On the campaign trail: Midlothian North and Musselburgh

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by A Reader

This election is being fought with new constituency boundaries, many of the old constituencies have disappeared and new constituencies have taken their place.  One new constituency is Midlothian North and Musselburgh which encompasses the towns of Musselburgh, Bonnyrigg, Loanhead and Dalkeith as well as rural areas of Midlothian.  The constituency lies within Edinburgh’s commuter belt, making public transport a key local issue.

Based on 2007 results, the new seat is notionally held by Labour with an estimated majority of around 1500.  Writing at the start of the election campaign when Labour was riding high in the polls, STV’s political editor Bernard Ponsonby said that the seat ought to be an easy Labour win.  The SNP require a small swing to capture the seat but Ponsonby stated,  “if that was to happen there would be a palpable sense of panic in the Labour camp on election night.  A combination of Labour doing better in the polls than in 2007 and traditional party loyalty should be enough to see them through.”

But Labour are no longer doing better in the polls than they were in 2007, and traditional party loyalty to Labour has been on a shoogly peg of late.  After three weeks of a disastrous Labour campaign which has already seen one attempted relaunch, and may require another, it appears increasingly likely that Labour may indeed be panicking in Midlothian North and Musselburgh when the votes are counted.  

Colin Beattie, the local SNP candidate, is taking nothing for granted.  Speaking to Newsnet Scotland he said: “This will be a very tight contest in Midlothian North and Musselburgh – every vote will really count.”

Although traditionally considered Labour heartland territory, the SNP have already made inroads in the area, and look set to increase their vote share in the constituency.  In Midlothian the 2007 Holyrood Election saw the Labour majority dwindle to some 1700 votes while in East Lothian an SNP led administration took control of the council.

During this campaign Colin’s message has found a ready acceptance amongst local voters.  A positive and aspirational SNP campaign has compared well with the negative and depressing Labour campaign.  The party’s record in government has proven a strong asset and national policies such as the five year Council Tax freeze and two year freeze on water rates, funding for new council houses, the commitment to create tens of thousands of apprenticeships linked to jobs, minimum alcohol pricing, the party’s strong stand against tuition fees and commitment to the Scottish tradition of free education and the investment in renewable energy have played well with the local electorate.

Colin believes that the SNP’s message about Scotland’s natural wealth is starting to get through to the general public after generations of being fed the ‘too poor, too wee’ myth.  Voters are starting to get angered by what Colin sees as ‘the absolute rip off of Scotland’s oil’.  He explained:  “We are the richest country in Europe but we choose to be poor.  Quite simply too many people vote for political parties that are happy for Scotland’s oil revenues to be siphoned off into the London Treasury with no benefit to our citizens.  In effect our neighbours take all our money and give us pocket money to live on.  The recent UK budget floated on Scottish oil.  London has a budget deficit of £ 148 billion while over the past 2 years Scotland has had a surplus of £ 2.3 billion.  Yet we are expected to accept up to £ 6 billion in cuts to bail out the London Treasury.  This is clearly nonsense and I often think what we could do to improve our infrastructure and to improve the lot of our pensioners and other vulnerable people if we had access to only a small part of those billions.”

However local factors have also had a big part in attracting voters away from Labour.  Colin says: “As a broadly rural constituency public transport is a big issue for all of us.  Recent withdrawals and modifications of services have caused some disquiet.  I believe that we need a partial re-regulation of bus services where lucrative high volume routes are linked to lower volume socially necessary routes when allocating bus routes.   I have spoken to many people across the constituency and attended meetings of concerned users.  The result is that I am already forming a Bus Users Forum so that local residents can be sure that their voices will be heard.  Already a number of people have expressed an interest in participating and representatives from several communities have volunteered.”

The chance to wrest the seat from decades of being taken for granted by Labour is what excites Colin the most: “Here in the new constituency of Midlothian North and Musselburgh there is a historic opportunity to wrest from Labour one of their heartlands.  Midlothian and East Lothian have in the past been considered virtually unassailable with the Labour vote being overwhelming.  Not any longer!”

There’s still all to play for, and local party activists are all too aware of the over confidence of Labour’s 1992 Westminster General Election which saw Neil Kinnock as party leader maintain a strong lead in the polls only to go down to an unexpected defeat at the hands of John Major’s Conservatives in the last days of the campaign.  But there’s no denying which party has a spring in its step, and which is looking despondent.

It’s up to the voters of Midlothian North and Musselburgh to decide on May 5th, and every vote will count.