SNP brings seismic shift to Edinburgh politics

The Bank of Scotland building on the Mound in Edinburgh. Picture: Sean Bell

The Bank of Scotland building on the Mound in Edinburgh. Picture: Sean Bell

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EDINBURGH’S large non-Scottish population, above-average salary levels and nervous financial sector make the city an unlikely SNP stronghold.

But the election-day yellow tide swept across the Capital almost as strongly as the rest of the country. Four out of Edinburgh’s five Westminster constituencies fell to the Nationalists.

SNP MP George Kerevan and his wife Angela. Picture: Gordon Fraser

SNP MP George Kerevan and his wife Angela. Picture: Gordon Fraser

And now politicians on all sides are trying to work out the implications of the seismic shift in the politics of the Capital.

There was a palpable sense of shock among Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians and activists attending Thursday night’s count at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre as the scale of their defeat gradually became clear.

Labour’s victor in Edinburgh South, Ian Murray, now the party’s only surviving MP in Scotland, was grim-faced as he delivered his victory speech at the count, knowing his own triumph was trumped by the party’s near wipeout north of the Border.

But Labour and Lib Dem disappointment was matched by SNP delight.

The party’s new MPs said they had been elected on a platform of ending austerity and halting the spending of 
£100 billion on renewal of Trident at a time when families were queuing at food banks.

And although the SNP insisted the election was not about independence or another referendum, the scale of its success will inevitably make people feel another vote on the issue has moved closer.

In all the Capital seats except Edinburgh East the party was coming from fourth place, but it won by sizeable majorities – 3210 in Edinburgh West, 5597 in Edinburgh North and Leith, 8135 in Edinburgh South West and 9106 in Edinburgh East.

The SNP wins are all the more dramatic because there is little tradition of Scottish Nationalist strength in the Capital.

Indeed, Edinburgh was traditionally seen as a Tory city until Labour won power at the City Chambers in 1984 and Labour MPs Alistair Darling and Nigel Griffiths were elected in two former Tory seats in 1987.

But Edinburgh shared in the SNP’s 2007 surge when Kenny MacAskill won Edinburgh East from Labour to become part of the Nationalists’ minority government and a swathe of SNP city councillors were elected and agreed a coalition deal with the Lib Dems.

Five out of the city’s six Holyrood seats were won by the SNP at the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections.

And at the council elections the following year, the party’s group at the City Chambers remained in power, swapping partners from the Lib Dems to Labour.

The SNP’s general election success in Edinburgh could therefore be seen as the latest step in a gradual transition of power from a tired Labour Party with which people seem to have lost sympathy to an appealing new SNP, which seems to promise a fresh approach.

So what difference will the Nationalist triumph make to Edinburgh? One seasoned observer says: “It does change the climate in the city.”

And he suggests that precisely because there has not traditionally been strong SNP support in the Capital, the party will want to make sure it establishes a firm hold here.

“From an SNP perspective, they will want to take Edinburgh in order to take Scotland to independence.

“They realised they could not take Scotland without taking Glasgow and they put a lot of effort in there.

“Now we can expect an increased focus on Edinburgh.”

And a council source says that coming after the change of leadership in the SNP council group, the party’s increased national profile will raise tensions in the Labour-SNP coalition at the City Chambers.

The source claims new group leader Sandy Howat is “more political” than predecessor Steve Cardownie.

“He stood on a platform saying Labour had had too much of its own way, so he will want to follow that through and even more so now.”

But Labour says the new SNP dominance will bring with it expectations which the party will have to meet, such as delivery of millions of pounds of investment in a City Deal like the one already agreed for Glasgow.

And a Labour source seeks to draw comfort for the party and its role in the Capital from the broad sweep of political history.

“Political parties are rarely out of the race completely, or in total control,” says the source.

“When Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, if felt as if she would rule the roost for ever and a day. But time changes everything.”

INTRODUCING YOUR NEW MPS

EAST LOTHIAN

Name: George Kerevan

Age: 65

Background: George Kerevan was associate editor of The Scotsman from 2000 to 2009, and is a former economics lecturer, Labour Party councillor and journalist. Educated at Kingsridge Secondary School in Drumchapel and the University of Glasgow, he secured a first-class degree in Political Economy. He joined the SNP in 1996 and stood for a seat in Edinburgh East in 2010.

Majority: 6803

EDINBURGH EAST

Name: Tommy Sheppard

Background: Born in Ireland, Tommy runs the Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle and has become one of the Fringe Festival’s most successful venue operators. He was a Labour councillor in London for eight years and was Assistant General Secretary of the Labour Party in the 1990s, before switching to the SNP and becoming a staunch Yes supporter during the independence referendum.

Majority: 9106

EDINBURGH NORTH AND LEITH

Name: Deidre Brock

Background: Born and raised in Australia, Deidre Brock was an actress before turning her hand to the world of politics. The Depute Lord Provost of Edinburgh and Councillor for Leith Walk grew up in Perth and once starred in an episode of TV soap Home and Away before falling in love with Scotland while on holiday. During the campaign, she vowed to protect pensions from cuts and backed a rise in the minimum wage.

Majority: 5597

EDINBURGH SOUTH WEST

Name: Joanna Cherry

Age: 49

Background: Joanna has practised as an Advocate for around 20 years. She became a QC in 2009 and is ranked by the Legal 500 as one of the leading QCs in Scotland, making numerous appearances at the Supreme Court. She was one of the first specialist sex crimes prosecutors in the pioneering National Sex Crimes Unit, and co-founded pro-independence group Lawyers for Yes.

Majority: 8135

EDINBURGH WEST

Name: Michelle Thomson

Age: 50

Background: Michelle is one of a generation of activists politicised by the referendum. Graduating from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 1985, she worked as a professional musician for a number of years before moving into IT and Financial Services. In 2009 she set up her own property business and soon became Managing Director of the pro-independence Business for Scotland group.

Majority: 3210

LINLITHGOW AND EAST FALKIRK

Name: Martyn Day

Age: 43

Background: Born in Falkirk but raised and educated in Linlithgow, Martyn is a long-standing community campaigner and has served as a West Lothian councillor for 16 years, boasting strong family connections in Grangemouth and Bo’ness. Throughout his rise in politics he was mentored by the late SNP leader William Wolfe, and had the youngest election agent in Scotland.

Majority: 12,934

LIVINGSTON

Name: Hannah Bardell

Age: 31

Background: Hannah Bardell left a job at GMTV to work with the SNP on their 2007 campaign. She managed Alex Salmond’s constituency office for three years, before working at the Edinburgh Consulate of the US State Department. She has also served as a member of the Grampian Chamber of Commerce Policy Committee and Business for Scotland, and has vowed to be “a pro­-independence MP”.

Majority: 16,843

MIDLOTHIAN

Name: Owen Thompson

Background: Raised in Loanhead, Owen Thompson has been leader of Midlothian Council since 2013. He studied Accounting and Finance at Napier University and worked in the financial services industry before being elected to Midlothian Council in November 2005 at the Loanhead by-election. At the time, he was the youngest councillor in Scotland. An early starter, Owen delivered his first political leaflets at the age of just eight.

Majority: 9859