THE battle for Edinburgh West is potentially the most complex in the Capital, with all four main parties claiming they can win.
The SNP is tipped to take the seat but Liberal Democrat Mike Crockart, MP for the past five years, is hoping his own record can help him overcome the unpopularity of his party and pro-Union voters will rally to his banner to fend off the Nationalists.
The trouble is Labour and the Tories also claim they are best placed to defeat the SNP – and academics, tactical voting groups and the bookies cannot agree who is the most likely contender.
Edinburgh West includes Murrayfield, Corstorphine, Davidson’s Mains, Cramond and out to South Queensferry, Kirkliston, Newbridge and Ratho. It has been held by the Lib Dems at Westminster since the party won it from the Tories in 1997, but the SNP won the equivalent Holyrood seat in 2011.
United Against Separation, which campaigns for people to vote tactically to stop the SNP, advises a vote for Mr Crockart; but a similar group, United in Scotland, quotes bookies’ odds favouring Labour; and a third group – SNP Out – urges people to vote Conservative.
ElectionForecast, which is run by academics using poll figures and past voting patterns, puts the SNP on 31 per cent, Labour second on 23, the Tories next on 21 and the Lib Dems fourth on 20.
Mr Crockart, 49, says independence is the issue mentioned most on the doorsteps. “It still feels polarised in the same way as the referendum,” he says.
He dismisses Labour and Tory claims that they can win, pointing out neither party is targeting the seat with extra resources. “To win this seat, you have to do it the traditional way, knocking on doors right across the constituency. We’re delivering 45,000 leaflets every week – one to every home. People on the ground know it’s between me and the SNP.”
He is sceptical of the bookies’ judgement and says he has “bet big” on himself. “I’m putting my money where my mouth is and I expect to collect.”
The former policeman turned IT professional quit his role as a ministerial aide so he could vote against the increase in tuition fees which the Lib Dems had promised to oppose but then agreed to back as part of the coalition with the Tories.
He says Lib Dem voters who were angry about the deal with the Conservatives have come round. “For many Lib Dems, who did not like what we did, we are still the next best alternative to what they would have preferred.”
SNP candidate Michelle Thomson, described by the party as “one of the new breed of SNP challengers”, was a professional pianist and worked in IT at Standard Life – where she was Mr Crockart’s line manager – before setting up her own property business. She also spent two years in the run-up to the referendum as managing director of Business for Scotland.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has made two visits to the constituency – to open Ms Thomson’s campaign hub in Corstorphine and earlier this week in South Queensferry.
“Nicola is getting huge appreciation on the doorstep and her commonsense approach on why austerity is not working is resonating with people,” says Ms Thomson, 50.
“I’m not finding this election is about the referendum, it’s about which party people trust the most to stand up for Scotland and deliver for the poor and vulnerable and stick to their promises – which is a difficult message for the Lib Dems. People are concerned about jobs, particularly for young people.”
Parents, she says, are worried about their children being unable to plan their lives or buy or rent a house because of the part-time, low-paid, zero-hours or temporary nature of many jobs. And despite Tory and Lib Dem claims that the economy is back on track, she says people do not feel that.
“The money in their pocket is less. What people see in their lives is continued struggle, so the idea ‘The job’s only half done – let us finish it’ is a frightening prospect for many people. People are desperately looking for something better.”
So who does she see as her main rival? “It’s difficult to tell. The Lib Dems would have you believe it’s them, but that’s not what I’m seeing on the doorstep. I think the Tory vote will hold up, the Lib Dems will struggle and Labour are struggling too.”
Labour’s Cammy Day, 40, a councillor since 2008, claims the Lib Dem vote will collapse and he could beat the SNP despite polls showing Labour losing ground across Scotland.
“Edinburgh West is different from other seats,” he says. “We have a sitting MP from a party whose poll rating is about eight per cent across the UK. I think he’s going to lose, so his seat is up for grabs between the SNP and Labour. There was a huge No vote in Edinburgh West so people don’t want independence and my task is to persuade as many of these No voters as I can to vote for me.
“In 2010, Labour came a strong second with the biggest swing to Labour in the UK – and that was at a time when the Lib Dems were popular. Now they’re the most unpopular party in the country and we think we have a good chance of winning the seat.”
Tory Lindsay Paterson, 34, a councillor for three years, says the contest is a tough fight between all the parties. “We’ve been running a very active campaign and I’ve been getting a good response. The message from a lot of people is ‘We want to stop the SNP’.”
She claims the fate of the Lib Dem vote is to be seen in last year’s European elections where the party finished fourth.
And she cautions against tactical voting.
“People should vote for the party they believe in and want to support,” she says.
Green candidate Pat Black, 60, names food banks as a key issue. “Lots of people in our area are faced with poverty due to low wages, zero-hour contracts and benefit sanctions,” she says.
And Ukip’s Otto Inglis, 49, says he feels strongly about English votes for English laws and blames Labour for the ongoing constitutional debate because they “brought in devolution without working out the consequences”. firstname.lastname@example.org