Election Constituency Profile: Edinburgh South West

Edinburgh South West faces a tough battle. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Edinburgh South West faces a tough battle. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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IT used to be a Tory stronghold, then fell to Labour in the landslide that swept Tony Blair to power and – if the polls are to be believed – could now become an SNP gain on May 7.

Boundaries have changed over the years, but Edinburgh South-West remains largely made up of the old Edinburgh Pentlands seat held by the Conservatives from 1950 until Sir Malcolm Rifkind lost it in the 1997 Tory wipe-out.

Labour’s Lynda Clark then held the seat until 2005, when it was renamed South-West in a boundary shake-up and Alistair Darling became the MP.

His decision to stand down has handed the task of defending Labour’s 8447 majority to Ricky Henderson, a councillor for 16 years and currently convener of the health, social care and housing committee.

A Lord Ashcroft poll has suggested the SNP are set to win the seat by 40 per cent to Labour’s 27 per cent.

But Councillor Henderson claims most of his party’s vote is staying loyal.

“Where we have had Labour support before, that’s holding up,” he says. “Some people are still deciding – they have been bombarded with information from the different parties and they’re just taking their time.

“We have a positive agenda – increasing the minimum wage, doing away with zero-hours contracts, guaranteeing a training place or apprenticeship to people leaving school.”

And he says Labour’s proposed futures fund, offering financial support for young people not going on to further or higher education – is an important one for people in the constituency.

“It might be to help them buy tools for a job, pay for driving lessons or take the lease on a shop,” he says. “It’s about helping them establish themselves in their first job or start their own business. It’s a really positive step for young people who are often left to fend for themselves.”

He also highlights Labour’s pledge of 1000 nurses and 500 GPs funded by a mansion tax.

His main challenger is the SNP’s Joanna Cherry, 49, an Edinburgh born and bred QC who joined the party in 2008 and co-founded Lawyers for Yes in last year’s referendum.

She says austerity is one of the biggest issues for voters. “People are concerned about in-work poverty. We believe in increasing the minimum wage and putting an end to zero-hours contracts and the exploitation of workers.

“The issue of benefit sanctions is raised a lot. The way they have been applied is unfair and we support Citizens Advice Scotland’s proposal there should be a moratorium on the current regime. People on benefits should be able to live in dignity.”

She says every day she finds people who voted No in the referendum but are going to vote SNP in the election. “They say that although they voted No they didn’t like the way they were spoken to and the denigration of Scotland’s ability to run its own affairs.

“They believed the promises that significant powers would be devolved and they’re not happy that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are not hanging around to deliver on them. They see the SNP as the best guarantee these promises will be kept.”

Ms Cherry also claims female voters, including older women, are greatly taken with Nicola Sturgeon. “They really like the new First Minister,” she says. “And they want to see more women in politics.”

Tory Gordon Lindhurst says he has not seen any groundswell for the SNP in the areas where his party is strong.

“The Conservative vote is doing very well,” he says. “A lot of people feel the government has done a good job at managing things so unemployment is falling and employment is rising and they fear that might be endangered.”

Lib Dem candidate Dan Farthing-Sykes – chief executive of charity Haemophilia Scotland, which fought on behalf of victims of the contaminated blood products scandal – says people are willing to give him a fair hearing despite his party’s 2010 deal with the Tories. He highlights food banks and Trident as key issues for voters.

And he admits he departs from the party line on a scaled-back Trident replacement. “I’m not comfortable with Trident. People feel with austerity it’s difficult to justify spending that much money when it’s not about keeping people warm and fed.”

Green candidate Richard Doherty, 32, says he is getting a more positive response than he expected, given the polarisation of the campaign between Labour and the SNP.

“I’m focusing on our anti-poverty message – sustainable jobs rather than zero-hour contracts and the £10 minimum wage by 2020, while what other parties are suggesting is effectively it rises with inflation, which is not that meaningful.”

Richard Lucas, a maths teacher from Colinton, who is standing for Ukip, puts the economy and the national debt at the top of his agenda.

But he says voters are too ready to accept promises from the other parties of increased spending. “It’s a bit of an uphill struggle to make the case for more financial responsibility.”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com