Previewing the Craigentinny/Duddingston council by-election (12 Nov)

“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order”

Before we start, there is an important announcement to make.

Andrew’s Previews 2019

I am proud to announce that, after months of work, the fourth annual collection of Andrew’s Previews is now available to buy in paperback. A previous collection in this series was described by a kind reviewer as “one of those books, like the Nuffield Foundation volumes on British general elections, that makes you wonder how we managed before they came along”, and I hope that the 2019 collection has kept up to that standard.

Within the book you will find an edited version of all the Previews from 2019, including those for the parliamentary by-elections in Newport West, Peterborough, and Brecon and Radnorshire; the Scottish Parliament by-election in the Shetland Islands; the by-election for Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner; the detailed preview and reaction pieces for the 2019 local elections; and the undercard for the December general election. Also included are a full index and a list of all the winning by-election candidates.

2019 wasn’t just about the Brexit debates; there were Meaningful Votes up and down the length of the UK every week in some of our 10,000 or so electoral wards. Every one of those places has a story to tell, and you’ll find some of the stories here. Christmas is coming and Andrew’s Previews will soon be going into hibernation for what looks like a long and hard winter ahead, so buy this book to remind yourself of the good times past.

I commend Andrew’s Previews 2019 to the House. You can buy it here.

If you’re not convinced by this introduction, there is one local by-election on 12th November 2020. Andrew’s Previews 2019 contains many more pieces like the one below.

Craigentinny/Duddingston

Edinburgh council; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Ian Campbell. He had served since 2017.

After a series of Scottish by-elections over the last few weeks in offshore islands and the old Grampian region, we have finally come south to the Central Belt where most of Scotland’s people live. There will be four by-elections in this area over the next two weeks: next week the large county of Lanarkshire and the Wee County of Clackmannanshire will share the limelight, but today we are in the capital city of Edinburgh.

If you want an overview of Edinburgh, there are few places better than Arthur’s Seat. This craggy, extinct volcano rises 822 feet above the city and dominates millions of photographs. On the clearest of days, mountains 72 miles away can be seen from its highest point. The hill lies entirely within Holyrood Park, a royal park which brings a bit of Highland landscape to the edge of the city centre.

Within Holyrood Park can be found Duddingston Loch. This was the scene in the late eighteenth century for one of Scotland’s most iconic works of art, Raeburn’s Skating Minister. The Reverend Robert Walker, the minister in the painting, was in good company because Duddingston Loch has been a centre for ice-skating and curling (in season) for centuries. The loch is next to Duddingston, an old village which has been swallowed up by the growth of the city. Duddingston lays claim to the title of Scotland’s oldest pub (the Sheep’s Heid, est. 1360), and the Young Pretender held a council of war in Duddingston shortly before his victory at Prestonpans during the 1745 rebellion. In that same year Duddingston was bought by the Earl of Abercorn, who commissioned a Palladian mansion called Duddingston House which still stands today (although much of the associated park has been taken over by a golf course and the Holyrood High School).

Much of the area to the north of Duddingston and Arthur’s Seat was developed for housing between the wars. Next to Craigentinny lies Northfield, which was annexed by the city in 1920 and promptly filled with council housing at an unusually low density by Edinburgh standards. Craigentinny, in the north-east corner of the ward, is more of the same although the housing here dates from the 1930s. In the north of the ward is Restalrig, which is another old village swallowed up by the city. The London Road into the city centre passes Meadowbank, whose sports stadium (which hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1970 and 1986) was demolished last year and is now being redeveloped. Added to the ward in boundary changes in 2017 are the older tenements of Abbeyhill, behind the royal palace on the eastern edge of the city centre.

This ward was originally drawn up for the 2007 local elections to elect three members of Edinburgh city council. In the 2003 elections Labour had won all of the predecessor wards except for Duddingston, which voted Conservative; and Labour topped the poll here in the 2007 election with 35% of the vote to win one of the three seats. The SNP – who had been shut out of Edinburgh city council in 2003 thanks to the vagaries of the old first-past-the-post system – won one seat with 30%, and the final seat went to the Lib Dems who started on 10% of the vote, stayed ahead of the second Labour candidate and overhauled the Conservatives (who had 15% of the first preferences) in the final count on Green transfers.

The new SNP councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston was Stefan Tymkewycz, who was simultaneously elected to the Scottish Parliament from fifth place on the SNP list for the Lothians region. Most councillors who are elected to Holyrood (or Westminster) eventually leave the council chamber for the higher salary and prestige of being an MSP or MP, but not Tymkewycz: after four months juggling both responsibilities he decided to put his council constituents first and resigned from the Scottish Parliament. (His replacement was Shirley-Anne Somerville, who lost her seat in 2011 and then lost an SNP seat in the 2013 Dunfermline by-election; however Somerville is now back in the Holyrood debating chamber after winning Dunfermline at the second attempt in 2016.) Tymkewycz retired from Edinburgh city council in 2017.

