Holyrood elections: a first look at the contests in Lothian

The 2021 Scottish Parliament elections are less than eight weeks away and the parties are gearing up for a contest which recent polls suggest could produce a less clear-cut result than expected.

Monday, 15th March 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Monday, 15th March 2021, 3:24 pm
Lothian will be a key battleground in the 2021 elections

With just days to go before the campaign gets under way, Lothian promises to be one of the key battlegrounds.

Out of Scotland's eight regions it's the one which elected the fewest SNP MSPs and the most opposition MSPs at the last elections in 2016.

And uniquely, the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems each won a constituency from the SNP that night.

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On May 6, Edinburgh Central will be the region’s most high-profile contest. Former SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson hopes to take back the constituency where the Tories' Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson won a surprise victory last time. She is standing down – heading to the House of Lords – and Edinburgh councillor Scott Douglas, who works in PR, has the tough job of defending her 610 majority. Labour, who held the seat before the 2011 SNP landslide, are represented by disabled campaigner Maddy Kirkman. And Green list MSP Alison Johnstone, who took 13 per cent of the vote here last time, is standing again. Bruce Wilson is the Lib Dem candidate.

Labour's Daniel Johnson won Edinburgh Southern from the SNP in 2016 by 1,123 votes and is working hard to hold onto it. The SNP challenger is Catriona MacDonald, who fought the equivalent Westminster seat in the 2019 general election. Tory list MSP Miles Briggs is standing as last time and former Lib Dem councillor Fred Mackintosh, who came within 316 votes of winning the Westminster seat in 2010, returns to the fray.

Over in Edinburgh Western, Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton, who won with a 2,960 majority over the Nationalists last time, is being challenged by the SNP’s Sarah Masson, who also fought the 2019 Westminster election here. Tory councillor Susan Webber is standing for the Tories and Labour are fielding childcare manager Margaret Graham.

The Tories' top target – after holding onto Central – is Edinburgh Pentlands. In the distant past this was a Conservative stronghold, but it has also been held by Labour and since 2011 has been represented by the SNP’s Gordon MacDonald, who had a majority of 2,456 over the Tories in 2016. List MSP Gordon Lindhurst was the Tory candidate then and is standing again. City councillor Lezley Marion Cameron is Labour’s standard-bearer.

Community safety minister Ash Denham has a sizeable 5,087 majority in Edinburgh Eastern where she replaced SNP veteran Kenny MacAskill when he stood down last time. Labour are fielding former councillor Bill Cook and the Tories current councillor Graham Hutchison. Jill Reilly is the Lib Dem.

In Edinburgh Northern & Leith, public finance and migration minister Ben Macpherson had an even bigger 6,746 majority when he won the seat from Labour last time after Malcolm Chisholm retired. This time Labour’s candidate is party activist Katrina Faccenda, the Tories are fielding councillor Callum Laidlaw, Rebecca Bell is standing for the Lib Dems and the Greens are putting up co-leader Lorna Slater.

Beyond the city boundaries, Almond Valley has been held by the SNP’s Angela Constance – now minister for drugs policy – since she won it from Labour in 2007 under its old name of Livingston. In 2016 her majority was 8,393.

Next door in Linlithgow, Economy and Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop has been the MSP since 2011 and is sitting on a 9,335 majority.

And Midlothian North & Musselburgh has also been held by the SNP since 2011. Colin Beattie had a majority of 7,035 when he was re-elected last time. Midlothan councillor Stevie Curran is standing for Labour and Edinburgh Tory group leader Iain Whyte for the Conservatives.

Lothian currently has three Tory list MSPs, two Labour and two Greens, but the election should produce at least three new faces this time. Labour’s Neil Findlay is standing down; Andy Wightman – elected as a Green but now an independent – is seeking election in the Highlands & Islands instead; and Tory Gordon Lindhurst has been placed too far down his party’s list to stand any chance of re-election except by winning Edinburgh Pentlands.

Labour’s number one candidate Daniel Johnson hopes to be re-elected in his Edinburgh Southern constituency, but if Labour is still entitled to two on the list as well it will mean not only Sarah Boyack getting re-elected, but also Foysol Choudhury, chair of Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council, becoming Lothian’s first ethnic minority MSP.

Sitting list MSP Miles Briggs tops the Tories’ list while Edinburgh councillor Susan Webber got the number two slot and is virtually certain to be in, along with sitting list MSP Jeremy Balfour.

Green Alison Johnstone can expect to be re-elected and hoping to replace Mr Wightman as the party’s second Lothian MSP is co-leader Lorna Slater.

Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton is also top of the Lib Dem list with former Edinburgh councillor Fred Mackintosh in number two slot.

The SNP is unlikely to qualify for any list seats, but Glasgow councillor Graham Campbell tops its list, with Angus Robertson number two.

Former Tory councillor Ashley Graczyk, who quit the party in 2018 saying the UK government's policies on disability and social justice were "incompatible with her beliefs and conscience", is standing on the list as an independent.

Action for Independence (AFI) and the Independence for Scotland Party (ISP) are both putting up candidates, hoping SNP voters will switch to them on the list to maximise the number of pro-independence MSPs elected.

And Reform UK Scotland, the successor to the Brexit Party, is also fielding candidates.

Tomorrow at 6.30pm, The Scotsman will hold the first of a series of virtual hour-long hustings in the countdown to the elections, focusing on the Lothians.

Readers are welcome to submit questions to us via Facebook and Twitter.

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ries of virtual hustings in the countdown to the Scottish elections on 6 May.

The eight-part series will be launched at 6:30pm on Tuesday, with the first hour-long hustings focused on the regional list area of the Lothians.

readers are welcome to submit questions to us via Facebook and Twitter.