Holyrood 2016: SNP's Fiona Hyslop likely to reclaim Linlithgow
Stretching from the banks of the Forth to Harthill in the west, there are a number of major issues in play in the Linlithgow constituency, says Ian Swanson
FIONA Hyslop won this seat for the SNP at the last Holyrood election – and she looks likely to hang on to it when voters return to the polls next week.
The Culture, European and External Affairs Secretary says: “We’ve got a lot of support and there are still people moving over to us from Labour. But we’re fighting hard for every vote.”
The constituency is one of the biggest in Scotland, embracing five towns – Linlithgow, Bathgate, Armadale, Whitburn/Blackburn and Broxburn/Uphall – and a whole series of villages, stretching as far west as Harthill.
Ms Hyslop says one issue that keeps coming up is West Lothian Council cutting the budget for buses.
“Because the constituency is semi-rural, people are very reliant on buses to get to doctor’s appointments and so on, but the council has cut the subsidy so a lot of bus services have been cut back.
“West Lothian Council’s budget went up by 1.6 per cent this year, so they need to rethink their priorities.”
Edinburgh Airport’s controversial flight path trials are still a concern. “The trials have stopped, but they have put more jets flying further north so people are still getting noise and disturbance,” says Ms Hyslop. “I’ve campaigned on the issue for some time and I’m pledged still to do so.”
Health infrastructure is another issue. “We have a growing population and lots of new-build estates as well as an elderly population, we need to make sure we have all the right facilities. Work has just started on Blackburn health centre.”
She acknowledges concerns about St John’s Hospital and the future of the children’s ward, currently being reviewed. Ms Hyslop says: “People know it’s an independent review and the case has to be argued.”
But she also highlights the SNP’s plan to site a specialist treatment unit at St John’s. “The SNP has worked hard to retain services at St John’s,” she says.
Labour’s Angela Moohan, a social worker and West Lothian councillor, says St John’s is the biggest issue in the campaign. “A lot of people are very unhappy and disgruntled with the SNP on St John’s. They feel they’re not being open and honest about it.”
Labour has claimed the report on the review has been deliberately delayed until after the election.
Ms Moohan says: “It seems likely the ward will be downgraded at least. If it was good news, why would they delay?”
She also cites fracking as a key concern. There is a moratorium at the moment, but the SNP is waiting for research to come back before deciding on a longer-term policy. “West Lothian, particularly Bathgate and Linlithgow, would be seriously affected if fracking is allowed. The uncertainty is making people uneasy.
“I think there is a lot of doubt in people’s minds about how the SNP has been for them.”
Conservative Charles Kennedy says the two biggest issues raised with him were the fears over St John’s and the SNP’s named person plans.
“We’ve been campaigning on St John’s for a while,” he says. “It would have been much better if the report was available now, but people are having to wait until the election is over. It’s the uncertainty. People assume the worst – which it may not be.”
The named person scheme is said by opponents to threaten family privacy.
Mr Kennedy says: “The more it comes to people’s attention, the stronger the reaction against it – and it doesn’t help that the Scottish Government seems to have conflicting positions. We need a clear statement to voters about what it really means for them.”