Holyrood elections 2021: Here are the candidates and the issues in East Lothian

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The battle for East Lothian is set to be one of the most closely-fought contests in the election.

Former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray is standing down after 14 years as the MSP and the SNP has made it a target seat.

Labour has held the seat since the first Scottish Parliament election in 1999, but Mr Gray's majority fell to just 151 in 2011 and was 1,127 last time.

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Taking over the Labour mantle is primary teacher Martin Whitfield who represented East Lothian at Westminster from 2017 until 2019.

East Lothian constituency map. Picture: Allan Faulds/Ballot Box ScotlandEast Lothian constituency map. Picture: Allan Faulds/Ballot Box Scotland
East Lothian constituency map. Picture: Allan Faulds/Ballot Box Scotland

He thinks the result could come down to a handful of votes.

“It will be extremely close,” he says. “It's a two-horse race between the Nationalists and Scottish Labour and it's going to be hard – it's going to be a fight for every vote.

“But if you want someone who's going to keep us in the Union and be a strong voice for East Lothian, it has to be me. I have to speak that to people who might not naturally want to vote Labour, but if they don't we will have a SNP MSP.”

Mr Whitfield claims the decision of Kenny MacAskill, who replaced him as East Lothian MP in 2019, to switch from the SNP to Alex Salmond’s new Alba party has angered local people.

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Martin Whitfield - LabourMartin Whitfield - Labour
Martin Whitfield - Labour

He says: “Kenny is only in it for independence – and independence on his terms, even if that means changing parties and betraying all those people who knocked on doors on dreich December nights to get him elected.”

Mr Whitfield, who used to teach at Prestonpans Primary and is now at Dirleton Primary, says Covid recovery must be the prime concern for the new parliament, with education and support for young people high on the agenda.

“They have been through an experience no-one has had as a child since the war,” he says.

The SNP candidate is Paul McLennan, a councillor for 14 years and a former council leader. He says he is "cautiously optimistic" he can win.

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Paul McLennan - SNPPaul McLennan - SNP
Paul McLennan - SNP

National polls suggest the SNP should take the seat and Cllr McLennan is well-known in the area, but he is not taking anything for granted.

"This is an election like no other – normally when you're out knocking doors you pick up how it's going,” he says. “This time it's difficult to tell.”

He was Mr MacAskill’s campaign manager at the 2019 general election, but does not think his defection to Alba will have much effect on voting.

Cllr McLennan claims only about ten people out of an East Lothian SNP membership of 1,800 have gone to Alba and more members have joined in that time. "I think it has made people more determined to go and win the seat,” he says.

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Craig Hoy - ConservativeCraig Hoy - Conservative
Craig Hoy - Conservative

Cllr McLennan, who represents Dunbar and East Linton, is pressing several local issues, including the possibility of the Lammermuirs becoming Scotland's third national park, which he believes would bring enhanced environmental protection and business opportunities.

As part of the Covid recovery, he hopes East Lothian can boost jobs by encouraging more home-grown businesses and says there must be more focus on tackling poverty. “People think East Lothian is all prosperous, but it's not – there are areas of multiple deprivation around Tranent and Prestonpans,” he says.

Tory Craig Hoy, elected to East Lothian Council at a by-election in 2019, fought the Westminster seat at the last general election, finishing third, but claims he could squeeze through the middle this time to get elected.

He points out the Holyrood constituency does not include Musselburgh, which is a less favourable area for his party, and says changing demographics help the Tories with the population growth skewed towards over-60s.

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And he claims Labour’s vote is likely to fall due to Mr Gray’s departure. “Iain is a deeply respected local MSP and he picked cross-party support,” he says.

Mr Hoy cites “over-development” as a key issue. “Haddington North Berwick, Tranent and Gullane have all become saturated with new homes and that risks damaging the quality of life for those living here and those moving here,” he says.

Euan Davidson - Liberal DemocratEuan Davidson - Liberal Democrat
Euan Davidson - Liberal Democrat

And he says infrastructure has not kept up, adding: “The A1 isn’t fit for purpose.”

The Lib Dems were second in East Lothian in 2003 and third in 2007, but have finished fourth since. Their candidate Euan Davidson is a case worker for Edinburgh West MP Christine Jardine.

2016 result

Iain Gray Lab 14,329 37.8%

Douglas-James Johnston-Smith SNP 13,202 34.8%

Rachael Hamilton Con 9,045 23.9%

Ettie Spencer Lib Dem 1,337 3.5%

Majority 1,127

Turnout 62.3%

History of seat

1999: LAB

2003: LAB

2007: LAB

2011: LAB

2016: LAB

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