Lothians candidates: SNP aiming to unseat Labour
As the polls predict an SNP landslide, Ian Swanson looks at its candidates versus the incumbent party in each constituency.
Edinburgh North and Leith
IT looks like a close fight in this once safe Labour seat where SNP councillor Deidre Brock is challenging Mark Lazarowicz, who has been MP since 2001.
Labour was 14 points behind in a Lord Ashcroft poll last month, but the party believes the gap is much narrower.
Mr Lazarowicz – who opposed the Iraq war and is against renewal of Trident – was a councillor for 18 years before becoming an MP. He says: “It’s very close in this constituency. Many people who were previously undecided are moving to us. People are making the choice between Ed Miliband or David Cameron. People have also recognised my work as a local MP. We are pleased with the way things have gone in the last few days.”
The Nationalists claim they have “excellent” canvass returns and say the contest is “looking very good”. An SNP spokesman says: “The Tory vote seems to be holding, the Liberal Democrat vote is going all over the place and we’re taking votes from Labour and people who normally vote Green.”
Councillor Brock, the Capital’s Depute Lord Provost, was born in Western Australia, trained as an actor and appeared in Home and Away before moving to Scotland with her partner in 1996 after falling in love with the country on a holiday. She has two daughters and worked at the Scottish Parliament before being elected as councillor for Leith Walk in 2007.
LIBERAL Democrat Mike Crockart claims No voters from across the political spectrum are backing him to fight off the SNP challenge. The ex-policeman turned IT professional, who has been MP since 2010, says: “It’s massively polarised, very similar to the referendum campaign. A lot of Conservative voters have already voted and voted tactically for us and we know there are Labour voters prepared to do the same.
“There’s a major worry that Scotland is turning into a one-party state and a real yearning for Scottish politics to get back to normal and being about issues rather than independence.”
But the SNP’s Michelle Thomson believes she can win. She says: “We’ve put a great deal of effort into this campaign and had so much positive feedback. People want change and they respect the positive optimistic message we’re putting forward. The last thing they want to do is sign up to another five years of what we’ve just been through.”
Ms Thomson, 50, was a professional musician then worked in financial services for over 23 years. In 2009 she set up her own property business and spent two years of the referendum as managing dfirector of Business for Scotland. She is married with a grown-up son and daughter.
Edinburgh South West
ALISTAIR Darling’s old seat could fall to the SNP if the polls are to be believed.
The Nationalists have high hopes of taking the constituency which used to send the former chancellor and head of the Better Together campaign to Westminster.
Mr Darling’s replacement as Labour candidate, Ricky Henderson, claims the party’s support in the seat is still strong. “Feedback is pretty positive,” he says. “I’m promoting our policies like recruiting 1000 more nurses and supporting young people into work.”
A councillor in the area for 16 years and currently convener of the health, social care and housing committee, he says: “I’m a local candidate – I’ve lived and worked around here for 35 years.” An Ashcroft poll gave the SNP a 13-point lead in the seat.
SNP candidate Joanna Cherry says: “We’re very optimistic. We’re getting a good response right across the constituency. People are impressed with Nicola. There’s a very favourable response from female voters and I think they like the fact there’s a female candidate too.”
Ms Cherry is an Edinburgh born and bred QC who joined the party in 2008 and co-founded Lawyers for Yes in last year’s referendum.
She was one of the first specialist sex crimes prosecutors in the Crown Office’s pioneering National Sex Crimes Unit.
LABOUR’S Sheila Gilmore perhaps faces the toughest fight in the city to hold what was once the party’s safest seat.
Edinburgh East recorded the largest Yes vote in the Capital and it has had an SNP MSP for the past eight years.
Her challenger is comedy boss Tommy Sheppard once deputy general secretary of the Labour Party in Scotland, who campaigned for a Yes vote and joined the SNP after the referendum.
But Ms Gilmore, who took over the seat from Gavin Strang a the last general election, insists she does not see the national trend reflected on the doorsteps. “We’ve spoken to thousands of people and we’re picking up a lot of support,” she says.
Mr Sheppard, however, declares himself “confident but not complacent”.
The founder of The Stand Comedy Club says: “We have fought a positive campaign about ending austerity and more powers for Scotland. A lot of the stuff we’ve heard from the Labour leadership is unnecessarily negative.
“A very large number of Labour supporters are coming over to us. And a large number are still undecided – some people are not going to make up their minds until they get into the polling booth.”
THIS seat looks like the tightest fight in the Capital.
Labour’s Ian Murray was just three points behind the SNP in a Lord Ashcroft opinion poll last month.
But that was before the revelations about SNP candidate Neil Hay, using a pseudonym to post tweets which branded No supporters Quislings and talked about some elderly voters barely knowing their own name.
Mr Murray held on to the seat for Labour at the last election by just 316 votes in the face of a determined Lib Dem onslaught. Now he hopes to do the same against the SNP.
The shadow business minister and a moving force behind Foundation of Hearts says: “We always knew it was going to be
“The main feedback we’re getting is that people appreciate hard-working MPs that are always available and accessible and they’re voting for us on that basis.
“Edinburgh South has always been close. We don’t just campaign at election time, we’re out on the doorsteps all year round.”
He says Mr Hay’s tweets have become a major factor in the election.
