General election: who will win in Midlothian?
Battle for Lothian's most marginal constituency
DANIELLE Rowley became Labour’s youngest MP and also the first woman to represent Midlothian at Westminster when she won the seat from the SNP two and a half years ago.
Her majority was just 885, making it the most marginal seat in the Lothians, but Ms Rowley is working hard to hold onto it.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Labour’s Europe spokesman Keir Starmer have both been to help with the campaign.
“Keir Starmer told me he had learned a new word - scunnered,” says Ms Rowley. “I do think people are a bit overwhelmed by constant elections, referenda and everything. But they see this as the election to put an end to all of the chaos. A lot of people are saying they are fed up but they are going to vote because it’s so important.”
Ms Rowley was recently the only Scottish MP in the top 20 of Change.org’s new People Power Index, which ranks the politicians on how much they listen to and engage with their constituents. She was ranked 16th out of 650 MPs.
She says it reflects the number of constituency surgeries, coffee mornings and outreach events she holds. “I am proud to be so high in the list,” she adds. “I’ve been getting good feedback about being a young local woman who has worked really hard.”
Ms Rowley says issues she has taken up include poor broadband speeds in many parts of the constituency and opposing bank and post office closures.
And using Freedom of Information she put pressure on the Government by showing how Universal Credit helpline operators used scripts with stock answers to dismiss callers as quickly as possible, which the DWP had previously denied.
She says she has met few voters eager for independence when she is campaigning. “I’ve not had anyone saying ‘I can’t wait for independence’. Either it doesn’t come up or people say it’s the last thing we need. Even people who are Yes voters understand it’s not the time, we need a bit of stability now.”
And on Brexit, she claims Labour’s stance goes down well. “People do ask - and when I explain it to them - within three months we’ll get a deal and within six months we’ll take it back to the public in a final-say referendum, but on a deal rather this time than an empty-cheque Leave option - a lot of people say ‘Oh, right - that seems sensible’.”
But she says: “The main issue coming up is not Brexit or independence, it’s the bread and butter issues - the NHS and GP surgeries, education, transport and then infrastructure to cater for all the new housing here in Midlothian.”
Hoping to win back the seat for the SNP is Owen Thompson who was the MP for two years before losing it to Ms Rowley.
“It’s feeling pretty positive,” he says. “We’re making sure we leave no path untrodden. It could come down to a matter of votes so every vote is going to be critical.”
Nicola Sturgeon has made campaign visits to the seat.
On the issues voters raise, he says: “Brexit is a big one and it’s helpful we are pretty much the only party with a very clear position on that if you want to remain in Europe and that’s respected by most of the folk we are talking to on the doorstep.
“Independence is coming up - a lot of people definitely want to have their voice heard and feel more and more Westminster simply doesn’t reflect them or listen to the views they’re expressing.”
He also mentions the “catastrophe” of Universal Credit and the question of nuclear convoys, which he highlighted when he was MP. After convoys were twice spotted in Penicuik, he drew up proposals to ban the transport of such weapons through towns and cities because of the danger to the public.
“I was elected in 2015 - at that time I thought for five years - to undertake a pretty massive job and I only got to do two years of that, so clearly there’s unfinished business.”
The Conservative candidate is Rebecca Fraser, a caseworker for one of the Tory MSPs. The party saw its share of the vote more than double last time to just over 25 per cent.
Ms Fraser, making her debut as a candidate, claims to be picking up voters from both Labour and the SNP. “It’s going really well for us,” she says. “I think we’re picking up a lot of Labour switchers, particularly traditional Labour voters who are disillusioned with Mr Corbyn.”
She says independence is a key issue for voters and argues Labour is no longer seen as a unionist party because it would be willing to allow a second independence referendum at some stage.
“We’ve even had Nationalists saying to us they’re normally SNP but they’re going to vote for us. They’re not happy with the way the country is going. We’ve also had SNP voters who are Leavers.”
Ms Fraser voted Remain, but “only just”. “I swayed and swithered,” she explains. “But I’m a democrat so the day after the vote my attitude was ‘Ok, we’ll make that work’.And as it has all gone on I almost wish my vote had been for Leave.”
She admits voters have a “mixed” reaction to Boris Johnson. But she says: “You don’t get a lot of mention of it really. I was surprised. I thought that was going to be much more of an issue on the doorstep.”
Lib Dem Steve Arrundale, who is also a first-time candidate, acknowledges the party’s 3.8 per cent showing in 2017 “wasn’t great” but insists there is stronger support now.
“In 2019 in the European elections we did a lot better - more than doubled the number of votes from 2017 even on a much lower turnout. There is a lot more interest in the Lib Dems in Midlothian. It’s definitely grounds for hope for building a much stronger platform than we had previously.”
Mr Arrundale, who is a management consultant in the financial services sector, says Brexit and independence are the issues raised most and he is getting a good response from voters. “They see us as the only party looking to protect membership of the UK and the EU.”