Holyrood 2016: Labour's Lesley Hinds has a fight on her hands
Transport chief Lesley Hinds has got a fight on her hands to retain Edinburgh Northern and Leith, says Ian Swanson
IT was the one Holyrood seat in the Capital which did not fall to the SNP five years ago.
Labour’s Malcolm Chisholm was re-elected as MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, though with a reduced majority.
His victory amid the defeats which saw party colleagues unceremoniously dumped out of a job was attributed to his popularity as a left-wing champion of local causes and his willingness to speak his mind even if it did not match the party line.
But now Mr Chisholm has stepped down, having represented the constituency since the Scottish Parliament was first elected in 1999.
He has handed the Labour baton on to former Lord Provost and current transport convener Lesley Hinds.
But with the polls showing the SNP set to win virtually all first-past-the-post seats across Scotland, she faces a struggle to keep the seat.
She hopes her track record as a councillor for 32 years, which has included spells as council leader, Lord Provost and police board convener as well as her current role as convener of transport and environment, will help. “People believe I can deliver,” she said.
“Malcolm Chisholm was very much engaged in the community and was a strong voice for people. That’s what I want to do too.”
Councillor Hinds says issues voters raise include the environment; affordable housing; the Living Wage; planning – particularly after the row over the future of the Earthy restaurant; education; fighting austerity; and smells from Seafield. She says people like Labour’s plans to raise the top tax rate from 45p to 50p. They don’t, she adds, want another independence referendum. “They want to use the powers we have to fight austerity.”
And inevitably the trams are still talked about, particularly whether they should be extended to Leith. She said: “When the tram was first proposed, it was because of development at Granton and Leith and to ensure we had investment in public transport. We made a commitment to the people of Leith; they have had that disruption; we’ve got a job to finish and we want to move on and do that.”
The SNP’s candidate is Ben Macpherson, 31, a lawyer who is fighting his first election.
He is not convinced of the case for extending the tram line and says it is right the decision will not be made until after the council elections next year.
“From conversations I’ve had, extending the tram line isn’t a priority or preference for many people in Leith right now.
“Personally, at present I don’t think the case has been sufficiently made to proceed with an extension at this time.”
Mr Macpherson says he is getting strong support on the doorstep. “We think we have got a good chance.”
He names housing as one of the key issues. “There’s a need to balance more housing for the area but also make sure it happens in a way that’s advantageous for the area, to the right standard and affordable and there is enough green space preserved. People have responded well to the SNP’s commitment to build 50,000 affordable homes over the course of the next parliament.”
Mr Macpherson also highlights community safety, noting that crime in North Edinburgh and Leith is down 25 per cent in the last nine months.
“People have responded well to the SNP’s commitment to maintain 1000 extra police officers/police numbers and investment in real terms in our police service.”
Mr Macpherson quit his job in February to concentrate full-time on the run-up to the election. “It has allowed me time to meet as many local organisations as possible,” he said. “Malcolm Chisholm was an excellent constituency MSP and his retirement has changed the dynamics of this election.
“He was incredibly engaged in the community, something I take very seriously and would want to emulate.”
Tory candidate Iain McGill, 39, a Leith businessman, stood here in the last two general elections, was candidate in neighbouring Central at the last Holyrood election and has also fought council seats in the area.
“Last year, at the Westminster election, it was fascinating to see how the Lib Dem vote had absolutely disappeared. What’s fascinating this time is where is the Labour vote? In many areas it has gone.”
He says the SNP are set to take the seat and the Tories are for the first time picking up former Labour voters. “People who have never voted Tory before are voting Tory this time.”
Mr McGill claims people are worried about the prospect of a second independence referendum and see the Tories as the ones who would stop it.
Liberal Democrat Martin Veart was also a candidate here at last year’s Westminster general election and is now bidding for Holyrood. He worked as an engineer in the oil industry but became a casualty of the slump, being made redundant twice in a year.
“I’m finding a lot of discontent with the SNP’s record,” he said, “particularly the health service. Beds that used to be available just aren’t there any more and people are worried this integration of health and social care could be just another round of cuts.”
Jack Caldwell, 23, an IT consultant, is standing as an independent on a platform of protecting local services and putting more money into mental health. “I want to represent local people, not a party line,” he said.
“Being diagnosed with Aperger’s Syndrome at age four and suffering from severe depression around the ages of ten and 12, school was a challenge for me. I overcame this challenge and managed to pass my exams in sixth year at Trinity Academy, but at cost to my mental wellbeing. From that point on, I vowed to fight for the children like me who had been disadvantaged by our overcrowded, hyperactive modern schools
“Due to government-led budget cuts to both national and local authority services such as the NHS, Edinburgh’s Child and Adolescent mental Health Service and comprehensive schools, I feel someone needs to stand up and defend the institutions which have been a staple of this country for the last couple of decades.”