Leith Walk byelection could be of national importance – Steve Cardownie

Staff prepare for the Leith Walk by-election at McDonald Road Library polling place (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
Staff prepare for the Leith Walk by-election at McDonald Road Library polling place (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
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Big issues on the doorstep appear to be Brexit and local issues like the number of new hotels and student flats, the rise of Airbnb, and dog fouling but the tram extension doesn’t seem as controversial as expected, writes Steve Cardownie.

Next Thursday, a City of Edinburgh Council by-election will be held in the Leith Walk ward where 11 candidates have entered the contest and will all be hoping they will be successful and emerge as a new councillor for the area – some with more justification than others.

The poll was triggered by the ­resignation from the council of ­Marion Donaldson, the former Labour councillor, and while the result will not alter the balance of power in the City Chambers, it is being keenly fought and may serve as a barometer for the fortunes of the political ­parties should a snap general election be called, which is becoming more of a possibility each passing day.

It is against this backdrop that I caught up with a good friend of mine, Rob Munn, who is the SNP candidate in the forthcoming poll.

Rob is no stranger to the world of local politics having served as a ­councillor on three previous ­occasions and once served as Deputy Lord ­Provost, a role that he carried out with some distinction. Rob was regarded as a diligent and conscientious councillor who rarely missed a meeting and who was known for his ability to read and scrutinise reports that were often complex and detailed.

In common with other candidates, he has been totally immersed in the campaign which has entailed the delivery of 30,000-plus leaflets, staffing of street stalls and knocking on doors to enlist support and discuss the issues of the day with the electorate.

Of the 15,000 households visited, Rob estimates that he has accounted for 1000 of them and regards it as an extremely important aspect of the campaign and an invaluable experience.

One of the issues that has been ­consistently raised is Brexit and, although this is obviously outwith the remit of the city council, people are concerned enough about the issue that they have taken the opportunity to discuss it with him when he has appeared on their doorstep.

Other matters of a local nature have ranged from the proposed housing/hotel/student accommodation development on Leith Walk at Steads Place which Rob opposes, to the growth of Airbnbs, which is proving to have an adverse effect on the local community as more private properties are removed from the long term rental sector, forcing Leithers to move further afield to find suitable accommodation.

Street cleansing and dog fouling are other issues that have commanded attention but surprisingly the tram extension from York Place down to ‘the fit o’the walk’ and on to Newhaven has not featured as much as was expected, which can probably be put down to the fact that as the decision has now been made there is no point in still debating the principle.

However, the disruption associated with the works is definitely a matter of concern and one that Rob is well aware of as he was a sitting councillor the last time tram works were carried out in Leith.

He witnessed first hand the turmoil and detrimental impact on businesses it caused, with some failing to recover.

The campaign will be turned up a notch or two by all the candidates as polling day approaches and with just eight days to go, party activists will be redoubling their efforts in an attempt to get their particular candidate elected. No one is taking anything for granted.

They will all be hoping that there is a decent turnout of the electorate on the day and with polling stations opening from 7am until 10pm, inconvenience can hardly be cited as a ­reason for not voting.

As a former councillor I am heartened that so many candidates have put their names forward as it aptly demonstrates that the desire to serve the local community is still something that people aspire to, which is no bad thing for democracy and bodes well for the future.