‘We are running this campaign as a marginal seat’ – Ian Murray’s Edinburgh South battle

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The Edinburgh South constituency makes an unlikely location for Scottish Labour to fight what some have predicted could be its last stand.

But it was here, among the handsome sandstone tenements of Morningside and Marchmont, the party managed to retain its only seat north of the border at the 2015 general election.

Ian Murray campaigning on Grange Loan in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Ian Murray campaigning on Grange Loan in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Places like Fife and Ayrshire, for so long heralded as the heartlands of the labour movement, were turned yellow by an SNP electoral tidal wave that saw the Nationalists win 56 out of 59 Westminster seats in Scotland.

Only Ian Murray held out, backed by voters who live in the well-maintained streets centred around The Meadows in Edinburgh’s southside. Two years later, he was again returned with an increased majority of 15,514 – and was joined in the Commons by six other Scottish Labour MPs.

It seemed his party had turned a corner. But ahead of next month’s general election, Labour once more finds itself trailing the Conservatives in national polls. One Scottish survey even suggested the party is bumping along in fourth place behind a resurgent SNP and the Lib Dems.

Is Murray again at risk of becoming the last Scottish Labour MP standing?

“We are running this campaign – as we always have done – as a marginal seat campaign, despite the 2017 election result,” he told Scotland on Sunday.

“Our two big messages are we are offering a People’s Vote with the option to Remain, and saying no to a second independence referendum. That’s what people are talking to me about on the doorstep.”

It’s fair to say Murray is far removed from the diehard Corbynite wing of his party. He resigned as shadow Scottish secretary in 2016, claiming then that Jeremy Corbyn was “not able to lead us… in this moment in time I do not think he can be prime minister.”

Last month, Murray survived an attempt by the Unite trade union to force him into a full re-selection contest in his constituency. The fact he was able to comfortably see off such a challenge is testament to the strength of his support among local Labour members.

But Murray insists he still wants to see a Labour government returned at Westminster.

“The positions of the UK Labour party are the positions of Edinburgh South,” he added. “Labour is the only party offering that People’s Vote with the option to Remain. Our opposition to independence is also what the vast majority of people in Edinburgh South want.”

He continued: “But yes, I am also running on my personal record. Everyone in this seat knows someone that I’ve helped. Even people who don’t vote Labour, vote for Ian Murray, because of the record my team and I have built. There is a recognition out there and I am very humbled by it.

“We don’t want a Tory government. There are two choices – we either have a Labour government come 13 December or we have a Conservative government.”

Asked if he would accept a job in Corbyn’s cabinet if Labour did take power, Murray said: “That’s a long way away. I’m just focusing on speaking to my constituents in the run-up to 12 December. My diary on December 13 is blank at the moment. We are concentrating on what we need to do to retain this seat.”

Edinburgh South may have rejected Scottish independence in 2014, but that doesn’t mean the SNP view this seat as unwinnable. It is one of only two mainland constituencies never held by the nationalists. Nicola Sturgeon has already made one campaign stop in the area. It is a prize they would love to claim.

Hoping to convince voters to turn the seat from red to yellow is Catriona MacDonald, a first-time SNP candidate. She co-owns a café in Tollcross with her mother and is a former pupil of James Gillespie’s High School in Marchmont.

The 25-year-old believes Brexit – and not the prospect of an indyref2 – will be at the forefront of voters’ minds come 12 December.

“I think people in Edinburgh South will be voting to stop Brexit,” she said. “Over 70 per cent of voters rejected Brexit in 2016 and they still feel the same way. They feel aggrieved that, having come out so strongly for Remain, they are now being dragged out of the EU against their will.

“I think this is a constituency with a high level of tactical voting, and it’s been that way for a number of years. The question people who usually vote Labour must ask is ‘Which party will prevent us from being taken out of the EU?’ Can they actually trust Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party to do that?”

MacDonald, who campaigned for a Yes vote in the constituency in 2014, believes more locals are now actively considering independence.

“One of the biggest issues I recall is that people were concerned that if they voted Yes then it could end up with Scotland being taken out of the EU,” she added. “It was a huge issue. People are now very unhappy that, despite voting in favour of EU membership twice now, it’s something that could be taken off the table. I think that’s changed minds on independence.

“What happens if there is another referendum, and England and Wales back Brexit – but Scotland doesn’t? I think a lot of people at that moment would prefer to be independent than in the UK out of the EU.

“I think the problem for Ian Murray is he is standing on a Labour ticket and people do not agree with his party’s ambiguous position on Brexit.

“He personally supports Remain, but people may question whether his party does.”