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Ward #2 Pentland Hills – can the Conservatives continue to dominate?

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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.


Along with Almond, Pentland Hills is one of the two largest wards in Edinburgh by area. The largely rural constituency contains settlements on the edge of the city including Baberton, Balerno, Currie, Juniper Green and Ratho.

The ward has a population of 33,510 as of 2020 and sits wholly in the Edinburgh Pentlands constituency in the Scottish Parliament. The seat was won by Labour’s Ian Gray from 1999 – 2003 before being won by the Conservatives’ David McLetchie. The SNP took the seat in 2007 and have held it ever since.

The ward had three members between 2007 and 2017, increasing to four at the 2017 election like its northern neighbour Almond.

Pentland Hills election 2007


Before 2007, Scottish councillors were elected in single-seat wards. The switch to multi-member STV wards was brought in by the Labour-Lib Dem coalition government, and resulted in the City of Edinburgh Council going from having representation of three parties to five.

In Pentland Hills, the Conservatives’ Alastair S Paisley topped the 2007 poll with 22.9% of first preference votes. The SNP’s Ronald Cairns achieved 20.3%, Labour’s Ricky Henderson won 19.5% and the second Conservative candidate achieved 18%. No candidate met the quota to be elected in the first round. In fact it took until the sixth round for all three candidates to be elected. In the end Alastair S Paisley, Ronald Cairns and Ricky Henderson won the three seats available.

Pentland Hills election 2012


Then in 2012, the Conservatives, the SNP and Labour each won a seat in the ward once again, although this time the SNP topped first preferences. The SNP’s Bill Henderson took the first seat with 29.16% of first preferences, ahead of Labour’s Ricky Henderson (28.85%) and the Conservatives’ Dominic Heslop (15.09%).

The ward’s claim to fame at this election, however, concerns the Lib Dems. This was 2012 when the Lib Dems had plummeted in the polls, punished for their coalition with the Conservatives. The result meant that across Edinburgh the party went from leading the council administration to having just three seats.

In Pentland Hills, the Lib Dem candidate came last, losing out to Mike ‘Professor Pongoo’ Ferrigan, an independent councillor dressed in a penguin suit, an event that gained much coverage at the time.

Pentland Hills election 2017


A fourth seat was added to the Pentland Hills ward in 2017, a development that change the dynamic of the election. Having almost won a second seat in 2007, and having put up another candidate in 2012, the Conservatives felt they could win a second seat this time around.

The SNP also followed suit and added a second candidate but in the end the Conservatives won the second seat.

Conservative Graeme Bruce topped the poll (with 27.2% of first preferences), winning his seat on the first round alongside the SNP’s Neil Gardiner (21.2%) and Ricky Henderson (20.6%). The Conservatives’ Sue Webber won the fourth seat on the second round (14% of first preference votes), largely benefitted from a huge transfer of second preference vote from her Conservative colleague.

This reflected both the surge in Conservative support across Scotland, and Edinburgh in 2017, as well as a new opportunity for an extra seat provided by Conservative dominance in the ward at previous votes.

Webber went on to win a Lothian Scottish Parliament seat in 2021 and is standing down her council role in 2022.

What could happen in 2022?

It’s hard to see any of Scotland’s three largest parties taking zero seats in Pentland Hills. The SNP continue to dominate Scottish politics and the Conservatives are solidifying themselves as the country’s second party. Labour have been struggling in Scotland, going from first to third place at Holyrood in three elections, but they still have a strong presence in parts of Edinburgh.

The SNP, Labour and the Conservatives will likely come away with a seat each as in the previous three election, although if any of those seats are at risk it is probably the Labour one.

But it’s that fourth seat – the second Conservative seat from 2017 – that is of most importance here and is certainly up for grabs.

As of the beginning of March 2022, the SNP have only announced one candidate for the ward but based on the closeness last time they are surely likely to stand a second.

An SNP win would show them building on their 2017 successes while a Conservative win would show that the party is solidifying its position across the city.

And it’s always possible that the Lib Dems or Greens come from nowhere to win here. It seems unlikely based on past elections and the profile of the ward in general but a focused campaign could always galvanise support, especially in a four member ward as this one is. Much will depend on what’s happening on the ground.

Prediction in politics is a fool’s game (I famously remember declaring that Hilary Clinton was going to become the 45th President of the United States…on eve of poll, then again I did predict a hung parliament in 2017) but we can be confident that the SNP, Conservatives and Labour will each take one seat – and that the fourth seat is a toss-up between the Conservatives and the SNP.

READ MORE: Ward #1: Almond – the Lib Dem heart of Edinburgh Western

Candidates in 2022

🟨 SNP: Neil Gardiner

πŸŸ₯ Labour: Stephen Jenkins

🟩 Green: Ross Muller

🟦 Conservative: Graeme Bruce and Emma Gilchrist

🟧 Lib Dems: TBC


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