KEY marginal seats could open the door to the SNP claiming that elusive outright majority – or put a stop to a mandate for another independence referendum.

In 2016, the SNP would have secured an outright majority and not had to rely on the support of the Greens for five years, had they secured just an extra 721 votes across two marginal constituencies.

We take a look at some of the key battles and flashpoints to keep an eye on in the Holyrood election.

Dumbarton

HeraldScotland: Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie BaillieScottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie

Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie has the slimmest of all the Holyrood majorities to defend.

With a lead of just 109 votes, the SNP’s Toni Giugliano will be hoping for a big scalp by unseating one of Labour’s most prominent voices. If Ms Baillie hangs on to her seat it would indicate Labour support holding up.

Edinburgh Central

HeraldScotland: SNP candidate Angus RobertsonSNP candidate Angus Robertson

Ruth Davidson is not seeking re-election but her Edinburgh Central seat will not be easy for the Tories to keep a grasp of – particularly with a majority of just 610 votes.

The challenge for Conservative Edinburgh councillor Scott Douglas to step into Ms Davidson’s shoes is even tougher given that former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson is standing against him – having overcome a selection tussle involving Joanna Cherry and former MSP Marco Biagi.

Mr Robertson, one of the frontrunners to eventually replace Nicola Sturgeon as party leader, will be setting his sights on a return to frontline politics after a four-year absence.

Aberdeenshire West

HeraldScotland: Alexander BurnettAlexander Burnett

The Conservatives’ Alexander Burnett is hoping to defend his 900-vote majority against the SNP who previously held the seat in 2011.

The SNP will be targeting the constituency, formally part of the Gordon seat won by Alex Salmond for the party back in 2007. Former SNP communications chief Fergus Mutch is contesting the seat – hoping to edge the party closer to that crucial majority at Holyrood.

Eastwood

HeraldScotland: Former Scottish Conservative leader Jackson CarlawFormer Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw

Jackson Carlaw has endured a tough few months – having been dumped and replaced by Douglas Ross as the Scottish Conservatives’ leader.

Mr Carlaw is attempting to retain his seat following a 1,610 majority in 2016.

In one of Scotland’s few true three-way battles, Mr Carlaw faces a challenge from SNP East Renfrewshire councillor Colm Merrick and Labour’s Katie Pragnell, given her party’s history of previously winning the seat.

Perthshire South and Kinross-shire

HeraldScotland: Roseanna CunninghamRoseanna Cunningham

The SNP’s Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, is stepping down from Holyrood having been elected to the very first Scottish Parliament in 1999. Ms Cunningham secured a fairly comfortable majority in 2016, winning by 1,422 votes.

But this year’s contest could be a different story with Ms Cunningham’s local reputation an unknown impact. The SNP’s Jim Fairlie is up against well-known Conservative MSP Liz Smith in what is likely to be a target seat for the Tories.

Edinburgh Southern

HeraldScotland: Labour MSP Daniel JohnsonLabour MSP Daniel Johnson

Labour’s Daniel Johnson will be nervous about clinging onto his seat, given his 1,123 majority from 2016.

Mr Johnson faces a stern battle from the SNP’s Catriona MacDonald, an ally of the party’s outspoken MP Joanna Cherry. Ms MacDonald lost out to Labour’s Ian Murray in the area’s Westminster seat in 2019 but the SNP will be hoping to pick up the Holyrood constituency.

Edinburgh Western

HeraldScotland: Alex Cole-HamiltonAlex Cole-Hamilton

The Lib Dems have developed a stronghold in the west of the capital – with Christine Jardine easily seeing off a challenge form the SNP in the Westminster seat in 2019.

The SNP’s Sarah Masson believes the constituency is “winnable” despite Alex Cole-Hamilton winning in 2016 with a majority just shy of 3,000 votes.

The Lib Dems are throwing a lot of effort at keeping hold of the eat with the party’s leader Willie Rennie launching both the Lib Dems’ campaign and manifesto in Edinburgh Western.

Cowdenbeath

HeraldScotland: Annabelle EwingAnnabelle Ewing

Annabelle Ewing is looking to retain her Fife constituency for the SNP, but faces a challenge from Labour MSP Alex Rowley, who previously won the seat in a 2014 by-election.

Labour has a 3,041 majority to overcome but will be pressing to cause an upset – while the SNP’s campaign has been thrown a twist after Cowdenbeath’s MP, Neale Hanvey, defected from the party to join Alex Salmond’s Alba and is standing on the regional list.

Ayr

HeraldScotland: Conservative MSP John ScottConservative MSP John Scott

The Conservatives’ John Scott edged past the SNP’s Jennifer Dunn in 2016 with a slender 750 votes victory.

The result four years ago will make this a key target for the SNP with Siobhan Brown hoping to turn the tables on the Tories.

Veteran former SNP MSP Chic Brodie is also standing in the constituency for his new Scotia Future party.

Rutherglen

HeraldScotland: Clare HaugheyClare Haughey

This Lanarkshire seat would normally be a shoo-in for the SNP’s Clare Haughey who defeated Labour’s James Kelly by 3,743 last time.

Mr Kelly is having a go a reclaiming the seat he won at 2011 – with Labour hoping local anger over Rutherglen’s MP, Margaret Ferrier, refusing to quit over her Covid-unsafe travels will tip support away from the SNP.

Caithness, Sutherland and Ross

HeraldScotland: Gail RossGail Ross

The SNP has held the seat since its creation in 2011 – but popular MSP Gail Ross is not seeking re-election.

The Lib Dems, who held the previous Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross up to 2011, are viewing this contest as their only realistic chance of gaining a constituency.

The SNP’s Children’s Minister Maree Todd is looking to take over the reins from Ms Ross and is facing the Lib Dems’ Molly Nolan.

East Lothian

HeraldScotland: Labour's Iain GrayLabour's Iain Gray

East Lothian has only ever been won by Labour – and has been held by Iain Gray since 2007.

But Mr Gray is stepping down this year and Labour saw its majority reduced to just 151 votes in 2011 before bouncing back to 1,127 last time.

Labour has selected former East Lothian MP Martin Whitfield to contest the key seat who lost his Westminster job to the SNP’s Kenny MacAskill in 2019. Mr MacAskill could play a role in denting the SNP’s chances, however, after he ditched the party to join Alba and is standing on the Lothian regional list.