The Lib Dem councillor Gary Peacock lost his seat in 2012, finishing in sixth place with 8% of the first preferences. A close battle developed between the Scottish National Party, who started with 36.9% of the first preferences, and Labour who started on 36.2%; transfers from the Lib Dems and Conservatives eventually gave the final seat to Labour’s second candidate Alex Lunn.

Lunn subsequently defected to the SNP in 2013, and this ended up causing trouble when the selection contest for the 2017 local elections came around. The local party branch twice voted to deselect him and were twice overruled by the national leadership; the other two SNP candidates resigned in protest, and party HQ had to rustle up two replacements (Ian Campbell and Mridul Wadhwa) at the last moment.

Despite this the Nationalists did improve their score in the election, but only from 36.9% to 37.1%. The Conservatives broke through to win a seat here for the first time since 2003, polling 24% and finishing top in the Craigentinny polling district. Labour held their remaining seat with 23%. The addition of Abbeyhill and other boundary changes meant that an extra fourth seat in the ward was now up for grabs: but the SNP’s Alex Lunn performed very badly, starting in fifth place with 8% of the vote, and he lost his seat to the Green Party’s Alex Staniforth. The Greens had started the count with 12%, and Staniforth got transfers from Labour to win the final seat by 1,785 votes to 1,675.

If we re-run the count for a single vacancy, the SNP win but only just: their councillor Ian Campbell would have beaten Labour’s Joan Griffiths by 53% to 47%. Griffiths gets into the final round ahead of the Tories thanks to Green Party transfers; had the final round been SNP v Conservative instead the Nationalists would have won comfortably by 61-39.

Despite this reverse, the SNP did end up as the largest party in the 2017 Edinburgh city council election, winning 19 seats to 18 Conservatives, 12 Labour, 8 Greens and six Lib Dems. A minority SNP-Labour coalition was formed to run the city, although some defections since May 2017 mean that the ruling coalition now controls only 26 seats plus this vacancy.

Since then we have had two Westminster general elections in the local seat of Edinburgh East, both of which were comfortably held by the Scottish National Party with Labour in a rather distant second place. The Nationalists have held the Holyrood constituency of Edinburgh Eastern and its predecessor seats since 2007; Ash Denham took over as MSP from the retiring Kenny MacAskill in 2016, getting a swing in her favour against the then Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. MacAskill has since made a political comeback, gaining East Lothian for the SNP in the 2019 general election.

SNP councillor Ian Campbell stood down in February on health grounds, having been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. This column wishes him well for the future. Defending for the SNP is Ethan Young, a wheelchair user who is working to help disabled people get involved in politics. Young is fighting his first election campaign, but Conservative candidate Eleanor Price is on her fourth after standing for Hackney council in 2010 (De Beauvoir ward) and fighting Dundee East in the 2017 general election and Edinburgh East in the 2019 general election. Price works in financial services. Labour have selected Margaret Graham, an early years childcare professional. Standing for the Scottish Greens is Ben Parker, a Yorkshireman in his mid-twenties who has stayed on in Edinburgh after graduating from university last year; Parker was the Green candidate for Edinburgh South West in last year’s general election. Completing a ballot paper of seven candidates are Elaine Ford for the Liberal Democrats, Tam Laird of the Libertarian Party and independent candidate Andrew McDonald. The Libertarians gained a councillor earlier this week through a defection in Aberdeenshire; can they double their tally of elected representatives?

As usual in Scottish local by-elections, the Alternative Vote applies together with Votes at 16 – and there is another innovation to report. As a result of the passage of the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act 2020, any foreign national who is resident in Scotland and has (or does not require) leave to remain in the UK is now entitled to register to vote in Scotland and to vote in Scottish Parliamentary and local elections. It’s too late now to register for this particular by-election, but if this applies to you then don’t forget that the next Holyrood elections are now less than six months away.

Parliamentary constituency: Edinburgh East
Scottish Parliament constituency: Edinburgh Eastern
Postcode districts: EH6, EH7, EH8, EH15

Elaine Ford (LD)
Margaret Graham (Lab)
Tam Laird (Libtn)
Andrew McDonald (Ind)
Ben Parker (Grn)
Eleanor Price (C)
Ethan Young (SNP)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 3945 C 2521 Lab 2472 Grn 1244 LD 448

Andrew Teale