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Constituency profile: Trident’s future will be key issue in Argyll and Bute race

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An intriguing battle is being fought in Argyll and Bute, one of the largest constituencies in Scotland, where a slender 1,328 majority is being defended by the SNP’s Brendan O’Hara.

With its expansive rural hinterland and its collection of islands, the transport challenges faced in the seat will feature are prominent local issues.

But also at its heart is one of the most contentious national issues of them all – the future of the UK’s nuclear weapons which are located on the Clyde near Helensburgh, the constituency’s largest settlement.

Nicola Sturgeon has made scrapping Trident a “red line” in any negotiations she has with Jeremy Corbyn if Labour needs to rely on SNP support to form a government in a hung parliament.

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The UK Labour leader has declined to rule out getting rid of the deterrent even though his manifesto includes a pledge to renew it.

While for most people their position on Trident is an ideological one, in Argyll and Bute it is also about the jobs sustained by the military base at Faslane. Although the SNP argues that Trident must be scrapped, that policy is unlikely to go down will with military personnel in Helensburgh.

A clue to how emotive the nuclear issue is in the area can be seen at the Scottish Parliament, where Labour MSP Jackie Baillie has argued for Trident renewal despite her party’s traditional hostility to nuclear weapons.

Mr O’Hara faces a similar dilemma, and it is one which, as a former SNP defence spokesman at Westminster, he will be very familiar with.

Trade unions have warned that removing nuclear weapons and nuclear submarines from Faslane risk the livelihoods of 6,800 service personnel and civilian staff at the site.

An estimated 5,000 extra jobs are linked to the base in the supply chain and local economy in Argyll. The SNP counter this argument by saying that the base will remain open for a conventional defence force in an independent Scotland.

But there is little doubt that Tory candidate Gary Mulvaney will see the Trident issue as he can exploit.

This means Ms Sturgeon’s demand that Trident is scrapped, in return for Mr Corbyn being given the keys to Number 10, is likely to feature heavily in the campaign for the seat.

Other issues in the constituency include the continuing problems with the ferry service between Dunoon and Gourock and the frequent road closures impacting on west coast communities.

Also on the agenda will be the jobs crisis in Campeltown following the closure of two local employers Campbeltown Creamery and CS Wind.

Privately, the Tories have put Argyll and Bute on their list of target seats, encouraged by their performance in 2017 when they came a strong second.

Another factor that will come into play will be what happens to the Lib Dem vote. Standing for Jo Swinson’s party is Alan Reid, who represented the constituency from 2001 to 2015 when he was ousted in the post-independence referendum surge.

He will be hopeful of making a comeback but the reality is that this is a straight fight between the SNP and Tories, with the SNP likely to hold on despite the Tories going big on the Trident issue.

Prediction: SNP hold.

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