Dani Garavelli: Labour’s battle for Edinburgh South

A resident in Liberton, part of the Edinburgh South constituency, makes their political affliation clear. Picture: Neil Hanna
A resident in Liberton, part of the Edinburgh South constituency, makes their political affliation clear. Picture: Neil Hanna
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In Edinburgh South all the talk of the constitution, Brexit and Corbyn means it might not be so easy for Ian Murray to hold on, writes Dani Garavelli

On an afternoon tea stand in the window of A La Carte, an upmarket caterer in Bruntsfield, Edinburgh, sits an array of macarons in blue, red, yellow and green: all the colours of the forthcoming general election. Outside, on the street, however, most hearts seem to be with Labour.

Jill Kerr, a resident in Edinburgh South, voted Yes in 2014 but says Ian Murray is a good constituency MP. Picture: Neil Hanna

Jill Kerr, a resident in Edinburgh South, voted Yes in 2014 but says Ian Murray is a good constituency MP. Picture: Neil Hanna

This is Edinburgh South, home to the party’s last remaining Scottish MP, Ian Murray and while, elsewhere, the Labour vote is collapsing, there is no shortage of support on show here.

In 2015, when the SNP tidal wave laid waste to many a socialist heartland, Murray not only held on to the constituency, but increased his majority from 316 to 2,637, helped by the outing of his closest rival, the SNP’s Neil Hay, as a Twitter troll.

This time round, he faces tougher competition in Jim Eadie, MSP for Edinburgh Southern from 2011 to 2016, and Conservative candidate Stephanie Smith, who is hoping to benefit from the Tory bounce at the council elections.

Murray is counting on three factors – his personal reputation, his Pro-Remain/Pro-Union stance and the likelihood that some Tory supporters will vote tactically for Labour – to see him returned again.

Macarons of every political colour available in Edinburgh South. Picture: Neil Hanna

Macarons of every political colour available in Edinburgh South. Picture: Neil Hanna

In this affluent quarter, with its hipster cafés, sought-after schools and sizeable student population, he appears to have little to fear. The Ian Murray banner, draped from a building on Bruntsfield Place, reflects the voting intentions of many residents, even if their motivations differ.

For Henry Anderson, 22, a history and politics student at Edinburgh University, Murray’s main appeal appears to be that he has spoken out against Jeremy Corbyn, resigning as Scottish Secretary over the sacking of Hilary Benn.

“I think it’s symbolically important to keep the last Labour seat,” says Anderson, who could have registered in his home constituency of Leeds Central, but opted to do so in Edinburgh South because it is more marginal.

“However, I do not like Corbyn. If this was a presidential election between him and Theresa May, I would vote for May. I can only vote for Ian Murray because he does not back Corbyn and because I know Labour nationally won’t win.”

Like many people in the constituency, retired social worker Jill Kerr believes Murray is a good constituency MP. She mentions his campaign to prevent the closure of Morningside Post Office.

The most talked about issues, however, are constitutional. With so many constituents working in the finance industry or academia, it is hardly surprising Edinburgh South is staunchly Pro-Remain. But there also seems to be a hardening of attitudes against the SNP and a second indyref.

Retired art gallery owner Iain Barnet says he will vote for Murray not because he is dyed-in-the-wool Labour, but because he is strongly against independence.

“I think independence is at the top of the list for a lot of people in Scotland and then Brexit is second,” says Barnet. “I am against leaving the EU, but I think being a member of the EU is less important than being a part of the UK.”

These views are not confined to fervent unionists. Elizabeth Blackwood, a lifelong Labour voter, was once very interested in independence. “But we have to think globally now,” she says.

Kerr – her hair freshly cut and wearing a red scarf – voted Yes in 2014, but says she doesn’t want an SNP wipe-out and isn’t ready for another referendum. “I think it’s the wrong time to go for it again,” she says. “I know Nicola Sturgeon is trying to put pressure on, but I don’t think we should be worrying about it just now because we don’t know what’s going to happen with Brexit.”

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Moving from Bruntsfield to Morningside in search of Tory voters, the houses grow, the driveways lengthen and the cherry blossom is joined by bursts of clematis.

Not far from IJ Mellis Cheesemongers on Morningside Road, I stop a woman clutching a Daily Mail. She is indeed a Conservative supporter, who plans to place her cross beside Stephanie Smith’s name. “I voted Labour in the council elections to keep the SNP out, but I am going to vote Tory in the general election as I have confidence in Theresa May,” she says.

“I didn’t vote Leave and, at first, I was stunned by the result. But, as time has gone on, I have thought we will probably be all right. I mean: who knows, really?”

What the woman, who works in the pharmaceutical industry, is sure of is that she hates the First Minister and doesn’t want another independence referendum. “Nicola Sturgeon is obsessed. She would rather be governed by Europe than by Westminster,” she says.

So, no tactical voting for her this time. But in Marchmont, I meet a disaffected Liberal Democrat who plans to vote Labour. “I am very much of the belief that we are better together,” says the 48-year-old teaching assistant. “I wouldn’t vote SNP. I think it’s nationalist to the extreme. There is no inclusiveness about it.”

Jim Eadie is hoping that as long as Tory voters keep voting Tory, the SNP will be able to push through the middle and win. In 2015, the party had 16,656 votes, so there must be plenty of supporters out there.

With none in sight, I head to council schemes in Liberton, Gracemount and the Inch. Gracemount is home to Mike Blackshaw, who ran the Edinburgh Yes Hub/Café and is fund-raising in the hopes of reopening it after the general election.

Blackshaw doesn’t think the SNP’s record has been perfect. He recognises the attainment gap in schools is widening, although he believes it’s more of a social issue than an educational one. “Is the SNP complacent about it? I don’t think so. They could have handled it better, but I do think it has been used as a political tool.”

Blackshaw approves of the way the party is bringing more powers to community councils. “I believe small is beautiful,” he says. “That thing [critics] say: ‘Why would we divorce ourselves from our biggest trading partner?’ – it’s nonsense. Why would independence stop us from trading?”

On Peveril Terrace in the Inch, the last in a row of terraced cottages, which has Saltires and EU flags a-go-go in the garden, and vans, trucks and cars bedecked in SNP badges and pennants out front, is greeted with eye-rolls from a passing Labour-supporting dog-walker.

On Walter Scott Avenue, however, Joshua Scott, 19, his tattoo sleeves exposed to the sun, says he will be backing Eadie. “I think we are stronger in the EU and it’s terrible that voters in England are effectively taking us out,” the Sainsbury’s supervisor says. “I voted Yes in the referendum and will vote SNP on 8 June because I do want independence.”

The candidates standing for Edinburgh South are Labour: Ian Murray; SNP: Jim Eadie; Conservative: Stephanie Smith; Liberal Democrat: Alan Beal