THE Scottish Tories effectively gave up defending Ruth Davidson’s seat against the SNP at the Holyrood election, official spending figures suggest.

Despite the then-Tory leader winning the Edinburgh Central constituency in 2016, her party was outspent by the SNP and a Scottish Labour long-shot in May.

Returns filed by the candidates also show the Scottish Greens virtually abandoned the pitch in Edinburgh Central after splitting the vote and helping the Tories win five years ago.

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Their spending fell 98 per cent compared to 2016.

It followed warnings from the SNP not to vote Green in case history repeated itself. Edinburgh was the most intense political battleground in Scotland in May, with half of its six seats Unionist-held marginals which were heavily targeted by the SNP.

Campaign finance files show the candidates who won these marginals spent big and spent early, pouring in money from the New Year, and not waiting until the spring.

The closest seat of the three was Edinburgh Central, where Ms Davidson unexpectedly came from fourth place to win by just 610 votes over the SNP.
Her exit from Holyrood to sit in the House of Lords as Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links was seen by the SNP as a golden opportunity to retake the seat.

After a bitter selection battle with SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC, former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson was chosen to fight the seat for the party.
His Tory opponent was little-known Edinburgh councillor Scott Douglas. 

Mr Robertson, now the Constitution Secretary, spent £29,578 on his campaign, an increase of £11,544, or 64%, compared to the SNP spend in 2016. Significantly, he spent the bulk of this – £17,736 – in the first phase of the election, known as the long campaign, which ran from early January to late March.

The remaining £11,842 was spent in the seven-week short campaign up to polling day. In contrast, the Tories spent just £3,880 in the first phase and £8,337 in the second, where they found themselves playing catch-up.

Moreover, Mr Robertson targeted voters with messages about Ms Davidson and the EU as Edinburgh Central was one of the biggest Remain seats in the UK in the Brexit referendum.

However, much of the Tory spending was on “non-constituency specific” leaflets and social media, angled towards the party’s national strategy of getting votes on regional lists.

Less than half

ULTIMATELY, Mr Douglas spent £12,217, double the Tory spending in 2016, but less than half that of the SNP. Remarkably, given they were defending, the Tories were also outspent by another, weaker challenger, Labour’s Maddy Kirkman, whose third-place campaign cost £12,693, up 37% on 2016.

Five years ago, Green MSP Alison Johnstone, now Holyrood’s Presiding Officer, won 4,644 votes in Edinburgh Central, far more than Ms Davidson’s winning margin. Despite insisting Ms Johnstone was standing in earnest before the election, the Greens’ spending in the seat crashed from £6,432 in 2016 to just under £146 in May. Mr Robertson went on to win by 4,732 votes over Mr Douglas.

However, their minimal outlay did make the Greens the most cost-efficient spenders in the race, with each of their 3,921 cotes costing 4p, compared to each vote costing Labour £1.86, the SNP £1.82, the Liberal Democrats £1.37, and the Tories £1.06.

Labour’s Daniel Johnson and Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton also held on in Edinburgh Southern and Edinburgh Western respectively by frontloading their campaigns like Mr Robertson. In Edinburgh Southern, Mr Johnson more than doubled his initial spending to £21,719, then spent around the same in the second phase – £12,228 – as he had in 2016.

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It saw him spend the most of any candidate in the capital, £33,948, up 49% on the previous election, compared to £21,784 spent by his SNP challenger Catriona MacDonald, up 9%.

‘Must-win’ seat

THE seat was seen by Labour as a must-win because it is also the base of Scotland’s only Labour MP, Ian Murray, and an SNP gain could have spelled doom for him too.

Mr Johnson increased his majority from 1,123 to 4,022. 

Mr Cole-Hamilton, who was the highest spender in 2016, spent £32,608 on his campaign this year, an increase of less than £60. 

However, he increased his majority from 2,960 to 9,885. 

Apparently recognising it was on a hiding to nothing, uniquely in Edinburgh, the SNP spent less in Edinburgh Western in 2021 than it did in 2016, a drop of 22% to £14,449. 

An SNP spokesperson said: “Even the Tories now recognise how toxic their brand is to the vast majority of Scots.

“To abandon hope of holding on to Edinburgh Central – the seat of so-called party darling Baroness Davidson – signals that the Scottish Tories know their policies are noxious.

“Being resigned to losing would also explain why the baroness dodged the scrutiny of the electorate for a lifelong cushy number in the unelected Lords.

“The Tory capitulation in such a key seat is also a damning indictment of Douglas Ross’s leadership. He offers nothing beyond denying democracy and support for more callous government from the chaotic and untrustworthy Boris Johnson.”

A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: “We won an extra 1,000 votes in Edinburgh Central in this election than last time, which unfortunately wasn’t enough to hold the seat on this occasion.”