General election: Who will win in Edinburgh East?
Five candidates bidding to be MP for "one of the coolest constituencies in the country"
FROM the seaside at Portobello to Holyrood and the Castle, Edinburgh East has many of the Capital’s most famous attractions within its boundaries. One candidate labelled it “one of the coolest constituencies in the country”.
But, of course, it has its problems too. There are high levels of poverty in Craigmillar and residents in the Old Town complain communities are being destroyed by the explosion in Airbnbs.
Tommy Sheppard won this seat for the SNP in 2015, ousting Labour’s Sheila Gilmore who had been MP for five years following party colleague Gavin Strang’s 40 years in the role.
Ms Gilmore is now bidding to win the seat back after Mr Sheppard’s majority came down from 9,106 to 3,425 last time.
Mr Sheppard says he is getting a “very positive” response on the doorstep. “I’m quite pleased with the way the campaign is going but I’m not in any sense complacent,” he says.
He claims many former Labour voters are undecided and softening towards the idea of independence. “Whereas two years ago these people would have been adamantly pro-UK and would not have given independence a second thought, now their minds appear to be open in a way they were not before. It’s becoming something they will consider.”
And although other issues do come up, he says Brexit and independence are key for most people. “I think there’s a general awareness this is a big picture election. It’s Brexit, it’s Boris Johnson or not, it’s independence. There are all big questions and I think that’s what’s motivating people.”
He says he welcomes the fact there’s a Green candidate even though she could take some pro-independence votes. But he adds: “I think most green-minded voters are probably going to vote for me tactically. I think they understand that the number of votes the SNP get in this election is quite critical to demanding the right to choose in the future. If the SNP were to do badly and the Tories were to do well then the prospect of having any discussion about independence recedes whereas if the SNP do well people realise that’s keeping open the choice. I think the Greens will take more from Labour than from me.”
Ms Gilmore argues that given the volatility in Scottish politics Labour can win. “Between 2015 and now we have seen changes in Scottish politics which psephologists would probably have said was almost impossible. I’m optimistic we can win the seat back.
“I think it’s important to get a Labour government. The people who need that change in political direction need us to begin to unpick the cutbacks we have seen over the past ten years. They need a Labour government so that can start to happen now, not at some unspecified time in the future, which is what the SNP is offering.”
She says Brexit was at the forefront of people’s minds before the election was called, but now other issues are raised as well. “People are realising this is about electing a government not a proxy referendum of some kind.”
Health and social care, the delay in opening the new Sick Kids hospital and housing issues, including high rents in the private sector are all hot topics, she says.
Tory Eleanor Price went to school in Edinburgh, works in financial services and moved back to the Capital three years ago. She voted Leave but acknowledges some people are worried about Brexit.
“I was a Brexiteer after a very long think about it. I used to live in Europe, I speak Italian, I’ve got many good friends in Europe and I’m certainly very pro-European but I’m not pro-EU. I think it’s a fairly iniquitous institution and I think there’s many benefits for this country from being out of the EU.
“But it was a difficult decision and I don’t think it’s going to be easy. I believe that decision should be respected.”
She says other issues people have raised include the Sick Kids, potholes, the Meadowbank development and student accommodation.
Lib Dem Jill Reilly believes her party’s stance against both Brexit and independence puts her a strong position.
She says: “Edinburgh East voted 72 per cent to stay in the EU and a majority voted to stay in the UK in the independence referendum and I am the only person standing on that policy, so I feel that resonates.”
Lib Dems have not done well recently in Edinburgh East, though back in 2005 they came second. Ms Reilly, a project manager with insurance giant Phoenix, says: “People are generally quite disillusioned with all the parties. I’m a new candidate and maybe that’s what people are looking for - a fresh face and new ideas.”
The Green candidate, City Centre councillor Claire Miller says the party is confident it will do well in the election. “We’re asking voters to consider giving Greens a vote to demand climate action. In times gone by it was often not the top issue for a lot of people, but now it is certainly at the top of a lot of people’s agenda and we are seeing a lot more support for the Greens, which is coming from across the political spectrum.”
And she says there is an acceptance Edinburgh needs a Low Emissions Zone. “People are concerned about the health aspects of air pollution, as well as the climate impact.”