Tories seeking Labour help to claim big SNP scalp in Edinburgh

Voters in Wester Hailes may struggle to remember the last time they had a knock at the door from a Conservative that reckons he can win.

Colinton is a key part of the Edinburgh South West constituency, which could be a key battleground for next months election. Picture: contributed

Miles Briggs, who hopes to become the first Tory MP for Edinburgh South West in 20 years, has just finished canvassing the neighbourhood, among Scotland’s most deprived.

It’s the first of three campaign stops that day, and he might have squeezed another in around the “day job” as regional MSP for the Lothians, but something gets in the way: sitting next to the Prime Minister at his party’s manifesto launch.

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“This is the most tactical and the most political election I’ve ever seen,” says Mr Briggs, citing anger over calls for indyref2.

“People are looking to see who can beat the SNP.”

If the Tories are going to go from having a good to a great night on 8 June, Edinburgh South West could be the bridge they have to cross to get there.

Overturning SNP justice and home affairs spokeswoman Joanna Cherry’s 8,135 majority means convincing large numbers of Labour supporters to vote tactically for the Tories. Under previous boundaries, the constituency that spans city centre tenements, leafy suburbs and Pentlands farmland was true blue. But in 1997, Malcolm Rifkind was ousted by Labour, and the seat was later held by Alistair Darling until the SNP landslide two years ago.

But as responses at the door on Mr Briggs’ next stop in the well-to-do suburb of Colinton show, indyref2 isn’t the only issue on voters’ minds. One woman says of the likelihood of more constitutional upheaval: “I just want it to stop”. But another, who voted against independence, says she’ll stick with the SNP “because I don’t want 30 years of Tory rule”.

“They don’t like me because I’m an effective performer and I don’t take any nonsense,” Mrs Cherry says of suggestions she could fall victim to a unionist “decapitation strategy”. The Tories added four councillors across the constituency in this month’s local election, but she claims the “idea that somehow working class Labour voters are somehow going to vote Tory is very, very mistaken”.

Her main challenger says being MSP for the past year has given him the chance to fight local campaigns on bread and butter issues, like reducing congestion on the Edinburgh bypass and keeping a cleft lip and palate surgery unit open at the Edinburgh Royal Infimary.

“I’ve been involved in all these campaigns, and I’ve not seen any of the SNP MPs who were returned in Edinburgh involved in anything,” he claims.

It’s a charge that Cherry dismisses as “completely untrue”, citing her work on issues from stopping bank branch closures to shielding Edinburgh’s universities from Brexit.

For Cherry, the question for voters is this: “Do they want an SNP MP who is a frontbencher, works hard for the constituency and who has a high profile, who will call Theresa May to account, or do they want just another Tory backbencher who would be lobby fodder for whatever she wants to do?”

Labour candidate Foysol Choudhury says the party’s second place finish in 2015 means it is best placed to beat the SNP. Past and present Labour supporters will be getting a letter from Mr Darling urging them to stick with the party. “There are a lot of SNP supporters who are voting for us because they don’t want another referendum,” he says.

Liberal Democrat candidate Aisha Mir claims the Lib Dems can build in an area that voted to stay in the UK and the EU, and says voters support the party’s pledge to welcome more Syrian refugees.

“The SNP have had the chance to prove themselves, and they’ve failed – on the NHS, on education, the list is endless,” she says.