General election 2019: On the campaign trail with Labour candidate Ian Murray

Ian Murray was the Labour MP for Edinburgh South until parliament was dissolved earlier this month. Before the 2017 election he was the only Labour MP left in Scotland after the SNP landslide and their near-wipeout in the 2015 election. Now, he fights with six other Labour MPs seeking to keep their seats. Our reporter Andrew McDonald joined him on the campaign trail in Greenbank.

Labour’s Edinburgh South candidate Ian Murray hits the campaign trail. (Credit: Andrew McDonald)

On a sleepy Sunday in Edinburgh’s suburbs, there have perhaps been fewer more surreal sights than Labour’s Ian Murray pulling up in a tiny sports car to meet his campaign team. But he often has an explanation, even for his flashy car, which he says was a donation from a friend he accepted before he saw the car itself.

At 43, Murray is young for someone who has already been an MP for nine years. Campaigning is nothing new to him. He knocks on doors and tries to charm constituents with the confidence of someone who has done all of this before.

Back in 2017, a lot of the conventional wisdom was that Murray was in danger. After the SNP swept all before them in the 2015 general election , apart from Murray’s Edinburgh South seat, Labour’s last Scottish stronghold was under threat.

He emerged with a vastly increased majority of over 15,000, although a line he often repeats on the doorstep is that this majority is “made of sand.”

This is understandably important for ensuring that his supporting constituents still feel their vote matters – but why is Murray not confident in the stability of his huge majority?

“It was inflated because I was the only Scottish Labour MP in 2015,” Murrays says. “People thought that if they were going to vote to stop the SNP they would have to vote for Ian.

“This isn’t a Labour constituency with 15,500 majority, it’s a very mixed constituency and probably a microcosm of Scotland.”

 

Will Edinburgh South remain a Labour seat in December? (Credit: Andrew McDonald)

Murray’s assertion that Edinburgh South isn’t traditional safe Labour territory is reflected in its demographic. The area is among the highest paid in the UK and is predominantly suburban – a combination that would traditionally have swung Conservative in the UK.

But the issues of Brexit and Scottish Independence have drawn up new political lines across the country, and they almost always come up when Murray is talking to his constituents. His success here is a symptom of the fact that it sits firmly as an anti-Brexit (70% Remain in 2016) and anti-independence (65% No in 2014) area. Murray’s consistent opposition to both causes allows him to easily relate to most of his constituents on the doorstep.

But there’s something else that comes up even more at every house we visit: Murray’s boss, Jeremy Corbyn. In this affluent area dominated by homeowners they are united in their distaste for the Labour leader. Its for different reasons: some mention anti-Semitism, others perceive him as flip-flopping too much on Brexit while there are a few who openly say he is too far to the left. Murray also says that many of constituents simply can’t see Corbyn as PM.

“People tend to vote on who they can envisage walking through the door at Downing Street and we’re getting on the doorsteps, the public are speaking and saying they don’t envisage that he is able to do that,” Murray says.

Murray also told me that of the thousands of constituents his team have spoken to only two have said they are voting Labour because of its leader. It is important to note however that Murray is one of Corbyn’s biggest critics. At some of the houses we visit he sympathises with those who don’t like his leader by actually agreeing with them. Sometimes he cites Labours national polling as an indicator that there is little danger of Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister- implying that voting for Labour in this constituency will not necessarily put a man they don’t like into Downing Street.

It is Murray’s perceived independence that makes this the safest of Labours seven seats in Scotland, regardless of the party’s national performance. Nevertheless, an enthusiastic SNP campaign in Edinburgh South has the Labour team fighting to match it while some whispers of an unexpected Liberal Democrat presence are a concern. Team Murray is confident but taking nothing for granted.

Next week: we join an SNP candidate on the trail in Edinburgh.

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