A PARALYMPIAN gold medallist has been chosen as the SNP’s candidate in the council by-election to find a replacement for former economic development chief Tom Buchanan.
Derek Howie, 61, who is registered blind, won gold in race-walking in the Games in Canada in 1976 and again in Holland in 1980. Now he is running to become a councillor for Liberton/Gilmerton ward following Councillor Buchanan’s death last month.
Mr Howie ran alongside Cllr Buchanan for the Nationalists in the multi-member ward in last year’s council elections, but lost out by just 15 votes.
Labour – which has chosen teachers’ union official Keith Robson as its candidate – starts as favourites to win the by-election since the party took two of the four seats last year with 40 per cent of the vote.
But Mr Howie, a former social worker, said the SNP was “in with a serious shout of winning”.
He said: “I think it will come down to which individual candidate people prefer and who runs the best campaign. I’m optimistic.”
Mr Howie went to Kaimes school, the Royal Blind School, then on to Stirling and Edinburgh universities. As a social worker with the council for 31 years he worked locally at Liberton Hospital and Liberton Gardens Care Home. He lives near the King’s Buildings and has two daughters, two sons and a two-year-old granddaughter.
He won his 1976 gold medal when he completed the 1500-metre race walk in six minutes 34 secondss. His second gold was for covering a 5k course in 24 minutes 31 seconds. He goes to the gym every morning, still competes in half marathons and likes hillwalking and jogging.
Mr Howie, who has a guide dog called Lloyd, said the issues people have been raising on the doorstep so far include housing maintenance, youth crime and pot holes.
“If elected, I would be a full-time councillor,” he said. “I obviously have a special interest in health and social care issues. Disabled employment that increasingly concerns me – among blind adults of working age, it is currently 70 per cent.”
Labour’s Mr Robson said the top issues raised with him by voters included potholes, dog fouling and parking.
He said people were concerned about the impact of the closure of Burdiehouse Primary, which was now being felt by other schools in the area.
He said that according to the Child Poverty Action Group, child poverty in the ward was a disturbing 28 per cent and a foodbank had recently been set up in Southhouse.
“My focus is on talking about jobs, education and training,” he said.
The Conservatives, Greens and Liberal Democrats have all selected their candidates for the by-election. Other candidates could yet emerge, as nominations close on Friday.
The by-election takes place on June 20. To register to vote or apply for a postal vote people should contact the Electoral Registration Office or phone 0131-344 2500 by June 5.