Holyrood 2016: Ruth Davidson hoping to take Edinburgh Central

Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson is hoping to come up trumps in what is nearly an all-women contest in Edinburgh Central, says Ian Swanson

Monday, 2nd May 2016, 9:46 am
Updated Friday, 6th May 2016, 4:47 pm
Ruth Davidson has a go at driving a bus in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin
Ruth Davidson has a go at driving a bus in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin

IT’S nearly an all-female contest to become the new MSP for Edinburgh Central. Each of the five main parties is fielding a woman candidate and the only male is from the Scottish Libertarian Party.

The SNP’s Marco Biagi, who won the seat from Labour last time, is standing down. The Nationalists have chosen Alison Dickie, a teacher and former Scottish Parliament official, as their candidate to replace him.

Sarah Boyack, who represented the seat for 12 years from the start of devolution until the last Holyrood election, is bidding to win it back for Labour.

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Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson is standing here after switching from her previous base in Glasgow.

Green Alison Johnstone, a Lothian list MSP since 2007, is also fighting the seat.

And they are joined by Lib Dem Hannah Bettsworth.

Alison Dickie says housing is a hot topic for voters – the need for more affordable housing, people struggling with rents. “I will be campaigning for Edinburgh Central to be designated as a high-rent spot.”

She says social isolation is also a major issue. “It can be elderly people, but a lot of people also talk about the stigma of poverty and a feeling of them and us.

“There are a lot of fantastic organisations in the community involved in these issues. It’s about educating each other.”

Ms Dickie says independence is also raised by voters. “There are people who say they were No but are now Yes and others who say they were No and they’re still No, but they’re voting SNP because they respect the delivery and the leader.”

She says the fact it is nearly an all-female contest means it is a “mature” one. “I hear about what’s happening elsewhere and you can see there is a lot of old-style male fighting. We’ve had enough of negative politics. We’re doing it quite respectfully. It has been a positive thing.”

Sarah Boyack, who lost the seat by just 237 votes in 2011 – though she returned to Holyrood as a Lothian list MSP – says: “I’m standing on my record as a hard-working MSP having campaigned to improve the quality of life for city centre residents on party flats, statutory notices and health and social care.

”We urgently need more affordable housing. The cost of the average two-bed private rented flat in Edinburgh is now around £850 a month, so people are interested in our promise of support for first-time buyers and 60,000 new affordable homes.

”The issue of Edinburgh’s social care crisis is also something people are concerned about so our plans to abolish the council tax and replace it with a fairer property tax and the option of a tourism levy to avoid more austerity cuts has gone down well.”

She says there is also support for Labour’s plans to tax the most wealthy and use the money to invest in education.

“We need a Scottish Parliament with strong MSPs to make sure our new powers are used to maximum effect.”

Ruth Davidson says Edinburgh Central is the seat which offers the best chance of an improved Conservative vote in the Capital. And she says she is getting a “really impressive” response.

The top local issues for voters are potholes, pavements and refuse collections and the biggest national ones are the constitutional issue and named persons.

“People don’t want a second referendum and do want a strong opposition that will hold the SNP to account.

“We opposed the named persons legislation at every stage in parliament, we were the only party to do so and the only party who would repeal it.

“During the time it was going through the parliament it was cheered on by Labour and the Lib Dems. They’ve had a bit of a rethink during this campaign. I think there’s a huge opportunity when we get back into Holyrood, if I’m leading the opposition, to work with people from Labour and the Lib Dems now they’ve had a change of heart, to make the SNP see sense on it.”

Alison Johnstone says the Greens are targeting Central because they have done well here in the past.

“One of the great challenges in Edinburgh Central is housing and affordability. Our policy on rent controls is attractive to a great many people. We also want to make sure all the empty homes in Edinburgh are put to good use by incentivising landlords; give more security to tenants; and build 60,000 more homes in the next parliament.

“We want to enhance and protect all that makes Edinburgh so special – we will continue to make sure Edinburgh’s Unesco World Heritage Site status is safe and we don’t make any rash short-term decisions to imperil that.

“Greens have a progressive tax policy that would enable us to ensure people have access to great local services. Libraries and sports centres have suffered in recent years and we need to make sure we continue to invest in them properly.”

She also highlights congestion and air pollution and says although Edinburgh has led the way on walking and cycling there is still a long way to go.

Hannah Bettsworth, a student at Edinburgh University, names healthcare as one of the big issues. “Children and young people are having to wait up to a year for mental health treatment,” she says. “You would never accept that for a physical illness. It’s really important we invest in mental health services and make sure it is treated in the same way as physical health.”

And she says the Lib Dems’ penny on income tax policy goes down well with voters.

“It would invest in a pupil premium for schools, helping the poorest young people and also allow investment in colleges, where we’ve lost 150,000 places and bursaries have been cut.”

Tom Laird is deputy leader of the Scottish Libertarian Party, which wants to work towards abolition of income tax, decriminalise all drug use and get rid of planning regulations. “We also think if you’ve got a car and someone is willing to pay you to take them somewhere, you can run your own taxi.”