LABOUR said yesterday that the Dunfermline constituency needs to move away from the “shame” of Bill Walker, the former SNP MSP who assaulted his three ex-wives.
As the final hours count down to today’s by-election caused by Walker’s criminal conviction, Labour candidate Cara Hilton said there was a need for a “fresh start”.
The day before the polls opened, the main challengers – Ms Hilton of Labour and the SNP’s Shirley-Anne Somerville – were on the streets making a last-minute plea for votes.
Ms Hilton said: “Tomorrow is a huge day for Dunfermline and the West Fife villages. Tomorrow is the day we choose a new MSP. We need a new voice and a fresh start. We need to move on from the shame of Bill Walker. We need an MSP who will put Dunfermline first, not the referendum.
“We need a representative who will speak up for the people of this constituency and as a local mum who lives and works here and who currently represents part of the constituency on Fife Council, I believe I am the best candidate to be that voice.”
With the distaste caused by Walker’s court case still fresh and the SNP defending a slim majority of 590, anything other than a Labour victory would be hugely embarrassing for Johann Lamont’s party.
That was reflected in betting yesterday, with Labour odds-on at five to 18 and the SNP at three to one.
The other parties are rank outsiders, including the Lib Dems, who were once a force to be reckoned with in the area.
It was the fall in the Lib Dem vote in 2011 that saw the SNP come through to take the seat unexpectedly in a victory which ultimately proved problematic when the abusive past of the Nationalist candidate came to light.
In the most recent by-election, which saw the SNP hold on to Aberdeen Donside in June, the Nationalist candidate Mark MacDonald had the advantage of filling the seat of the late Brian Adam, an extremely respected politician whose death triggered the contest.
Although he was victor, Mr MacDonald’s campaign saw his party shed 13 per cent of its share of the vote with a nine-point swing to Labour.
Ms Somerville, however, has proven a strong candidate and made much of a plan by Labour-run Fife council to close three local schools.
That was a theme Ms Somerville returned to yesterday morning when she was joined on the campaign trail by Nicola Sturgeon before the SNP Deputy Leader rushed away to attend emergency Cabinet talks on Grangemouth. If elected, Ms Somerville said she would work hard to save schools from closure.
“My promise is to be a champion for the people of Dunfermline and the West Fife villages – starting by working with local parents to stop the Labour council’s school closures plans,” Ms Somerville said.
“The proposals are flawed on educational and financial grounds, and if I am elected my first call on Friday would be to Fife’s education director – seeking a meeting to demand that the closures plan be withdrawn.”