A FORMER landlord of Scotland’s oldest pub has been selected to stand as SNP candidate against Labour’s acting leader in the 2016 parliamentary election.
DJ Johnston-Smith – who ran the Sheep Heid in Duddingston from 2004 to 2011 – will take on Iain Gray for the East Lothian seat at Holyrood.
He said reducing child poverty and improving transport links between the county and Edinburgh would be among key priorities if he is successful in May.
Mr Johnston-Smith – currently completing a PhD on the history of Scotland’s urban clearances – said Labour had been given 50 years to tackle longstanding social problems and that “a new vision” was needed.
The 40-year-old father of one, who lives in Prestonpans, said: “Labour claims to be the champion of East Lothian but here in Prestonpans, in my little boy’s class, one in five of his classmates are living in poverty.
“The railways – that’s something people have written to me about. They want to see an increased service between East Lothian and Edinburgh. There are serious issues that need to be addressed – it’s time for a different approach.”
Mr Johnston-Smith joined the SNP in 2011 and became chair of the Yes East Lothian group in the run-up to last year’s independence vote. Prior to that, he ran the Sheep Heid, after working at watering holes including the Grassmarket’s White Hart Inn and the Mitre. He said the combination of pub and academic work had enabled him to appreciate politics in all its forms.
“I worked in the licensed trade for years – I had no involvement in politics [at that point] other than being a natural politician behind the bar,” he added. “[Taking on Iain Gray] is going to be a huge challenge. Both parties will put everything they can into this. I think Iain is going to try to hold that thin red line.”
Fellow SNP figures predicted Mr Johnston-Smith would be a huge asset. George Kerevan, SNP MP for East Lothian, said: “DJ was my election agent for the UK parliament elections and I will always be grateful to him for his energy, imagination and commitment to the people of East Lothian.”
Mr Gray said he welcomed the challenge: “Mr Johnston-Smith will have to defend eight years of an SNP government in Holyrood.
“SNP ministers have cut millions of pounds from our council’s budget, closed our court, overturned numerous local planning decisions, not least forcing through a new incinerator in Dunbar, delayed our new community hospital by ten years, so far failed to deliver the new station at East Linton, axed our traffic wardens, reduced access to police stations and tried to foist a massive industrial energy park on Cockenzie.”