Holyrood 2016: Labour looks to unseat SNP in Edinburgh South

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and candidate Daniel Johnson. Picture: Neil Hanna
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and candidate Daniel Johnson. Picture: Neil Hanna
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DANIEL Johnson sees party colleague Ian Murray MP as the perfect example as he seeks to unseat SNP’s Eadie in key constituency, says Ian Swanson

EDINBURGH South was the one seat in the whole of Scotland which Labour held on to at last year’s Westminster general election.

The boundaries for the Holyrood constituency of Edinburgh Southern are slightly different, but Ian Murray’s success has boosted the party’s hopes.

Labour had expected to win the Scottish Parliament seat last time by taking it from the Liberal Democrats, whose popularity had plummeted across the country. But the SNP’s Jim Eadie came through the middle to get elected with a majority of 693.

He won with just under 30 per cent of the vote – the smallest share of any MSP in Scotland – and now he’s bidding to retain the seat.

He says: “I’m fighting on my record as a hard-working, energetic campaigning MSP.

“People are remembering I fought against the Craighouse development, they have been impressed with the campaign for reinstatement of the South Suburban line and people like my approach of trying to work with people across the political divisions, which has produced results.

“It has generated more money for cycling, investment in the sewage system at Shandon after homes were flooded four times in 16 years, and it helped save the Royal Mail sorting office in Strathearn Road.”

Mr Eadie has also been an outspoken critic of the private finance deal at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and says the schools closures in Edinburgh highlight again the problems with such projects.

“Whether it’s operations by torchlight at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary or schools not being fit for purpose, that’s what happens when you have PFI deals that give private companies too much power.

“There is widespread anger that a hospital that cost £180m to build will cost taxpayers £1.44 billion over the lifetime of the contract. And it’s equally eye-watering sums involved in the schools.”

Labour believes its candidate Daniel Johnson has a strong appeal to voters because of his background outside politics.

He worked for a large firm of management consultants in London before returning home to Edinburgh and buying into the family business, the Studio One and Paper Tiger chain of shops.

On the key issues in the election, he says: “Even before the current crisis, the number one issue for families in South Edinburgh was school capacity – every single primary in the area has an issue about that. It underlines the need to protect school budgets. We have a clear dividing line between us and the SNP and working families are responding very well to our tax plans.

“People really feel the shortcomings of the SNP and the gap between their rhetoric and the reality of what they deliver. They will vote for the person who is best able to hold them to account and focuses on South Edinburgh.”

Mr Johnson has also drawn up a “personal manifesto” setting out his own priorities, promising annual “listening events” and pledging to volunteer one day a year in a classroom, a nursery and work a shift in a hospital or clinic.

“I’m not saying anything that contradicts the party manifesto but I’m saying I would like to push for something bolder, for example a target date for Scotland to achieve a decarbonised economy.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Pramod Subbaraman fought Edinburgh South at last year’s general election. The party held this seat for eight years with Mike Pringle as MSP and Mr Subbaraman is optimistic about winning back voters who deserted the party after its coalition with the Tories at Westminster.

“People still have not forgotten Mike Pringle – he was the best MSP they have had and he was unfairly punished for faults that were not his own.

“Lib Dem supporters who voted tactically last year to keep the SNP out are having second thoughts and they’re coming back to the Lib Dems.”

The Westminster seat of Edinburgh South was a Tory stronghold up until 1987 when Labour won it and there has always remained a solid residual Tory vote, which the party now hopes to capitalise on.

Conservative candidate Miles Briggs – who also stood in Edinburgh South last year – says his canvass returns show the SNP in the lead with the Tories in second place. He claims to be picking up support from Labour and the Lib Dems.

He argues Labour’s success in holding the Westminster seat last year was more a vote for Ian Murray than the party.

And he claims the priority for many voters is to “stop the SNP”.

Mr Briggs said: “Edinburgh Southern is such a unionist constituency,” he said. “There was a 65 per cent No vote in the referendum – the highest in Edinburgh.

“A lot of people from both Yes and No sides are still living within what was referendum politics. That influenced the general election, obviously, and we’re seeing it still.”

He says Tory leader Ruth Davidson has a strong appeal.

And the most frequently raised issue on the doorsteps, according to Mr Briggs, is potholes. “People just see the state of the roads in Edinburgh and it’s their number one complaint.”