“People are deciding the SNP candidate is not fit to represent everyone in this constituency.”
Mr Hay was living and working in Spain up until 2011, when he returned home to Edinburgh with his wife and two sons.
He managed the SNP campaign in the Liberton/Gilmerton council by-election in 2013 and then became organiser of the Yes campaign in Edinburgh South.
He has apologised for the “insensitive language” he used in the tweets and insisted at a hustings meeting that he would have no problem representing people who disagreed with him about independence.
But critics have said SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon should have sacked him as the party’s candidate.
Mr Hay says: “Our canvassing results are positive, the case for change remains positive and people are reacting well to that message.”
Linlithgow and Falkirk East
SCOTTISH Nationalist candidate Martyn Day says the reception he has had from voters is so good he can hardly believe it, but it has made him confident of success.
“I have said from day one it looks too good to be true,” he says. “I’ve been banging on doors for decades and I’ve seen nothing like it. I’d be gobsmacked if we haven’t done it.”
Mr Day, 44, has been a councillor for Linlithgow for 16 years and is SNP development and transport spokesman in West Lothian.
He is challenging Labour’s Michael Connarty, MP for 23 years, who is a long-standing opponent of Trident and was against the war in Iraq.
Mr Connarty claims voters who are willing to declare their hand are going for his party over the SNP by a margin of two to one.
And he says about a third of voters are still undecided. He says he is happy to campaign on Labour’s manifesto, which he describes as one of the most radical for years.
“It challenges trickle-down economics and talks about redistribution and increasing people’s ability to work, to be paid a decent wage and have a decent contract, abolishing the bedroom tax and removing targets for benefit sanctions.”
He won almost 50 per cent of the vote in 2010, but says he has never believed there was any such thing as a safe seat.
LABOUR’S Graeme Morrice had a 10,791 majority last time but says he expects it to be “a close-run thing” tomorrow.
The former West Lothian Council leader faces a challenge from rising SNP star Hannah Bardell, a 31-year-old former TV producer and marketing executive who beat four long-serving councillors to become candidate for the seat.
Mr Morrice says: “We have worked really hard in the constituency and we’re getting really good support. I’m not immune to the national trends, but I’m quietly confident we can do this.
“The nearer we get to the election, the more people focus on the fact this is a UK election and a choice between a Labour or a Tory government. People do not want a Tory government and the only viable choice is to vote Labour.”
Ms Bardell worked for STV and GMTV and then managed Alex Salmond’s constituency office before working for the US State Department in their Edinburgh consulate and going on to communications and marketing posts in the oil and gas sector.
She says winning the seat is “a big ask” but adds she is getting a very positive response and is working flat out to secure every vote.
“The main thing people tell us is they feel let down by Labour and the current system at Westminster.”
KENNY Young is fighting hard to keep this former mining seat in Labour hands following the retirement of ex-pitman David Hamilton.
The former aide to Ed Miliband grew up in Dalkeith and was elected a councillor for the town last year.
He says: “We’re working flat out, talking to as many people as we can and the response is really strong.
“There is a lot of warmth for Labour.
“The SNP seems to have run out of steam. People are put off switching to the SNP because they don’t want a second referendum and they don’t want a Tory government.”
SNP candidate Owen Thompson, leader of Midlothian Council, sees it differently.
“We’re still getting a very good positive response on the doorstep,” he says. “We find our positive campaign about what we want to do, rather than attacking the other parties, is going down well.”
Cllr Thompson was raised in Loanhead after moving there aged seven when his dad became minister at Loanhead Parish Church. After attending Beeslack High School in Penicuik, he studied accounting and finance at Napier University and worked in financial services until 2007.
Since then he has worked as an assistant to a couple of SNP MSPs at Holyrood.
He has been a member of the SNP since 1996 and was first elected to Midlothian Council at a by-election in Loanhead in November 2005, becoming the youngest councillor in Scotland.
He became council leader in November 2013.
He is reluctant to discuss what he expects the result of the election to be. “We’re taking nothing for granted, we’ll just keep working hard right up to the end and hopefully early on Friday morning we’ll be in a good place.”
IS the SNP tide about to surge on East Lothian’s shore?
Labour’s Fiona O’Donnell says she has not felt the national poll figures reflected on the ground in this seat, which has always had a Labour MP.
“Our Labour vote is holding up really well,” she says. “We have more undecideds coming to us than leaving us and a fair amount of tactical voting – people who have never voted Labour before who are saying they will this time. And we have had Labour Yes voters coming back to us.
“I feel we can win. I’m aware the polls have not shifted, but the polls are for the whole of Scotland and it feels different in East Lothian.”
The SNP’s George Kerevan, former economics lecturer and ex-associate editor of The Scotsman as well as once being a Labour councillor in Edinburgh, is on a whistle-stop tour of all the towns and villages in the 270 square mile constituency in the last 24 hours before polling. “There is a huge disenchantment with traditional Labour,” he says. “And there’s the Nicola factor – when she turned up in Musselburgh High Street last Friday she was mobbed. Even people who voted No feel she had brought a breath of freshness to Scottish politics.”
But he is cautious about predicting the outcome. “This is my seventh election contest and I’ve learned it’s not over till it’s over.”