Election 2021: Here are the candidates and issues in Edinburgh Eastern

For a long time this was seen as Labour’s most solid seat in the Capital, but it became the first Edinburgh constituency to be won by the SNP when Kenny MacAskill took it in 2007 – and it has stayed that way.
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Ash Denham succeeded him as the SNP MSP here at the last election in 2016 with a comfortable majority of 5,087 and is seeking re-election on May 6.

The constituency was originally Edinburgh East and Musselburgh, but the boundaries changed in 2011 when Musselburgh was instead linked with Midlothian.

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It is still centred on Portobello and Craigmillar, taking in Abbeyhill, Lochend, Restalrig, Craigentinny, Willowbrae and Duddingston, but it now extends south to include Mordeun, most of Liberton, Gilmerton, Gracemount, Alnwhickhill and Burdiehouse.

Edinburgh Eastern constituency map. Picture: Allan Faulds/Ballot Box ScotlandEdinburgh Eastern constituency map. Picture: Allan Faulds/Ballot Box Scotland
Edinburgh Eastern constituency map. Picture: Allan Faulds/Ballot Box Scotland

Ms Denham, who has been community safety minister since June 2018, says she is highlighting her record helping community organisations like the Venchie children’s project in Craigmillar, whose funding was threatened, and Goodtrees in Moredun.

Her ministerial role means fireworks are in her remit.

And following the anti-social behaviour Edinburgh saw on Bonfire Night in 2017, she was keen to act.

“I was sure it was an issue in other parts of Scotland as well and the public were sick of it," she said.

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A consultation produced over 16,000 responses – the fifth highest for any Scottish Government consultation.

“It really hit a nerve with people,” Ms Denham said. “There was a lot of interest in tightening up the rules.”

Some changes went through the Parliament in June and more legislation is waiting to be picked up after the election.

Ms Denham insists the SNP’s plans for independence will not be at the expense of everything else. “We’re very focused on Covid recovery, how we mitigate Brexit and also investing in NHS and making sure people have good well-paying jobs,” she said.

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Labour’s candidate Bill Cook was councillor for Liberton/Gilmerton and deputy finance convener for five years up to 2017.

Before that he worked for 40 years at Ferranti and served as chief engineer. He has lived in or around the constituency most of his life, being brought up in the Inch, attending Liberton High School, living in Howdenhall and now in Craigentinny.

He says he will campaign a lot on local issues, pointing to concerns about new parking restrictions in Willowbrae, the loss of the 69 bus and making Smoky Brae one-way. “The common them of these proposals is they haven’t spoken to local people,” he says.

Other local concerns are the threat of Inch Park and Moredunvale Green being zoned for housing and major housing developments planned for greenbelt land in the south of the constituency.


But there’s also the constitutional question.

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“I am unequivocally against separating Scotland from the rest of the UK,” he said.

"There’s a lot we take for granted that has come through economic and political co-operation, whether with the rest of Britain or with Europe. As a remainer, all the arguments I used for staying in the EU are the very same arguments I would use for Scotland staying in the UK.”

Tory candidate Graham Hutchison, his party’s finance spokesman on the council, admits Eastern is a challenge for the Conservatives. “It’s never our best area in the city, but we're getting a fairly positive response,” he said.

And he claims Labour’s failure to vote on the no-confidence motion against Nicola Sturgeon has damaged them. “It plays well with ex-Labour voters who have gone to the SNP, but it’s not going to work for people who were wavering between Labour and Conservative,” he said.

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Mr Hutchison says as a councillor he has focused on council housing and successive administrations’ failure to replace council housing stock, which he believes resonates with feeling in parts of the constituency.

JILL REILLY  Liberal DemocratJILL REILLY  Liberal Democrat
JILL REILLY Liberal Democrat

And nationally he says people want to focus on Covid, not independence.

“People were seeing Nicola Sturgeon in a positive light off the back of Covid, but I think what's happened in the last few weeks has done real damage to her reputation,” he said.

Lib Dem Jill Reilly, a project manager with insurance giant Phoenix, stood here in the 2019 general election. She has been volunteering over the past year with a homeless charity and learned how difficult it was for people who lost their home to find suitable accommodation. “I think we need to work harder to find suitable places are available,” she said.

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“I think within Eastern there are quite a lot of potential sites that could be used for social housing which are often used for students instead.”

Nationally she prioritises Covid recovery and particularly children who have missed out on school. “We need to improve education and deliver on some of the promises that haven’t been met,” she said.

2016 result

Ash Denham (SNP) 16,760 47.3%

Kezia Dugdale (Lab) 11,673 33%

Nick Cook (Con) 5,700 16.1%

Cospatric d'Inverno (Lib Dem) 1,264 3.6%

Majority: 5,087

Turnout: 56.3%

History of seat

1999: LAB

2003: LAB

2007: SNP

2011: SNP

2016: SNP

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