Scottish election 2021: Here are the candidates and issues in Almond Valley
The SNP’s Angela Constance is the longest-serving constituency MSP in the Lothians and won last time with a bigger share of the vote than anyone else in the region.
Barring a major upset, the only battle in Almond Valley is between Labour and the Conservatives for second place.
Ms Constance was a social worker and a West Lothian councillor before being elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2007, winning the seat from Labour and becoming the Lothians’ first SNP constituency MSP.
The constituency at that time was known as Livingston, but changed its name to Almond Valley in 2011. It now includes Livingston, East Calder, Fauldhouse, Breich Valley and Seafield.
Ms Constance says voters are interested in both Covid recovery and an independence referendum and make a connection. “A referendum is important for recovery and ensures decisions are made on our own priorities and values of fairness, dignity and respect,” she said.
“Given the consequences of the pandemic and Brexit on the economy, there is that sense all the economic powers should rest in Scotland and not in Westminster.
“I grew up in West Lothian at a time of high unemployment and there has always been that mistrust of the Tories in respect of our economy and our jobs.”
And she says people are also interested in SNP plans for a National Care Service, which she campaigned for, and what is being done to address child poverty with the new Scottish Child Payment.
Ms Constance laid the groundwork for the payment when she was communities and social security secretary.
“Child poverty campaigners described it as a game changer – 16,500 children in West Lothian could benefit from it and we’ve made a new commitment to double it,” she said.
And she says the SNP has a good record on tackling youth unemployment – work she was involved in as the first minister for youth employment.
“We met youth employment targets early – now we have to garner our resolve again to make sure young people have that guarantee of a place in education, training or work and don't lose out on opportunities,” she said.
Labour candidate Craig Smith is a trade union official who has lived in the constituency since 1995 and whose partner and two daughters all work in health and social care.
He says public services have deteriorated in the 14 years of SNP government, adding: “NHS waiting times have been breached as more people wait longer for essential treatment. In education, standards are falling behind other European countries – who can forget the fiasco with the school exams.
“Food bank use has almost doubled and a quarter of Scotland’s children languish in poverty. Homelessness and the shortage of housing for young people is a huge problem.”
Instead Mr Smith says he wants properly funded public services, including a minimum £15 per hour wage for social care workers, a reversal of SNP cuts to councils, more well-paid jobs and economic recovery, action to tackle climate change, and support for local communities.
The Tories finished firmly in third place in Almond Valley in 2016, but in the 2019 general election they overtook Labour in Livingston to take second place.
The candidate in 2019 and now the leader of the Tory group on West Lothian Council, Damian Timson – though he is now Damian Doran-Timson after getting married last year.
He says the 2019 result shows “the direction of the tide” in West Lothian and attributes it largely to the work of Tory councillors.
“People have seen Conservatives and they're not the bogeymen they maybe thought they were,” he says.
He claims after 14 years of SNP government, a lot of people want change.
And he highlights the Tories’ promises of fairer funding for councils and increased funding for mental health, boosting it to 10 per cent of the overall health budget by 2025/26.
Mr Doran-Timson also wants a “more joined-up strategy” on crime and anti-social behaviour and an economic strategy following the pandemic.
“It frustrates me that in West Lothian, given our fantastic geographical position, we should have businesses fighting to be here yet we just have empty buildings and empty industrial and retail parks,” he says.
"The Scottish Government needs to work with council to deliver a strategy that brings skilled and better paid jobs to West Lothian.”
Lib Dem Caron Lindsay, who has lived in Livingston for 21 years, says people are responding well to her party’s messages about putting recovery first and investing in mental health and education.
She cites youth unemployment as a key issue, adding: “Young people have really suffered during the pandemic, whether through the educational fiascos or as students, and now they’re having these vaccine passports held over them. They're losing their jobs or if they're in work they are in low-paid, high-risk jobs.”
And she describes waiting times for young people’s mental health as “utterly appalling”, with almost one in five waiting over a year.
Angela Constance SNP 18,475 53%
Neil Findlay Lab 10,082 28.9%
Stephanie Smith Con 5,308 15.2%
Charles Dundas Lib Dem 1,007 2.9%
History of seat