By Richard Wood
This series of posts is dedicated to providing an overview of each ward up for election in Edinburgh on 5 May 2022.
The Almond ward is one of Edinburgh’s two largest wards by geographical area, the other being its southern neighbour Pentland Hills. Almond is named after the River Almond which runs through the ward, flowing out of Cramond in the north.
The ward includes the areas of Barnton, Cammo, Cramond, Dalmeny, Davidson’s Mains, Kirkliston, Muirhouse, Newbridge, Silverknowes and South Queensferry. As such, the ward falls entirely into the Scottish Parliament constituency of Edinburgh Western and the UK Parliament constituency of Edinburgh West.
As of 2020 it has a population of 36,779, and is, on the whole, a fairly affluent suburb. The entirety of the ward sits in the Scottish Parliament Edinburgh Western constituency, as well as the Lothian region.
It is currently represented by Liberal Democrat Christine Jardine MP (Edinburgh West) and Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP (Edinburgh Western), as well a further seven regional MSPs.
Since the creation of multi-member wards in 2007, Almond had three councillors until 2017 with the introduction of a fourth member to reflect demographic changes.
On the surface, looking at every election from 2007 it appears that very little has changed in fifteen years. In 2007 and 2012 Almond returned one Lib Dem, one SNP and one Conservative councillor. Then in 2017, with the addition of another council seat being up for grabs, the Lib Dems secured two seats while the SNP and the Conservatives secured one apiece.
However, the data tells a more complex story, one that is undeniably connected with the national picture and the politics of the wider Edinburgh Western area.
Almond election 2007
In 2007, the Conservatives’ Kate Mackenzie won 3,352 (28.1%) first preference votes, securing her seat on the first round of counting. The Lib Dem’s George Grubb, who went on to become Lord Provost, took 2,809 (23.6%) first preference votes and won his seat on the fourth round. The final seat was secured by the SNP’s Norman Work, on the seventh round of counting, who took 2,164 first preference votes (18.2%).
The Lib Dems were doing well nationally at the time and even put a up a second candidate, who failed to win their seat, but came close to taking the third seat from Norman Work. Overall, across the Edinburgh Liberal Democrats did well and formed a coalition with Edinburgh Labour.
READ MORE: Ward #3 Drum Brae/Gyle – will the Lib Dem gamble pay off or will Conservatives hold?
Almond election 2012
By 2012 the national picture had changed dramatically. The SNP had gone from a minority government to a majority one at Holyrood while the Conservatives and Lib Dems had formed a coalition following the 2010 election.
The national mood undoubtedly had a significant impact in Almond at the 2012 election. Across Edinburgh, the SNP surged while the Liberal Democrats paid an electoral price for their deal with the Conservatives.
Despite almost losing out on a seat in 2007, the SNP’s Norman Work came top of the pile in 2012, winning 32.5% of first preference votes, ahead of the Conservatives’ Lindsay Paterson (26.24%). The third seat was narrowly taken by the Liberal Democrat candidate Alastair Shields on the seventh count, with just 15.89% of the vote. Shields became one of just three Lib Dem councillors across the whole city, a dramatic change in fortune for a party that previously led the council. Shields later left the party, ending his term as an independent councillor, before eventually joining the Conservatives.
After the 2012 election, the Labour party formed an administration with the SNP.
READ MORE: Edinburgh Liberal Democrat candidates
Almond election 2017
By 2017, the national picture had changed significantly. The Conservatives secured a majority of seats in the House of Commons on 2015 while the SNP took 56 of 59 Scottish seats. This followed on from the No side winning the 2014 independence referendum, an event which has dramatically shifted the political ground in Scotland, Then in 2016 the SNP secured an historic third term in government.
The 2017 local council election saw the addition of one new council seat up for grabs, making Almond a four-member ward for the first time. Both the Lib Dems and the SNP took this opportunity to put up two candidates, but in the end only one party ended up with two councillors.
On election day, the Liberal Democrats’ Kevin Lang won a remarkable 42.8% of first preference votes, securing his seat with plenty votes to spare. The second seat allocated was also to the Lib Dems, with Louise Young benefitting from Lang’s surplus votes to take the seat in the second round (8% of first preference votes). The Conservatives’ Graham Hutchinson won 16.9% of the vote to take the third seat while the fourth was allocated to the SNP’s Norman Work (on 13.9%).
Edinburgh Western in the Scottish Parliament, as well as Edinburgh West at Westminster, is a safe Lib Dem seat, despite a brief hiatus from 2015 – 2017. The party’s fortune have ebbed and flowed, much like the river running through the ward. There is no denying that Almond is a key part of the party’s success story in the west of the city, one the party is hoping to continue on 5 May.
READ MORE: Ward #4 Forth – can the SNP hold their second seat?
What could happen in 2022?
Edinburgh Lib Dems are clearly confident in Almond this time around. Not only are they standing their two incumbents again, they are adding a third candidate to the mix. Lang and Young will be joined by Lewis Younie in the Lib Dem bid for representation in Almond. It’s a bold move but based on 2017 and subsequent elections in the wider constituency it could pay off.
In contrast, the SNP did not put forward a second candidate let alone a third, suggesting they think the Lib Dems are likely to hold both seats they currently have.
But what about parties without Almond representation?
The Scottish Greens secured two Lothian seats in 2021, with a higher vote share than in 2016. While they have yet to win a councillor in this part of the city, recent national successes could help their cause, in addition to the focus on the climate crisis and the high-profile of Scottish Greens now in government at Holyrood. Perhaps with a targeted, good local campaign they could make progress but they did only win 2.6% of the vote last time. As for Labour it’s a similar story, and while they are doing better in Scottish polling, it remains difficult to see them taking a seat here.
Overall, looking at previous results and the national picture, as well as candidates announced so far, it’s looking likely that the 2022 will largely be a repeat of 2017, at least in Almond.
The big question is, can the Lib Dem gamble for a third councillor pay off? And even if it does, will it make a difference in Edinburgh politics overall?
READ MORE: Ward #2 Pentland Hills – can the Conservatives continue to dominate?
Candidates in 2022
All 9 candidates stabding in 2022 are listed below. Incumbents councillors are listed in bold.
🟧 Lib Dems: Kevin Lang, Louise Young, Lewis Younie
🟨 SNP: Norman Work
🟦 Conservative: James Hill
🟥 Labour: Fred Hessler
🟩 Greens: Andrew Brough
🟪 Workers Party of Britain: Annemarie Baillie
🟫 Scottish Family Party: Stewart Geddes