Election Constituency Profile: East Lothian

How will it all pan out in Musselburgh?

How will it all pan out in Musselburgh?

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EAST Lothian is sometimes described as a microcosm of Scotland, ranging from former mining communities to better-off farming areas with a mixture of small towns and seaside villages in between.

So the constituency could be a good place to take the temperature of the country in the run-up to the potentially dramatic election on May 7.

Labour has held the seat since it was created more than three decades ago.

And the party also held on to the equivalent Holyrood constituency in 2011 despite the SNP landslide – but only just. The then Labour leader Iain Gray got back in with a majority of just 151 votes.

Fiona O’Donnell, MP since the last election in 2010, says she does not sense hostility to Labour.

“We feel we can do it here if we turn out our vote on the day, but it won’t be the majority I got last time,” she says.

“There are still a lot of undecided voters,” she 
continues.

“And there is a very positive plan with Labour – the idea that those who have the most should contribute most, raising the minimum wage, ending exploitative zero-hours contracts, and the jobs guarantee. People really like that – it appeals to them.

“And there’s also the fact that it’s so close in other parts of the UK, do you want to wake up to a Tory government?

“The arithmetic is that we need more Labour MPs than Tory MPs to be able to be in government. If places like East Lothian don’t send a Labour MP to Westminster that’s a possibility – and that’s five more years, with more damaging cuts.

“People may be angry with the Labour Party, but if there’s a Tory government it won’t be the Labour Party that pays the price, it will be communities like those in East Lothian.”

Labour sources claim tactical voting for Ms O’Donnell, particularly by Tories, could be a key factor in the result. One insider says: “There are people who have never voted Labour before who are going to do it this time to stop the SNP.”

But SNP candidate George Kerevan, a former economics lecturer and ex-associate editor of The Scotsman, says his party’s canvassing returns are mirroring the national polling data.

And Mr Kerevan, once a Labour councillor in Edinburgh before he defected to the Nationalists, says: “For the first time in my life – and I’ve fought quite a few elections – I’m finding people are reluctant to say they’re voting Labour.

“It doesn’t mean they won’t vote Labour on the day, but there is an unwillingness to say so. It’s reminiscent of 20 years ago when you could not get people to admit they were voting Tory.

“In many working class areas in Musselburgh, Tranent and Wallyford, people feel let down by the last Labour government and Tony Blair and very much let down in the referendum by Labour and the Conservatives working together.”

He says he has not seen much sign of tactical voting, but claims the national election campaign is having some effect. “There is a new factor we’re picking up in the last few weeks, which is people who voted No in the referendum – mostly women – who are saying they’re going to vote SNP because of Nicola.

“There’s definitely a big Nicola factor on the doorstep. Her popularity is beginning to come through in the 
campaign.”

Mr Kerevan has declared that if elected he will take as his personal MP’s salary only the average wage in Scotland of £27,000 a year rather than a backbencher’s pay of £67,060, with the difference used to run his local office, “to provide East Lothian’s constituents with the best service possible”.

Conservative David Roach says he is “quite 
encouraged” by his campaign in East Lothian so far.

“The dynamic changed with the referendum,” he says. “But it has also changed with Ed Miliband refusing to rule out a deal with the SNP. East Lothian had one of the highest No votes in Scotland.”

He believes Tory support in the area has been bolstered by some of the new housing estates which have sprung up in the past five years. Many of the new residents are Conservative voters who have moved out of Edinburgh to retire to East Lothian.

And Mr Roach, a communications consultant who lives in Musselburgh, says the coalition’s record also works in his favour. “People feel a lot more secure about the economy over the past five years – it’s not perfect but unemployment is down and job creation is up.”

Lib Dem Ettie Spencer, an artist and part-time lecturer in fine art, acknowledges she is not going to win. But she says there is a bedrock of support for her party in the constituency and “it is important to keep the conversation going”.

“I’m not putting forward a coalition position,” she adds. “I’m putting forward the Liberal Democrat position and there are a lot of people keen to discuss things that way.”

She says her own top priority is climate change, which she argues is being overlooked in the election. It is a hot local issue because of the large number of wind farms in East Lothian.

“We’re in a great position to catch the wind, onshore or offshore. The Tories are campaigning on stopping wind farms. I believe they need to be sensitively placed but we should not be talking in negative terms when I think this is a true crisis in the making. We need to do everything we can to build up the renewable 
industry.”

Green Jason Rose, who was born in Tranent and lives in Musselburgh, argues poorer areas of East Lothian have been taken for granted by Labour and overlooked by successive governments.

The party press officer has been campaigning on policies like the £10 minimum wage and getting the railways back into public hands. And he rejects the idea Greens should not be standing against the SNP and splitting the pro-independence vote.

“We are different parties with different policies. If you’re interested in independence you could vote for either of us, but what else comes with that? There are issues where we take a much stronger line than the SNP. On fracking, we are clear we don’t want it and we don’t need it; other parties have fudged on it and are not committed to fully ruling it out.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com