Parties unite to fight '˜anti'democratic' redraw of Lothian's electoral map

CONTROVERSIAL proposals to redraw Lothian's electoral map will come under scrutiny today at a public hearing into the shape of the area's constituencies for the next Westminster election.

Wednesday, 7th December 2016, 7:18 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 1:06 pm
The Boundary Commission for Scotland has today published its initial proposals for a new map of UK Parliamentary constituencies in Scotland.

Scotland’s only Labour MP, Ian Murray, whose seat would be wiped off the map under the proposed boundary changes, has put forward an alternative plan which he says would keep communities together. He also says his proposals better fit the official criteria for how seats should be redrawn.

The Boundary Commission scheme, unveiled in October, splits Mr Murray’s Edinburgh South constituency between Edinburgh East and a new seat called Edinburgh South West and Central, while rural parts of the current Edinburgh South West were moved to a new constituency called Edinburgh Pentland and Livingston.

The commission’s scheme would split the Southside/Newington council ward down the middle at Sciennes.

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Mr Murray’s plan – which he will present at today’s hearing into the plans – would keep the whole of Southside/Newington ward together in Edinburgh South West and Central, and in return the City Centre ward would move to Edinburgh East.

He said: “I’m proposing a simple change, but one which aligns the new seats much more with the legislation the Boundary Commission is having to follow. Their overarching condition is size – constituencies must have a population which is with plus or minus five per cent of 75,000, and my proposal brings both seats much closer to that.

“They also try not to split wards, but under their proposals one seat would be three and a half wards and the other four and a half; my proposal makes it four wards each.

“And for people in the area, the main issue is keeping local community ties, which is better served by keeping the whole of Southside together.”

Sue Tritton, secretary of Grange-Prestonfield Community Council and chair of the Grange Association, said both bodies had yet to take a formal position, but those who had seen Mr Murray’s alternative plan believed it was the better option.

“Everyone I have spoken thinks it is much more sensible,” she said.

“Keeping the Grange, Prestonfield, Marchmont and Morningside together makes much more sense from a community point of view.”

Edinburgh East SNP MP Tommy Sheppard said he would make a full submission on the boundary proposals before the consultation ends on January 11.

He said: “There is no case whatsoever for reducing the representation of Lothian, given that the population is growing – my own seat will probably have 5000 more electors in five years time than it has now.

“I have seen Ian’s proposals and I’m considering them. I’m not sure I would endorse all of it, but he certainly has a strong point about trying not to split ward boundaries where you don’t have to.

“When it comes to the finer detail of how to split the city centre, you might just have to because otherwise I will end up with Haymarket in Edinburgh East, which seems even more ridiculous than having the West End in Edinburgh East.”

SNP MP Joanna Cherry’s Edinburgh South West seat would also change dramatically under the commission proposals, including losing Juniper Green, Currie and Balerno.

Ms Cherry said: “Whilst I am disappointed that these proposals will so vastly alter the constituency I have worked hard to get to know since I first stood for election in 2015, tinkering with one or two areas won’t address the real issue raised by these boundary changes which are an attack on representative democracy.

“It is disgraceful that in addition to routinely ignoring the democratically expressed will of voters in Scotland this Tory government now proposes to do away with ten per cent of Scotland’s elected representatives at Westminster whilst at the same time significantly increasing the membership of the already bloated unelected and unrepresentative House of Lords.”

The new Edinburgh Pentland and Livingston seat proposed by the commission would merge Juniper Green, Currie and Balerno, currently part of Ms Cherry’s seat, into fellow SNP MP Hannah Bardell’s Livingston constituency.

But Ms Bardell says lumping West Lothian’s biggest centre of population with part of the Capital is a mistake.

“In the commission’s proposals, Livingston loses its upfront status, it’s tacked on at the end – Edinburgh Pentland and Livingston. Psychologically that’s a huge thing. Livingston is one of the fastest growing towns in the country.

“Livingston and West Lothian see themselves very much as a cohesive community, unique and not part of Edinburgh. The name makes it sound as if Livingston is part of Edinburgh – it confuses and conflates the two areas, and to me that is totally unacceptable.

“People will feel very strongly that’s not how they see themselves. It is a distinct town and not just an extension of the city. People in Livingston will lose out in terms of identity.”