How general election opponents are battling to topple SNP’s Joanna Cherry in key Edinburgh seat

Ms Cherry is defending a majority of almost 12,000, but Labour insists it will be tight

Joanna Cherry puts it bluntly. "It's a choice between an independent-minded SNP MP, or backbench Labour lobby fodder, and I think I know what my constituents will choose.”

Ms Cherry is defending a majority of just under 12,000 votes in Edinburgh South West, a diverse seat spanning the Pentland Hills, leafy suburbs and more deprived urban areas. She said she is “cautiously optimistic”.

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But Labour, which came third here in 2019 with just 7,478 votes, is increasingly confident of making an impact. A senior source predicted the party could get within a couple of thousand votes of Ms Cherry. Labour’s candidate, Scott Arthur, is even more bullish.

Joanna Cherry. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA WireJoanna Cherry. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Joanna Cherry. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

"Our campaign is probably the biggest campaign this constituency has seen, certainly since I've lived in Edinburgh,” he told The Scotsman.

Labour has been campaigning here since the start of the year. "Yesterday, we crossed a line where we've knocked on over 8,000 doors since January,” Mr Arthur said. “We've spoken to thousands of voters now."

He said there was "real anger" towards the Tories, who came second in Edinburgh South West in 2019, while people felt let down by the SNP. "We're in it to win it,” he said. “We're out all the time."

Unseating Ms Cherry would be “a bit of a Portillo moment”, Mr Arthur said. Michael Portillo’s defeat in 1997 was a key moment in the Labour landslide. The comparison speaks to Ms Cherry’s national profile.

The SNP politician, who has represented the area at Westminster since 2015, is known for her outspoken views on transgender issues and women’s rights, as well as for being a sharp critic of Nicola Sturgeon. She is believed to have her own support base, independent of the party.

"It's not really for me to say whether I have a personal vote," Ms Cherry told The Scotsman. “But I know one of my activists, who's a real number-cruncher, he reckoned I had a good few percentage of a personal vote in 2019. And I have a high profile in the constituency, and I think that's a factor that's going to help me, I hope, hang on to the seat."

Ms Cherry is a controversial figure for some. During a campaign event in the constituency with First Minister John Swinney on Wednesday, a passer-by called her a “transphobic b*tch” in front of activists and journalists. She said some people were misinformed about her views. She supports equal rights for trans people, but does not support “a special right for men to self-identify as a woman”.

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Ms Cherry said she sometimes senses "perhaps a bit less enthusiasm for the SNP than there has been in previous years", adding: "But I'm not fighting on the Scottish Government's record. I'm fighting to represent this constituency at Westminster and I'm fighting on my record as a strong voice."

She said Labour "would have a long way to come” to take the seat. "I'm doing a lot of door-knocking and I'm not picking up any noticeable enthusiasm or any noticeable wave of support towards the Labour Party,” she said.

"Yes, the SNP have been in power at Holyrood for a long time. People always have gripes about governments that have been in power for a long time. But I think I've got a very strong reputation in the constituency as a strong voice for the constituency and a strong voice for Scotland, and also someone who kind of does her own thing and is quite independent-minded, and I think that's standing me in good stead during this election campaign."

Both Ms Cherry and Mr Arthur pointed to the cost-of-living crisis as a big issue. Potholes also come up, said Ms Cherry. This is a potentially tricky issue for Mr Arthur, who is Edinburgh Council’s transport convener. He said the budget for roads and footpaths had doubled.

Sue Webber, the Tory candidate, said potholes and the state of the roads were raised "time and time again", as well as issues around the NHS and education. "This is a seat with everything to play for, and I think the people from Edinburgh South West really deserve someone who is more focused on them, rather than what might be a big push from a particular party,” she said.

Ms Webber is an MSP, but has made clear she will stand down from Holyrood if elected. "The community out here just wants someone who is genuinely interested in standing up for them, and I think I can prove that, and I've done that in the past,” she said.

"I'm an authentic voice. People get what they get with me. I call a spade a spade. I don't sit on the fence. Even if it's a challenging conversation to have with a constituent and I disagree with them wholeheartedly, I will make them aware of that. I don't change my mind depending on who I'm speaking with."

Bruce Wilson is standing for the Liberal Democrats, who came fourth here in 2019. As well as the cost-of-living crisis and GP access, his party is keen to highlight the issue of sewage in rivers and waterways.

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Mr Wilson previously served as a captain in the Royal Marines Commandos, and said the military was good at instilling a can-do attitude – a useful attribute, no doubt, when it comes to electoral politics.

Elsewhere, Dan Heap is standing for the Greens, Ian Harper for Reform UK, Richard Lucas for the Scottish Family Party and Marc Wilkinson is running as an independent.

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