UNTIL the motor car selfishly cut a straight line between Glasgow and Edinburgh, travel between the cities took a leisurely route, with the Union Canal meeting the Forth and Clyde Canal at Falkirk, and the main rail line, going where the passengers were, also preferring a northerly approach through Falkirk.

Scots complain about Londoners caring little of what happens north of Watford. In truth, metropolitan Scots can be just as insular, with many Glasgow and Edinburgh urbanites knowing little about Falkirk other than a blurred view from a speeding Sprinter carriage.

However, while Glasgow and Lanarkshire boast about being the cradle of Scotland's industrial revolution, the first sparks were lit in Falkirk where, just north of the town, the Carron iron foundry was the first to be established in Scotland more than 230 years ago.

The foundries have mostly gone but handsome Victorian and Edwardian buildings scattered around the town centre of Falkirk remain as a legacy of the industrial age.

Now many people earn a living in Falkirk by commuting to the two cities, or in the public services such as the health service, the council, or the much-maligned Child Support Agency, which has its headquarters in the town.

Boundary changes have reunited Falkirk, although the constituency still clings to the old name of Falkirk West. It has lost some outlying villages to Falkirk East but gained housing schemes in Bainsford and Langlees. Westwards it includes Denny, Bonnybridge, Larbert, and parts of Stenhousemuir.

For the past 25 years, first at West Stirlingshire and then Falkirk West, Mr Dennis Canavan has been a Labour MP who has never risen far in the party's ranks due to an unfortunate trait of speaking his mind - never a clever position for an MP.

He says himself: ''I've always tried to be fairly consistent over the years with my views while others have perhaps found it convenient to stand on their heads.''

Mr Canavan, a former head teacher of maths at Stirling's St Modan's High, is a firm supporter of devolution and has built a solid reputatuion as an active constituency MP.

His vote at the last election was just short of 50% - he may well go over the halfway mark this time.

The main opposition is the Scottish National Party, which has twice run the local council and still has a number of local councillors.

Its candidate, Mr David Alexander is a support worker with a housing association and leader of the SNP group on Falkirk Council.

The SNP is targeting the new communities springing up as housebuilders take advantage of the nearby motorway network. Failing to improve on its 24% standing in the poll would be a hurtful disappointment for the party.

There is still a significant Tory presence in old Falkirk but Conservative candidate Carol Buchanan will have her work cut out to make an impression.

The Liberal Democrat candidate, Mr Derek Houston, has to work from a meagre 6% share of the vote at the last election.


Labour: Dennis Canavan. Former Labour group leader on Stirling District Council. MP for West Stirlingshire since 1974, and Falkirk West since 1983.

SNP: David Alexander. Housing association support worker. Councillor since 1988.

Conservative: Carol Buchanan. Personal assistant to chairman of multi-national company. Vice-chairman of Edinburgh West Conservative Association.

Liberal Democrat: Derek Houston. Public affairs consultant. Member of party's executive committee.