All to play for in unpredictable Edinburgh council election

Ruth Davidson winning Edinburgh Central was one of the bigger surprises of last year's Holyrood elections.
Edinburgh City Chambers in the High Street. Voters go to the polls to elect a new council on May 4. Picture: Greg Macvean/TSPLEdinburgh City Chambers in the High Street. Voters go to the polls to elect a new council on May 4. Picture: Greg Macvean/TSPL
Edinburgh City Chambers in the High Street. Voters go to the polls to elect a new council on May 4. Picture: Greg Macvean/TSPL

It was only the third time a Conservative candidate had won a constituency seat in the capital since the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

Following her victory, Davidson admitted that not everyone who voted for her was likely to be “a true-blue, dyed-in-the wool Tory”, reflecting on a remarkable four-way electoral battle for the seat.

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The Scottish Conservative leader won with a majority of 610, and 30 per cent of the vote, over the SNP in second place. But both Labour and the Greens also polled strongly.

This competitiveness was reflected across the city. Its six seats were won by four parties, with the Lib Dems returning one of their five MSPs in Edinburgh Western. In comparison, the SNP won all nine constituencies in Glasgow.

The Holyrood contest highlighted the unpredictable nature of municipal politics in the capital ahead of May’s council elections. Each of the main parties is confident they can make gains.

The City Chambers in the Old Town are currently run by a Labour-SNP coalition. In 2012, Labour emerged as the biggest party with 20 seats, up five, with the SNP on 18, up six. The Conservatives were unchanged on 11.

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With 63 seats up for grabs when voters head to the polls on 4 May no party is likely to return the 32 councillors required for a majority. Another coalition looks likely. The question is who emerges on top.

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Buoyed by their Holyrood performance, the Conservatives are in confident mood. “Although it is a local election, people are asking where candidates stand on another referendum and it can only help that the Conservatives are the only major party which is rock solid on Scotland remaining part of the UK,” Tory group leader Cameron Rose told The Scotsman.

“Edinburgh is ripe for a change and the Conservatives are well placed to take advantage.”

The SNP see it differently. They were second in terms of vote share in 2012 and members believe they are in a good position to go one better come May, which would place them in a favourable position when forming a coalition.

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“We have been part of the City of Edinburgh administration for ten years and in that time shown a great capacity to work in partnership with different political parties,” said group leader Frank Ross. “In terms of the next administration we would aim to be the largest party, subject of course to the decisions of the electorate.

“These council elections are taking place across a backdrop of other political issues, with Brexit being the major concern for both business and individuals – however the SNP will fight them on the basis of delivering local services.”

Regardless of the result, there will be a change at the top for Labour. Council leader Andrew Burns announced his retirement last year, but he enters one last campaign confident his party can form another administration come 5 May.

“We are promoting a positive vision for our capital city centred around the issues that matter to local people – housing, education, social care and transport,” he said.

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“We are the first party in the city to have launched our finalised vision for Edinburgh, having consulted on a draft manifesto document for several months beforehand.

Edinburgh Labour believes that the mark of a civilised society is how it looks after its young and vulnerable citizens – and the proposals outlined in our vision for the Capital will help do just that. We will always focus on local issues first and foremost.”