Election Constituency Profile: Midlothian

Picture: Ian Georgeson
Picture: Ian Georgeson
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THERE used to be no question about who would win elections in Midlothian.

The seat has been represented at Westminster by a succession of Labour MPs over the past 60 years. And at one point the party had 17 of the 18 seats on the council.

So is the SNP tide which seems set to sweep across Scotland on May 7 about to engulf the county and wipe out the 10,000-plus majority which retiring MP David Hamilton won at the last general 
election?

The SNP already holds both the Holyrood constituencies that cover the area. But Labour’s candidate at this election, Kenny Young, who grew up in Dalkeith, served as an aide to Labour leader Ed Miliband and is now a councillor for his home town, says he has detected no SNP surge in the seat and claims the momentum is with him as the campaign enters the closing stages.

He says: “We are speaking to thousands of people each week and all this talk of an SNP surge, it’s not happening in Midlothian.

“People don’t want a Tory government and I think people are impressed with what Labour is offering.”

He says the party’s job guarantee for young people, in particular, goes down well.

And he continues: “In Midlothian people have had an SNP council for a number of years now, which works with an independent Tory to keep Labour out. So people here don’t buy this idea that the SNP are the people to vote for if you want Labour in.”

He suggests the SNP may have peaked in Midlothian. “The last time they won here was at the council elections in 2012.

“Since then, Labour won the European Parliament election across the county, there was a strong No vote in the referendum and we won a council by-election just after the referendum. Labour is on an upswing in Midlothian.

“We are working absolutely flat out and are taking nothing for granted, but undecided voters have been coming to Labour in the last few days and it feels as if we have the crucial momentum going in to the final stretch.”

The SNP candidate’s, Midlothian Council leader Owen Thompson, sees it differently.

“We’re getting a very positive response,” he says. “Obviously it’s a big task to overturn a 10,500 majority, but we’re working very hard to win every vote we possibly can.

“People we have been talking to are very much of the view we have had enough of the austerity agenda over the last five years, but they are not convinced Labour is offering anything very different.

“We have been explaining the SNP’s plan to invest and grow our way out of some of the challenging situations and help the most vulnerable people in society – and many traditional Labour voters favour that approach.”

Mr Thompson has been a councillor in Midlothian for almost ten years and leader of the council for the past 18 months. He used to work in financial services, but now works part-time for an MSP.

He is encouraged by the national signs of an SNP advance but does not draw too much from them.

“The polls are all very positive, but we’re not taking anything for granted,” he says. “The figures are nice to look at, but I take them with a very big pinch of salt.”

Tory candidate Michelle Ballantyne, leader of the Conservative group on Scottish Borders Council, says the election feels “very peculiar” in the wake of the referendum and the uncertainty over the national outcome.

“Midlothian previously had a massive Labour majority. Certainly now there is not that sense you’re in a solid Labour constituency.”

She is not predicting a swing to the Tories and says she gets a “mixed” response on the doorsteps.

But she says: “I’m sticking to the facts as I see them, who I am and what I can offer. I don’t believe the slagging match from other parties is where I want to be.

“People should be looking at the candidates and making their decision on whether that individual would do a good job as an MP.

“There is definitely an apathy around politics that still exists despite all the hype about the referendum.”

Married with six children, Ms Ballanytne trained as a nurse and has worked in the health service and the voluntary sector, managing a drug and alcohol service, and now runs a manufacturing company with her husband.

Green candidate Ian Baxter got just 1.5 per cent of the vote when he stood last time, but is upbeat about this election.

“It’s a much more exciting contest than in the past,” he says.

“David Hamilton had a huge majority, but I reckon about half of that was a personal vote, which makes it a much narrower contest in view of the national opinion polls.

“We have been much more active – I’m now a councillor which I wasn’t when I stood five years ago.

“I’m picking up the message that a lot of people are thinking of voting for what they believe in rather than voting tactically.”

He claims he is winning votes from “old Labour” voters.

“With the traditional mining communities in Midlothian, a lot of people remember the tremendous work Labour did in nationalising the coal industry and introducing health and safety as well as the National Health Service, and have supported Labour on that basis.

“I get the feeling some of them are moving to the Greens because we have taken on many of these causes.

“Our policies for bringing the Royal Mail and the railways back into public ownership and a £10 minimum wage are certainly ones that resonate.”

“I’m particularly keen on trying to bring more 
decision-making down to the community.

“I was highly involved in the campaign to save Bonnyrigg Leisure Centre, which had a lot of community backing but I felt they had been ignored.”

Liberal Democrat Aisha Mir says she is concerned about the imbalance in the local economy and communities in the area and believes she can make a difference.

“I believe this is the party that can deliver not just a quick fix, but long-term sustainable recovery that will improve the lives of everyone, including those in smaller rural communities across Midlothian that often gets overlooked.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com