from polling day, everything but the kitchen sink will be being thrown at these constituencies.

But it’s actually even much tighter than that.  Even within this minority of seats, there are some voters who matter more than others.  Those who have previously voted for one of the parties and who will do so again;  those who are still thinking about it but are inclined to do so either for the first time or again;  those who don’t know;  and when support for a vote is perceived to be soft, the previously identified votes for that party.  There is also the need to factor in those likely to be more cheesed off or more likely to switch, which in this election, is where the squeezed middle comes in – families, women, people aged 35 – 44 and C2s.

If the parties have done the work, with less than two weeks until polling day, they should have a bank of people who are certain or at least very likely to vote for them.  They are effectively votes in the bag.  Now, the big push is to go back to all those they know have voted Liberal Democrat or Conservative in the past to see if they can be persuaded to switch or at least, lend their vote.  A final attempt is probably also made at this stage to persuade some of the undecideds, the classic floating voter who often does not bother, to come on board.

Of course, finding the targets are only half the battle:  getting them out to vote on the day or earlier by post is the most important bit.  All of these poor voters in these key target seats can expect to be hattered and harried several times on polling day, to ensure they do actually vote.

It really is a numbers game:  intensified work and activity in certain target seats combined with identifying enough voters and then making sure those people cast their votes.   

And the moral of this election round up?  If you live in one of the above-named constituencies, and are a 38 year old woman with children who is a clerical assistant or a mechanic, who has voted SNP or Labour in the past but isn’t sure how to vote this time round, you might not want to share any of this with the parties. 

If you want any peace between now and 5 May, you could go on holiday.  Or take a vow of omerta, keep the phone off the hook, change your mobile number and email address and never, ever answer the door.