Scottish elections 2021: Here are the candidates and issues in Edinburgh Northern and Leith
Malcolm Chisholm managed to hold onto this seat for Labour from the start of the Scottish Parliament even through the SNP landslide in 2011 despite steadily reducing majorities.
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But when he stepped down at the last Holyrood elections in 2016, the SNP s Ben Macpherson was ready and waiting to capture it.He won with a majority of 6,746 while Labour's vote plummeted – and Mr Macpherson is the favourite to win again on May 6.
“I’ve worked very diligently as constituency MSP,” he says and cites a long list of issues he has been involved in, including halting the eviction 150 residents in Lorne Street, tackling problems over short-term lets and securing pledges of £10m investment in the Seafield sewage works to deal with the notorious stench and a new state-of-the-art plant when the PFI arrangement runs out in 2029.
Big issues ahead include affordability of rents. He points out the SNP manifesto promises to improve the legislation on Rent Pressure Zones. “Enabling the city council to create an RPZ in Edinburgh Northern & Leith is a real priority for me.”
He says Brexit has boosted support for independence. “This constituency voted 78 per cent Remain and there’ a real determination to rejoin the EU. A lot of people have said they are now in favour of independence when they weren't before and that's because of Brexit.”
Labour’s Katrina Faccenda has worked all over Europe as a tour guide and was based in Italy for 20 years before returning to Scotland a couple of years ago.
"We need more ordinary working people in Holyrood and fewer professional politicians,” she says.
She argues tourism has to be part of the post-Covid recovery “but in the right way”. “We can't look at it as just a way to create jobs if they're not good jobs or fair jobs. Tourism has to be more of a positive and has to bring benefits to people in Edinburgh, not just profits to big companies.”
She says planning is a key issue in the constituency, around new flats, student accommodation and short-term lets. “There is a real sense people's voices aren't heard and there needs to be reform of the planning legislation to allow communities a say.”
Tory candidate Callum Laidlaw highlights complaints about poor council services, which he says the Conservatives would address with a new local government funding settlement.
“Education is also something that many have concerns about, especially after the impact of the pandemic and the widening of the attainment gap. The Conservative plan to recruit 3,000 more teachers, put a STEM teacher in every primary and introduce a catch-up national tutoring programme are all very well received.”
And on the constitution, he says many people recognise the success of the UK vaccine programme and the fact over a million Scottish jobs were protected by the furlough scheme.
"Even a few SNP supporters have questioned the enthusiasm of the party for another referendum. So I think it’s important that that is ruled out and we turn all our attention to recovery and rebuild.”
Liberal Democrat Rebecca Bell, a former TV and radio journalist, says there is a lot of job insecurity in the area and also feels the constituency is “really switched on to climate crisis”.
She is the party's mental health spokesperson and says the stats are “really upsetting” with “crazy” waiting times even before Covid. She fears the full impact of the pandemic has not yet been seen and worries the situation will get worse before it improves. But she claims Lib Dem proposals for children’s and young people’s mental heath in particular represent a step change – “not just in money, but in the type of service”.
And on the constitution she says: “In previous times the overriding thing was about independence, but I don't think for a lot of people it is now. Some people are interested in it but often it is not their primary focus.”
Lorna Slater, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, came second in a council by-election Leith Walk in 2019 and likes the idea of the SNP “looking over their shoulder” as a way of encouraging them to step up their efforts on the climate crisis.
She cites planning as an issue, mentioning “endless” student flats and the roundabout at the top of Leith Walk. "Locals haven’t been really listened to. Developers seem to have so much more power to determine what happens in the community.” And she says many new developments are not in keeping with the mixed, vibrant character of Leith.
Also standing is Jon Pullman of the Scottish Freedom Alliance, which campaigns against Covid restrictions. It says: "Our fundamental founding principle is that individuals retain both the absolute right and the absolute responsibility to determine how they will live their lives, including how they choose to protect their health.”
Ben Macpherson SNP 17,322 46.69%
Lesley Hinds Lab 10,576 28.51%
Iain McGill Con 6,081 16.39%
Martin Veart Lib Dem 1,779 4.79%
Jack Caldwell Ind 1,344 3.62%
History of seat