This May thousands of Midlothian people will be taking to polling booths to cast their votes for Holyrood.
Nearly all 73 first-past-the-post constituencies are changing, most substantially, to take into account population changes since the 1990s and even out seat sizes. It is calculated that one in six electors in Scotland will now be in a different seat as a result of the re-drawn boundaries, including many in Midlothian who will now vote in either Midlothian North and Musselburgh or Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale.
A report by the Boundary Commission for Scotland explained the findings of a review into constituency boundaries: “At the start of the review, we examined the July 2007 electorates of the existing constituencies. We concluded that, due to changes in electorates and to council area boundaries, the existing constituencies and regions required alteration to better reflect the statutory rules.”
But the changes proved controversial, with some communities feeling the changes failed to take into account existing links.
Gorebridge Community Council secretary Archie Pacey told the Advertiser: “Our community council didn’t like the idea at all. We objected to it. We felt that the whole thing was based purely on numbers and not on communities. Gorebridge is now all over the place – for Westminster we are still with Dalkeith but for Holyrood we’re in with Peebles. There is an identity problem there but the Boundary Commission took no heed at all.”
A recent study carried out by Professor David Denver of Lancaster University for the Press Association and BBC Scotland speculated on the effect the re-drawn boundaries would have had on the 2007 election result.
He concluded that the SNP would have remained the largest party, with the Tories gaining three additional seats. He stressed, however, that these conclusions were based on a redistribution of the actual 2007 votes into the new constituencies and are not predictions about what will happen in the next Scottish Parliament election.
He said: “Overall, the impact of boundary changes on the party composition of the Scottish Parliament is slight. The Conservatives would have been three seats better off under the new arrangements and Labour is the biggest loser with a decrease of two seats. The other parties vary by only one seat from the actual result (although this represents half of the Green MSPs). The SNP would still have been the largest party but by a margin of two seats rather than one from Labour.”
In the new Midlothian North and Musselburgh constituency – made up of Musselburgh West, Musselburgh East and Carberry, Bonnyrigg, Dalkeith, Midlothian East and 81 per cent of Midlothian West council wards – Prof Denver’s study shows Labour would have won with a majority of 1,493 over SNP.
Midlothian MSP Rhona Brankin (Lab), who is not seeking re-election in May, said: “There’s little doubt that the boundary changes will confuse people and I think it is a pity that Newtongrange and Gorebridge – two places which identify so strongly with Midlothian – will be joining Penicuik in a constituency taking in chunks of the Borders. We get boundary changes like these because the Boundary Commission’s task is basically to ensure that each constituency has a broadly similar number of voters. There’s more attention given to the numbers than whether communities belong together.”
SNP candidate Colin Beattie said: “I am disappointed that Midlothian has been split up like this. It was done purely on a numbers basis and to me it divides communities. I also think it is not right that we should not have control over our own elections here in Scotland and that this was decided in London.
“It is going to be very tight – this is one of the 10 most marginal seats in Scotland. I think the boundary changes will affect how we campaign, but I don’t think that is a difficult issue. I am very happy to be working with the people in Musselburgh and there are a lot of similarities between people in Musselburgh and Midlothian.”
The new Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale constituency – made up of Penicuik, 19 per cent of Midlothian West, Midlothian South, Tweeddale West, Tweeddale East, Galashiels and District and Leaderdale and Melrose council wards – would have seen a shift from Liberal Democrat to SNP, with a majority of 1,201.
SNP candidate Christine Grahame said: “Midlothian has been cut in half by these changes but we are where we are. As the Liberal Democrats have already admitted, it is a two horse race [in this constituency] so it makes it extremely interesting. Every politician must work for every single vote so I take nothing for granted. I will be calling on people to retain an SNP government.”
Lib Dem candidate and current MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, Jeremy Purvis said the boundary changes will alter his campaign tactics.
He said: “The changes are major. For my constituency we will see Gorebridge, Newtongrange and Temple in with Penicuik and the Borders. These people will have a new MSP regardless of who wins. That’s going to be the focus of the campaign from my point of view. I think the Boundary Commission didn’t listen to local residents, but the task of the new MSP – which I hope is me – will be to bring the communities together.”
For the next four months candidates from all parties will be hard at work in the newly created constituencies canvassing for Midlothian votes.