Election Constituency Profile: Livingston

LABOUR’S Graeme Morrice was elected MP for Livingston at the last election in tricky circumstances following the dropping of his predecessor Jim Devine for fiddling his expenses.


Now Mr Morrice, former leader of West Lothian Council, must defend the comfortable majority he won then as polls show the SNP heading for big gains across the country.

He claims, however, the seat is “looking fine”. He says: “Obviously we have the national polls we’re all aware of, but it doesn’t seem to compute with what’s happening on the ground. We’re getting a good response on the doorstep.

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“People are determined to see the back of the Tories and most people are convinced the only way to do that is through the election of a Labour government.”

And he says voters like Labour’s programme. “People are concerned about things like the cost of living crisis and employment issues and it’s good to find our policies resonating.”

Mr Morrice was first elected as a councillor in the area in 1987 and served as council leader for 12 years before becoming an MP.

He says: “We’re finding as time goes on, more and more people are expressing concerns about the SNP and the fact they will do anything to ensure another referendum. People are sick fed up of that and want to move on.

“General elections are about electing a government to run the country over the next five years. People are sick and tired of the constitutional debate.”

The SNP candidate Hannah Bardell, 31, was born and brought up in Craigshill, Livingston, and went to Broxburn Academy, then Stirling University.

She worked in commercial television with STV Glasgow and GMTV in London before going to work for the SNP and spending three years managing Alex Salmond’s constituency office.

But she opted to move out of politics for a while to get broader experience and went to work for the US State Department at their Consulate in Edinburgh, managing protocol, events and press.

For the last three years she has been working in the oil and gas sector, where she became head of communications and marketing for the UK, Africa and Norway with oil and gas service company Stork.

But she gave up her job in December and returned home to Livingston to bid for the nomination to fight the seat.

She won the contest against four local councillors, all of whom she says are now giving her great support in the election campaign.

Ms Bardell also has easy access to advice from the SNP’s candidate last time – her mum. “I had just started working for Alex at that time and I talked my mum into it,” she confesses. “I came down as often as I could to help. A lot of people thought there was a great chance and we all felt quite disheartened when nothing changed.

“I remember I said to her at the time ‘Something tells me it’s not over’ – but if you’d told me five years later I’d be standing, I wouldn’t have believed it. For me it’s fantastic to have someone so close who has walked that walk.”

Livingston constituency stretches from the new town through Polbeth and Addiewell to Stoneyburn and Fauldhouse.

“We have the youngest population in Scotland,” says Ms Bardell. “So jobs and opportunities are important to people.

“Seeing Hall’s of Broxburn shut down was very sad. We’re lucky to have a lot of biotech companies in Livingston and I really want to make sure not only that we keep them but that they thrive.”

She says West Lothian does well in economic development, but pockets of poverty remain.

“I would want to work positively with West Lothian Council because the area does have challenges and we all need to work together.”

Ms Bardell says the SNP is drawing support from all age groups and parts of the constituency. “What we are seeing is across the generations and all communities.”

But she acknowledges the fact she is younger than many would-be MPs can make a difference. “When people in their 20s and 30s see people they can connect with, that helps.”

Livingston’s first MP back in 1983, when the constituency was created out of the old West Lothian seat, was Robin Cook, who had already been in parliament for nine years representing Edinburgh Central and would go on to become Foreign Secretary under Tony Blair.

It was Mr Cook’s tragic death in August 2005 that led to a by-election which saw his former agent, Jim Devine, elected MP with a majority dramatically cut by the SNP and its candidate Angela Constance. Two years later she was elected as MSP for Livingston at the 2007 Holyrood elections and still holds the seat, now renamed Almond Valley. Mr Devine, meanwhile, was barred by Labour from standing again in the wake of the expenses scandal and later served four months of a 16-month jail sentence.

Current Liberal Democrat candidate Charles Dundas says voters are ready to listen to him despite his party’s coalition with the Tories over the past five years.

He says: “They are not angry with the Lib Dems. They can see the reasons the Lib Dems made the decisions they did in government and they are sympathetic to why we have done it, but they say ‘You’re not going to get any recognition for it, are you?’.”

The topics people want to talk about on the doorstep, he says, are the usual ones of the economy, health and education.

“A lot of people comment on how different the general election feels from the referendum – it’s back to the same old arguments, backwards and forwards and the hope of the referendum seems a bit more absent.”

Mr Dundas first stood in Livingston at the 2005 general election. “The sort of reaction I get and the issues people raise has not really changed, despite everything.”

Conservative Chris Donnelly says his campaign is going well.

“We’re getting a good response. Obviously we’re not favourites to win the seat. I was concerned about possible tactical voting but it seems Labour’s failure to rule out a deal with the SNP has stopped a lot of people from doing that.

“We’re building up for getting another list MSP in Lothian at next year’s Holyrood elections and then the council elections in West Lothian.”