Holyrood 2016: SNP's Angela Constance taking nothing for granted

AFTER a landslide victory in Almond Valley in 2011, SNP's Angela Constance is upbeat but taking nothing for granted, writes Ian Swanson

Monday, 25th April 2016, 9:00 am
Updated Monday, 25th April 2016, 11:02 am
Angela Constance. File picture: Lisa Ferguson

EDUCATION Secretary Angela Constance won this seat in 2007, four years ahead of the SNP’s landslide, and was re-elected last time with the biggest majority in the Lothians.

Nine years an MSP and five as a minister, she is upbeat about the election, but says she is taking nothing for granted.

“We’ve always had a good organisation in Almond Valley and we have more activists since the referendum, so we’re running the biggest and best campaign we’ve ever had. There’s a good buzz.”

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She is proud of the SNP’s record in West Lothian – 1500 more houses, 15 schools rebuilt or refurbished, crime down by 41 per cent and an increase in full-time students at West Lothian College.

Ms Constance highlights the concern over jobs at HM Revenue and Customs’ two centres in the area at Livingston and Bathgate, where a shake-up threatens to reduce the workforce and centralise jobs in Edinburgh.

She has backed the PCS union’s campaign to save jobs. “My family was greatly affected by unemployment in the 1980s,” she said.

A long-running concern in the constituency has been the future of the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital, Livingston. A review is currently under way, but Ms Constance’s Labour opponent, Neil Findlay, a Lothian list MSP in the last parliament, has accused the Scottish Government of deliberately delaying the report until after the election.

Ms Constance said: “I’m clear and the SNP in West Lothian is clear: we want to see it continue as a 24/7 children’s ward. People have long memories and they know the only time major hospital services were removed from St John’s was under Labour.”

She said the SNP had invested in the hospital and accused Labour of scaremongering.

Mr Findlay collected thousands of signatures on a petition to guarantee St John’s a long-term future after it was closed temporarily last summer due to staff shortages.

He also used Freedom of Information legislation to obtain correspondence which he alleges reveal the government sought to delay the report of the independent review and NHS Lothian went along with it. Issues at this election include not only St John’s, but also housing, jobs and low pay, says Mr Findlay.

He said: “We’re campaigning on the issue of the NHS in particular which is under pressure. People are raising issues around the inability to get an appointment with a GP, which is particularly a problem in Livingston.

“They’re also very concerned about the future of the children’s ward at St John’s.”

Fracking – which Labour has promised to ban – is also raised. He said: “This area was the centre of the global oil industry a century ago, based on shale, so this will be one of the prime targets for frackers if fracking gets the go-ahead in Scotland.”

Mr Findlay says Labour activists are motivated and upbeat.

“We’re in the right place on the policy agenda – on taxation and ending the cuts, exactly what people in the party want to hear and it’s going down well with people on the doorstep.”

Conservative candidate Stephanie Smith, 29, an expatriate tax consultant, says St John’s is the big issue for many voters. “It’s fundamental to the area and quite a big concern for a lot of people.”

Planning, too, is a hot topic. “There’s a lot of new housing being built, but people are concerned about whether the infrastructure is in place.”

And she says she is getting a good reception despite the lack of a Tory tradition in the area.

“People are looking for something different from the SNP and they are not wanting a second referendum. They’re looking for someone to hold the SNP to account.”

Former Edinburgh councillor Charles Dundas, who now works for the Woodlands Trust, is standing for the Lib Dems.

He says the legacy of the referendum debate is that many voters are well-informed politically.

“The tax does loom large in people’s minds. The Scottish Parliament is now powerful enough to put its money where its mouth is. I do get people saying they’re not sure putting up taxes is the right thing, but there are people who are delighted the parliament’s new muscles are proposed to be exercised.”

And his prospects on polling day? “The only way for the Liberal Democrats is up,” he says.