DUMBARTON’S status as one of the key constituency battlegrounds in next month’s Scottish Parliament election has been underlined in the past week after two of the country’s biggest political hitters visited the area in search of votes.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon joined her party’s local candidate Toni Giugliano on visits to social housing in Dumbarton and to the Vale of Leven Hospital in Alexandria on Thursday.

And on Monday, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar joined his deputy Jackie Baillie, who has been the area’s constituency MSP since the parliament was established in 1999, on a visit to Loch Lomond Shores in Balloch to mark the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Ms Baillie held on to her seat by just 109 votes from the SNP’s Gail Robertson at the last Holyrood poll in 2016, making Dumbarton the most marginal constituency in Scotland – and Labour is throwing as much at the area in an attempt to retain the seat as the SNP is in a bid to win it for the first time.

During her visit to Dumbarton on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon told the Reporter the SNP will invest “tens of millions of pounds” in improving services at the Vale of Leven Hospital if it forms the next government at Holyrood.

She said: “The SNP have a very good record of protecting the Vale of Leven.

When the SNP came to government and I was the health secretary, the Vale seemed to be suffering a slow, lingering demise.

“Accident and emergency closed under Labour. We worked hard to protect emergency services and we have seen lots of new services over the past few years coming to the Vale.

"As long as I have got anything to do in government with the Vale of Leven, it has a secure future, because it is an important local facility.

“We need to see capital investment in the community maternity unit, pharmacy, theatres and the general fabric of the hospital and that will be a capital investment that amounts to tens of millions of pounds.

"We will work with the local health board to ensure that is properly spent to deliver the improvements to the Vale.”

Commenting on the SNP manifesto pledge to provide funds to refurbish the Vale of Leven hospital, Labour candidate Jackie Baillie said: “But the reality is that this money is for building work and could be for nothing more than a lick of paint. And to add insult to injury, the SNP have been in power for 14 years, this funding should have been available before now.

“Local people will see through this. What they want to see are services inside the hospital.

"I am the only candidate running in this constituency with a proven track record of always putting the needs of the Vale of Leven hospital first.”

The First Minister also promised to better support specialist women’s aid services with a funding commitment.

She added: “In our manifesto we have a range of propositions to give greater support to survivors of domestic abuse or violence against women and girls.

“We have a three year funding commitment of £100 million to provide greater support to specialist services, because we have a postcode lottery of waiting times to access those services and we want to better support them, so that any women that needs access to services can get that quickly and appropriately.”

On his visit to the Balloch shopping and leisure complex on Monday as lockdown restrictions were eased the focus of Scottish Labour’s new leader was on economic recovery.

Mr Sarwar said: “This last year has been the toughest of our lives, but with some restrictions now lifting we have cause for hope for the future.

“Our bold plans could bring about an economic revival that would reinvigorate our high streets, boost our economy and deliver jobs for the people of Scotland.

“We need to focus on our national recovery, not go back to the old arguments.

“That’s why Scottish Labour is ambitious about our economic recovery and is committed to building a fairer, better Scotland.”

More from the Dumbarton constituency’s seven candidates on pages 10 and 11, and from the leaders of Scottish Labour and the Scottish Greens on pages 13 and 24 respectively.

Polls are open from 7am to 10pm on May 6.