Latest Capital shake-up may pit Labour MPs against each other and pave the way for Tory return after 20 years
THE political map of Edinburgh is changing yet again. The latest shake-up looks like forcing two of the city’s newest MPs into a head-to-head contest to stay at Westminster – and if the boundary changes go ahead as proposed, it could even pave the way for the Capital to have a Tory MP for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The Boundary Commission scheme, published today, means Edinburgh will be reduced from five seats at Westminster to four as part of the UK Government’s move to cut the House of Commons from 650 MPs to 600 and introduce much stricter rules about constituencies being of equal size. Scotland will end up with 52 MPs instead of 59.
City politicians broadly welcomed the way the commission has gone about creating the four new seats, keeping them within the city boundaries rather than adding in bits of neighbouring council areas.
Outside the city, the East Lothian constituency remains as it is, Midlothian takes in an area of the Borders to become Midlothian & Tweeddale, while Livingston and Linlithgow & Falkirk East stay roughly the same.
However, the proposals – due to take effect at the next general election in 2015 – do give Edinburgh some of the biggest constituencies in the UK, all with more than 80,000 residents.
The map is effectively redrawn to bring Edinburgh West further into the city centre, adjust the shape of Edinburgh South West, create a newly-named Edinburgh Central & Leith and remove the current Edinburgh South constituency but put more than three-quarters of it into a new Edinburgh East, along with more than half of the current East.
That means Labour MPs Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) and Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) – both just elected at last year’s general election – may have to fight it out to become the candidate for the new seat, which will take in Bruntsfield and much of Morningside, as well as Liberton, Gilmerton, Burdiehouse, Newington and Portobello.
One Labour insider said: “People will look at these proposals and say Edinburgh South disappears and so far as the name is concerned that’s true, but really it’s Edinburgh East which has disappeared and Edinburgh South largely remains.”
Since a big chunk of Ms Gilmore’s current seat – including Craigentinny, Restalrig and the Old Town – goes into the new Central & Leith constituency, she could also challenge Edinburgh North & Leith Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz to stand there, but that is seen as unlikely. More than 70 per cent of Mr Lazarowicz’s current constituency goes into the new Central & Leith.
Mr Lazarowicz said: “It’s good to see the name Leith is retained. Indeed, the proposed new constituency brings together parts of Leith which were previously separated.”
Meanwhile, some parts of the current North & Leith seat, including Inverleith, Stockbridge and Comely Bank, are transferred to Edinburgh West, which could be seen as increasing the chances of the Conservatives taking back a seat which they lost to the Liberal Democrats in 1997.
But a Lib Dem insider played down the threat to Mike Crockart, pointing out the Tories had been a poor third last time and suggesting a better Tory prospect might be the new Edinburgh South West, currently held for Labour by ex-Chancellor Alistair Darling.
It gains Ratho, Fairmilehead and the part of Stenhouse not already included in the constituency. Labour sources said the effect was neutral but described the seat as “marginal”.
Mr Darling said: “I’m glad the constituencies have been kept within the boundaries of the city, although there will inevitably be arguments about where they have drawn the lines.
“The objective of this whole exercise was to reduce the number of Labour MPs but, if you look at it overall, the commission has tried to make sense of a system that’s not very sensible.”
There is now a 12-week consultation period on the proposals, but the hearing on the Edinburgh shake-up takes place on November 14. Revised proposals will then be produced with final approval expected in early 2013.