Edinburgh seats will be key general election battleground

Theresa May announces the general election in Downing Street. Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Theresa May announces the general election in Downing Street. Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire

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The Capital is set to become a key general election battleground as campaigning gets under way after Theresa May’s surprise announcement of a June 8 poll.

And there are fears over the future of Edinburgh’s £1 billion-plus City Region Deal which was due to be unveiled soon after the local elections on May 4.

The Prime Minister said the election would strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations and claimed it was “the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead”.

But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the snap poll was a “huge political miscalculation” and claimed it could strengthen the SNP’s mandate for a second independence referendum. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the election and said he would be campaigning on housing, education and the NHS.

Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray said he was “up for the fight” and “confident” of holding his seat.

“It’s the same choice as in 2015. If people vote Conservative they are essentially endorsing the hard Brexit route which Theresa May is going down – and if you vote Conservative you risk getting an SNP MP who only wants to talk about independence.

He said the Prime Minister was seeking a larger majority to deliver a harder Brexit and the SNP wanted an endorsement for hard independence.

“We need to get out of this race to the bottom of constitutional nonsense.”

Edinburgh North & Leith SNP MP Deidre Brock said the election was a chance for the public to give its verdict on the UK Tory government.

“Voters across Scotland will be able to make it clear what they think of the callous treatment Theresa May and her government have handed out to people who are disadvantaged, poor or disabled. There has been a constant stream of bad policies and vindictive actions from the government in London which have pushed people into poverty, damaged the prospects for Scottish businesses and hit at the fabric of 
society.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western, said the election in Scotland would be dominated by the prospect of Indyref 2 and he claimed there had been a fall in SNP support since 2015 while his own party was well-placed to make gains.

He said: “Lib Dems stand in the space occupied by the majority of the Scottish population who want Scotland to remain with the EU and within the UK.”

All parties are now scrambling to get candidates in place. The Lib Dems will be targeting Edinburgh West and are expected to select their candidate from an all-women shortlist within a week.

The Tories ruled out any bid by Scottish leader and Edinburgh Central MSP Ruth Davidson for a Westminster seat. But Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said he had been approached by a number of people and was taking soundings about standing, possibly for Edinburgh South-West.

Ms Davidson welcomed the election and signalled a twin-track campaign.

“We will have a clear election message – only a vote for the Scottish Conservatives will ensure we get the strong leadership we need to get the best Brexit deal for the whole country. And only a vote for the Scottish Conservatives will send a strong message that we oppose the SNP’s divisive plan for a second referendum.”

Downing Street said Mrs May would not take part in any televised leadership debates during the campaign. The choice at the election was “already clear”, said a spokesman.

But broadcaster David Dimbleby, who hosted leaders’ debates on the BBC in both 2010 and 2015, said a refusal to take part in TV showdowns with her rivals could backfire against Mrs May.

He said: “I don’t think other parties will refuse to take part in debates, and I wonder whether Number 10 will stick with that, because it may look a bit odd if other parties are facing audiences and making their case. I think that’s a dangerous policy.”

Call for guarantee on City region deal

THE £1 billion-plus City Region Deal could be hit by the election.

In the Commons, East Lothian SNP MP George Kerevan raised fears that the snap election could mean deals for cities such as Edinburgh were put on the back-burner.

The Capital’s deal had been due to be signed by the end of March or early April, but last month council chiefs admitted it had been delayed until after the local elections on May 4.

The deal would see cash for Edinburgh from both UK and Scottish governments.

Mr Kerevan asked for a guarantee that the city deal would “neither be aborted nor substantially delayed” by the calling of the general election.

Treasury minister Simon Kirby said the government had already invested £1.3 billion in city deals in Scotland and Wales and it was discussing further deals for Edinburgh, Stirling, Tay Cities and North Wales. He added: “What I can guarantee is it’s about time the SNP start delivering for the people of Scotland. The level of growth for Scotland is one quarter of that in the UK.”

Edinburgh seats among the targets

EDINBURGH South’s Ian Murray – Labour’s only MP in Scotland since 2015 – is confident he can retain his seat. A strong local record and tactical voting by supporters of other pro-UK parties helped him to a 2,637 majority over the SNP.

Labour could also be eyeing up East Lothian – won by the SNP’s George Kerevan last time, but a seat Labour managed to hang on to in the Holyrood election.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats believe they have a good chance of winning Edinburgh West, which Michelle Thomson won from them for the SNP in 2015 before a scandal broke involving her property business. She now sits as an independent.

And the Tories hope the apparent revival in their fortunes could mean the chance of gains for them in the Capital. Alistair Darling’s old seat of Edinburgh South West could be their best prospect if they can persuade Labour voters to back them in a bid to oust SNP MP and justice spokeswoman Joanna Cherry.