Constituency profile: Edinburgh Central
Former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson is targeting the seat won by Ruth Davidson in 2016
The seat in the centre of Scotland’s capital became symbolic of the Tories’ success in 2016. They targeted Edinburgh Central heavily and it paid off. Just.
Ruth Davidson took the seat from the SNP with a majority of 610 votes. It was a fairly remarkable feat. The party doubled its vote share from 2011, when it came fourth out of four with 15 per cent.
But this year Davidson is not contesting the seat, standing down from Holyrood to focus more on her family (and take up a seat in the Lords). Battling to keep it will be Councillor Scott Douglas. He doesn’t face an easy time.
The SNP is keen to win back the constituency and has put up seasoned campaigner Angus Robertson, a former Westminster leader. He was Moray’s MP from 2001 to 2017, until being ousted by Douglas Ross, the man who would go on to become the Sottish Tory leader.
Notably, the SNP did not perform badly in 2016. They actually increased the number of votes received from 2011 by about 300. It just wasn’t enough to ward off the Tory threat.
It would be unfair to suggest Edinburgh Central is a two-horse race. Labour’s Sarah Boyack held the seat from 1999 up until 2011, beating contenders fairly comfortably three elections in a row.
Disability activist Maddy Kirkman will be hoping to take the seat back for Labour this year. However, the party may prefer to channel its resources into neighbouring Edinburgh South, one of just three constituencies it won in 2016.
Then of course there is the impact of the Greens and Lib Dems. Alison Johnstone, who will be standing again, took a not inconsiderable 13.6 per cent share of the vote last time around for the Greens.
The Lib Dems, still being punished for their role in the UK government coalition, took less than five per cent – but the party’s fortunes seem to have started to recover recently.
Historically, Edinburgh Central was a Labour/Lib Dem battleground but, like Labour, the party may instead wish to focus on a neighbouring seat, Edinburgh Western.
Edinburgh Central does not have a comparable Westminster seat so it’s difficult to use either the 2017 or 2019 general election as guideposts. Instead it straddles four constituencies – two currently held by the SNP, one by Labour and one Lib Dem.
A key issue for the area is likely to be COVID recovery. It is a major tourist and retail hub, both sectors which have been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The cancellation of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year lost the city millions of pounds and even if it can go ahead this year, it will likely be much reduced.
However, the lack of tourists to the city was not totally unwelcome by residents, many of whom have become frustrated in recent years as they believed business needs were being placed ahead of their own. Building back better for this constituency may involve dealing with the problems brought with tourists.
And of course sitting over all of this is the constitutional question.
In 2014, Edinburgh was one of the council areas most against independence, with over 60 per cent of people voting No, which may make residents more likely to back unionist parties.
However, it was also one of the country’s most pro-EU areas, with almost three quarters backing Remain, so voters could be disillusioned with the Tory Brexit deal.