WHAT looked like being a traditional head-to-head between SNP and Labour has had an unexpected twist with the arrival of Alex Salmond’s Alba Party in Cowdenbeath.

Until a few weeks ago, both the Holyrood seat and its Westminster equivalent were held by the unified SNP double act of MSP Annabelle Ewing and MP Neale Hanvey.

But then Mr Hanvey, who is well known to local SNP activists, having previously been a prominent councillor, defected to Alba and is now standing on the regional list.

It leaves Ms Ewing facing questions about splits as she tries to defend a majority of just over 3,000.

One of the smaller slices of the Mid-Scotland and Fife region, the seat’s crowded southern tip takes in the coastal towns of North Queensferry, Rosyth, Inverkeithing, Dalgety Bay and Aberdour, all part of Edinburgh’s ever widening commuter belt.

North into the old mining country lies Cowdenbeath itself, and Lochgelly and the villages of Cardenden, Kelty and Ballingry on the fringes of the Lomond Hills Regional Park.

The seat and its predecessor were solid Labour for most of devolution, with the party comfortably holding it in a 2014 by-election, when Mr Salmond was in pomp.

But in 2016, the winner of that by-election, former Scottish Labour general secretary Alex Rowley, lost the seat to Ms Ewing. He aims to get it back.

Ms Ewing says she’s relaxed about any threat of Alba influencing the contest, insisting that local SNP supporters and members are staying loyal to the party.

She said: “We have been getting really good feedback from members and previously identified supporters, as well as positive interactions through social media with people who haven’t previously voted SNP.”

She said locals see the SNP as the only option for what she described as a blueprint to help Scotland recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

She said: “People across this constituency realise that SNP is the only party with a serious plan for government, and the progressive policies needed to move from pandemic to recovery, to grow our economy, support and invest in our NHS, and put Scotland’s future firmly in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s.”

The former lawyer and legal affairs minister added: “There is a real enthusiasm towards voting, not just for an SNP representative in this constituency, but for an SNP Government to do the hard work that is needed to take the country forward post-pandemic and build a new normal – a fairer society where Scotland’s future is Scotland’s choice.”

Long gone are the days when Labour enjoyed a stronghold in Fife.

But Mr Rowley, who made it back to Holyrood in 2016 via the regional list after losing the seat, points to the SNP’s failed promises that renewable industries would bring jobs to the Kingdom.

The BiFab engineering yard fiasco has left a lasting mark in Fife and Mr Rowley insists employment must be the focus of the next Parliament.

He said: “Jobs must be at the heart of recovery for Fife and for Scotland and is why we must do so much better with investment in skills and technologies to ensure that we can attract the new jobs to Fife.

“The SNP said we would be the Saudi Arabia of renewables by 2020 and they failed.”

Mr Rowley, a previous deputy leader of Scottish Labour, has highlighted local issues and a need to improve education and prepare health services

for recovering from the shock of the pandemic as key issues on the doorstep.

He added: “Given the pandemic our NHS backlog must be addressed and much more support and resource must go into the schools to support children.

“These are the issues people are speaking to me about as I go round the Cowdenbeath constituency and it is these issues along with the lack of affordable housing that will be my priorities for the next five years.”