Constituency profile: Edinburgh North & Leith

Scottish Labour are expected to post a better result than they did in 2015. Picture: TSPL
Scottish Labour are expected to post a better result than they did in 2015. Picture: TSPL
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LEITH had been a Labour bastion since 1945 until two years ago when former actress Deidre Brock took the SNP from fourth place to win the seat with a majority of well over 5000.

She says she is standing on her record of working with thousands of constituents and lots of local organisations over the past couple of years.

“Pretty much all our opponents talk about is a second independence referendum,” she complains. “But that decision has been taken by the Scottish Parliament. It worries me they appear to be suggesting a decision by our democratically elected representatives can just be overlooked.”

She is concerned about people left struggling as a result of Tory austerity policies and says there has been an increase in such cases at her surgery over the past six months. “People who are obviously ill who are turned down for benefits, disability vehicles being taken away from people”.

Ms Brock claims Labour’s vote is collapsing and says the Tories are surging across the country. “I don’t think that’s enough to overtake us in North & Leith, but every election has the potential for surprises.”

Labour’s Gordon Munro – a Leith councillor since 2003 – says he is getting a good response on the doorstep for the party’s policies like the £10 living wage and banning zero-hour contracts.

“Poverty is a big issue in North & Leith. We have high rates of child poverty and 
in-work poverty and pensioner poverty.”

He says independence is the key point for some people, but others raise a range of issues.

“It’s about security of employment, the triple lock on pensions – older people are really concerned about that and despite the about-turn, the idea of a dementia tax was making people fearful.”

Mr Munro claims there is discontent with the Nationalists. “There’s definitely an anti-SNP feeling out there and that’s coming across loud and clear. People have been badly let down by the Scottish Government, who have not been concentrating on the day job.”

And he dismisses the Tory threat. “Their tails are up because of the council election results, but I don’t see evidence of that in North & Leith.”

Tory candidate Iain McGill, not surprisingly, sees it differently. “It’s a straight fight between us and the SNP,” he says.

He points out that a big chunk of the seat falls in the Holyrood constituency of Edinburgh Central, which elected Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson as MSP last year.

And he says the Tories also did well in the council elections on May 4.

“Jeremy Corbyn’s politics do not go down well in the New Town, Stockbridge, Inverleith and Trinity. We’re even getting more support than Labour in Pilton.”

Mr McGill has stood several times before, both for 
Holyrood and Westminster. “I know these doors,” he says. “In 2010 you couldn’t find a Nat, now in 2017 you can’t find a Labour voter.”

He says independence is the main issue. “Folk are SNP or Conservative or undecided unionist voters. It comes down to the referendum – how to get it or how to stop it.”

Lib Dem Martin Veart is also a veteran of elections here – this is his third time as a candidate in three years – but he is more upbeat than before, claiming a revival in the party’s local fortunes.

“Membership has almost trebled, we have more resources,” he says.

And he argues the party had a good showing in the council elections.

“We are reviving, we’re back and we’re going to continue to grow in this constituency.”

Green candidate Lorna Slater says during the local elections she heard people’s concerns about high rents, dirty streets, pollution on Leith Walk and a host of other issues. “Local government has been cut and cut again by Westminster, so we need to get someone into Westminster to change that.”

The other issue she is keen to tackle is the “chaotic and cruel” welfare system. “People having to phone premium rate numbers when the DWP gets their claim wrong, poorly worded and confusing letters – we need to replace all that with something that helps people and does not feel just like terrifying, arbitrary punishment.”