General Electoin 2010: Parties set for battle in the east

As the Westminster election looms, in the Capital the soon to be vacated seat of Edinburgh East – held by Labour's Gavin Strang – has become a highly-coveted territory, finds Ian Swanson . . .

THE SNP's victory in Labour's safest seat in the Capital was one of the most dramatic results of the last Scottish Parliament elections back in 2007.

Kenny MacAskill won Edinburgh East & Musselburgh with a massive 12.9 per cent swing. Now the Nationalists are out to repeat the coup for the Westminster seat.

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But the boundaries – and the circumstances – are different. And Labour are determined to hold the seat.

The Westminster constituency does not include Musselburgh, but does take in Prestonfield, Holyrood, the Southside and Tollcross, as well as Craigentinny, Duddingston, Lochend and Craigmillar.

Veteran Labour MP Gavin Strang is retiring after 40 years representing the constituency at Westminster. And former Edinburgh housing convener Sheila Gilmore was chosen a year ago by local party members to take over from him.

"We are taking absolutely nothing for granted," she says. But she adds: "There is a genuine difference between how people vote in a Scottish Parliament election from a Westminster election."

She says she has not found the degree of disillusionment with Labour which commentators talk about. "People are more thoughtful. They don't agree cutting public services now is a smart move."

Edinburgh East is one of the seats the Nationalists would have to take to reach Alex Salmond's target of 20 MPs.

SNP candidate George Kerevan would need a swing of 11.5 per cent – slightly less than Mr MacAskill achieved – to win.

However the Nationalists normally do less well in Westminster elections. And the local Labour party is not in the same internal disarray as it was at the 2007 Holyrood election.

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Yet Mr Kerevan says: "We are very optimistic. There is no sign I can see that people want to vote Labour. They won't vote Tory but they are looking for an alternative."

He accepts elections for the UK and Scottish parliaments are not the same. "There is always a squeeze in a Westminster election because the television is dominated by the UK parties. The difference this time is we are in government in Scotland and I'm confident the track record of the Scottish Government will counterbalance the traditional squeeze.

"The two main parties have browbeaten the electorate into thinking they have to suffer for the bankers' failure. But people don't understand why they both want to spend money on Trident replacement."

It was the Liberal Democrats who were second in Edinburgh East at the last general election, but the seat is not one of their targets this time. A Lib Dem insider says the party just does not have the resources to target any more constituencies when it is concentrating on holding Edinburgh West and trying to win Edinburgh South and Edinburgh North & Leith.

Candidate Beverley Hope says: "That's not to say we are not campaigning in East."

The Tories took just over ten per cent of the vote last time, making it their least promising seat in the Capital.

The Greens polled lower – less than six per cent – but have nevertheless made it a top target and boast that their candidate, Lothians MSP Robin Harper is the most experienced fighting the seat.

Mr Harper says: "I would not have gone in for this if there was not a whisker of a possibility of a win.

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"I have worked in the parliament for 11 years and I can reasonably put myself forward as one of the most experienced politicians standing in any of the seats in Edinburgh."

Edinburgh East has traditionally been good ground for the SNP.

It's the first seat in the Capital where they saved their deposit and they were third here in the last European elections.

Mr Harper says: "The question is could I take enough votes off all the other candidates to win the seat?"

Mr Harper counts Mr Kerevan as a friend: "We frequent the same circles in Edinburgh – I never thought we would end up fighting each other in a key constituency."

Ms Gilmore concedes Mr Harper is "a well-kent scarf" and reveals that he taught her son modern studies at Boroughmuir.