YESSERS are hoping to wrest control of East Lothian council and finally overturn the area’s longstanding but waning historic Labour loyalty.

They face an uphill struggle but have reason to be optimistic – and recent results are on their side.

Despite warnings from Anas Sarwar that Labour councillors will not enter formal coalitions, those who know the party has no hope of winning overall control are already in discussions about informal arrangements for the next administration, The National understands.

Concerns around the level of housebuilding in the area, as well as issues including local health services and public transport, are likely to dominate in the minds of the electorate.

East Lothian’s former mining towns have elected Labour councils solidly since the 1980s – except for an SNP and LibDem coalition between 2007 and 2012.

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The area’s national politics mirrored this for years. It was represented in the Scottish Parliament since its creation by Labour MSPs, including former leader Iain Gray – a pattern only disrupted when Paul McLennan took the seat for the SNP last year.

It has been less faithful in UK Parliament elections, trading in 32 years of continuous Labour MPs in 2015 for the then SNP’s George Kerevan, only to back Martin Whitfield under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn in 2017.

Kenny MacAskill took the seat back for the SNP in 2019, but the former justice secretary switched to the Alba Party last year.

To make matters more complicated, its largest town, Musselburgh, has been represented by the SNP’s Colin Beattie (below) since 2011.

The National: Colin Beattie MSP

Electoral history aside, there are major challenges facing the area and issues party campaigners better have good answers for on the doorsteps.

Cameron Ritchie, a reporter with the East Lothian Courier, said the biggest issue at this election will be infrastructure.

He said: “[There are] thousands of homes being built and not a lot else.”

McLennan, a former council leader who will be retiring his seat in May, said: “The demographics in East Lothian are changing, you tend to see families coming in.

“I think that will feed through, but in terms of seats, it’s hard to see where that will come through.”

One such development, the Blindwells scheme outside Tranent, promises it will come with a primary school and “local centre” as well as shops and industrial units to support the 1600 homes being built there.

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But given the large numbers of people who live in East Lothian and work in Edinburgh, there are fears the A1, which links the two places, will become too congested with the “sheer number” of extra cars on the road.

“There is no new junction, it’s all going to be piling on to an existing junction,” said Ritchie.

McLennan described East Lothian as one of the fastest-growing parts of Scotland. It’s expected to be larger by around 6400 households over the next few years.

“In a way, it’s a nice problem for East Lothian to have because we don’t face depopulation, it’s the exact opposite – people want to come into East Lothian,” he said.

The problems, McLennan thinks, are around job density. Many people live in the area but work in Edinburgh.

Encouraging economic growth should be a priority for the next administration and McLennan said growing East Lothian’s already mighty tourism sector and creating green jobs should be in the future council leader’s sights.

SNP votes stopped a Labour bid to slash economic development funding at the last budget, he said, and ensuring strong investment in future should help the council support the area’s booming population.

The Greens – who are hoping to elect their first councillors in East Lothian this May – think the council must boost the public transport links both between the towns and Edinburgh and within the area itself.

Simon Francis, the co-convener of the local Greens branch, told The National: “East Lothian Council approves buildings left, right and centre, most towns now have large building sites on the edge of them and there is no real plan to improve public transport infrastructure.”

The National: Edington Hospital in North Berwick was closed last yearEdington Hospital in North Berwick was closed last year

Since the shock closure of the Edington Hospital in North Berwick last year (staff were moved to a larger hospital in Haddington to ease immense staffing pressures) locals in that town have been forced to travel about 10 miles to the nearest hospital.

It takes at least 40 minutes between the two towns but the direct bus only runs once every two hours and more frequent services are more than twice as long.

It will be a major issue for voters in the area come May 5 and Francis said candidates across the parties will be campaigning to reopen the facility.

“There needs to be much more investment in public transport and getting people around the county as well as into Edinburgh,” said Francis.

“We need more interconnectivity between the towns.”

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Another hot topic is planned flood defences in Musselburgh. The council wants to construct a flood wall – something the Greens have called the “wrong scheme in the wrong place”, and Francis voiced concerns such a wall would simply shift floods down the coastline.

He has called for “nature-based” flood defences and the Greens are demanding an immediate pause to the plans.

A spokesperson for East Lothian Council said a “preferred scheme” has been put forward but designs are yet to be finalised and this will be done in consultation with the community.

Ritchie thinks Labour “might get the necessary numbers” to lead another minority administration, but the swing on a national level to the SNP could upset the strong Labour “foothold” the party has had in the area for decades.

Both parties are standing 10 candidates across the council’s six wards. With 22 seats up for grabs, neither has enough to win an overall majority, even if every single one were to be successful.

The electoral maths means no party can command complete control over the council – but McLennan told The National that Labour’s vote was in “long-term decline” and that the rural Tory vote remained stable.

Such a scenario would seem obviously beneficial to the SNP who are riding high after election victories in 2019 and 2021 on the back of migration from Edinburgh.

The Greens just have to hope enough of their voters have ditched Auld Reekie for the pleasant sands of the coast.