Holyrood 2016: SNP's Gordon Macdonald likely to hold Pentlands

Edinburgh Pentlands has been held by three different parties since 1999, but Gordon Macdonald looks set to retain the seat for the SNP this time, says Ian Swanson

Wednesday, 20th April 2016, 9:38 am
Updated Wednesday, 20th April 2016, 10:45 am
SNP candidate Gordon MacDonald celebrates after winning the Edinburgh Pentlands seat from Tory David McLetchie (right). Picture: Ian Rutherford

THREE different parties have held Edinburgh Pentlands since the advent of the Scottish Parliament.

Its first MSP, Iain Gray, was in the cabinet as Enterprise Minister when he became a surprise casualty in the 2003 Scottish Parliament election, losing to the then Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie.

Mr McLetchie went on to hold the seat at the next election and was confident of winning again last time, but found himself defeated in the SNP landslide – though he got back as a list MSP and remained in the parliament until he died in 2013.

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Now Gordon Macdonald, the SNP victor of 2011, is standing for re-election – and if the polls are right, he will be back in Holyrood after May 5. Mr Macdonald, 56, was a management accountant for Lothian Buses for 22 years before becoming an MSP

He says planning, housebreaking and traffic congestion have been the biggest issues in the area.

“At peak times, the Calder Road is the biggest car park on the west side of the city and it’s not going to get any better with all the housebuilding in West Lothian and people commuting into Edinburgh.”

He says when it comes to planning, the policy should be “brownfield first”. “And we need to have affordable housing because that’s where the demand is,” he continued. “Edinburgh is an economic hotspot. There are people coming here for work who can’t find houses.”

He noted there were some affordable homes being developed in the constituency. “The support the Scottish Government are giving is going to help that.”

But he said: “We need to avoid the situation where we are building on the green belt – I don’t think the roads infrastructure can take much more at peak times and it doesn’t make sense to build on arable land when we cannot feed the existing population.”

Mr Macdonald says housebreaking continues to be a major issue. “Certainly the long-term trend is down, but there are blips. It’s down on where it was last year, but that’s no consolation to anyone who has their house broken into. We need to keep supporting the police in what they are doing.”

Despite the polls, he says he is not taking anything for granted about the outcome of the election.

“The seat was hard-won and we are working the area hard.”

He said after becoming the area’s MSP his constituency office developed into a drop-in centre where people could go for help.

“Hopefully the record of service to the community should stand us in good stead.”

Labour candidate Blair Heary, 29, grew up in Colinton, and went to Firrhill High School. He is a case worker for MSPs and previously worked for a project called Teens Plus, helping young adults with special support needs, and before that for Oxgangs Care, working with children who have special needs.

“The fact that over the years this seat has been represented by Labour, the Tories and the SNP makes it interesting,” he says.

Mr Heary says Labour has campaigned strongly in the area outside election time. “Last year there was a spike in housebreaking in the constituency and we ran a campaign to get more local accountability in the force and more neighbourhood police officers.”

The crime issue still comes up on the doorstep. “Everyone seems to have an anecdote about a neighbour who has been burgled, a car stolen or cases of antisocial behaviour.”

College cuts are another concern, he says. “I was speaking to one lady who was attending a course at Sigthhill; she has a wee one in nursery; now the course has been moved to a campus on the other side of the city and she is having to spend more on travel and on childcare.”

The Tory candidate is advocate Gordon Lindhurst, 48, who stood at last year’s general election in Edinburgh South-West, which covers much of the same area as Pentlands.

He said the structural faults found in 17 city schools was an issue raised a lot on the doorstep. “It may have to be looked at in terms of how the building certification process works in the next Scottish Parliament,” he said.

And the delay on the Local Development Plan is another matter of concern to voters, he said. “I’m in principle not in favour of building on the green belt if reasonable provision 
can be found on brownfield sites. If building does take place, the necessary infrastructure, roads and schools have to be worked into the forward planning.”

Liberal Democrat Emma Farthing-Sykes, 33, works at Edinburgh Napier University.

She says her party’s 1p on income tax policy is going down well. “Many people are prepared to pay a bit extra to make sure education gets back to being as good as it was.”

And she claims there is a “strong swing back” to the Lib Dems in the parts of the seat which fall within the Edinburgh West Westminster constituency, which was held by the party up until last year.