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Alistair Darling Weighs In To Help Labour's Last Remaining MP In Scotland Keep His Seat

The former chancellor joined Ian Murray on the campaign trail in Edinburgh South 20 years to the day after Labour's historic 1997 victory.

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A crowd of photographers are gathered around a cafe window, squinting at a somewhat familiar pairing of jet black eyebrows and snow white hair.

“What’s all the fuss about?” asks one passerby in Edinburgh South on Monday 1 May.

“Alistair Darling’s in town,” responds one political hack, prompting a wonderful double-edged retort.

“Och, I though it was somebody famous.” But there’s more. “You see him round here all the time. I saw him in Tesco the other day.”

How many lords do you spot shopping in Tesco? It seems Baron Darling of Roulanish is still no stranger to the self-service checkout — and this could be Labour’s saving grace in the parliamentary constituency of Edinburgh South.

Alistair Darling campaigns in Edinburgh. A begging bowl sits outside RBS. Fin! #GE2017

Labour's last remaining Scottish MP, Ian Murray, is defending his seat against the three-headed adversary of Scottish nationalists, Tory unionists, and Labour centrists who just can’t bring themselves to endorse Jeremy Corbyn.

The personal vote has always been strong in Edinburgh’s leafy suburbs. Darling represented the city for nearly 30 years, latterly in the neighbouring Edinburgh South West until his decision to stand down in 2015 handed the seat to the barnstorming SNP.

Labour was routed everywhere else in Scotland, but Murray increased his share of the vote in Edinburgh South — albeit against tainted SNP candidate Neil Hay. Hay was exposed as a Twitter troll who described unionists as “quislings” and questioned why “poor souls in the elderly bracket can vote but barely know their own name”.

Most people in Edinburgh South know Murray and Darling, including Faisal Hudda, a 19-year-old Heriot Watt University student who has lived in Edinburgh for just two months.

“Alistair Darling was outspoken against independence, which isn’t something I would have wanted,” said Faisal, peering into La Barantine cafe where the former chancellor popped in for some of Bruntsfield’s finest artisan macaroons.

“He’s also a very positive politician and I think we need more of them these days.”

Darling spearheaded the Better Together campaign against Scottish independence, an optimistic title slightly overshadowed by the leaked internal nickname “Project Fear”.

His visit came 20 years to the day since New Labour won its historic landslide in 1997, ending 18 years in the wilderness and paving the way for the devolved Scottish parliament, which was supposed to “strengthen the union and remove the threat of separatism”.

Could Darling have imagined that 20 years on he would be defending Labour’s last Scottish MP against a vast army of separatists intent on having yet another independence referendum?

“It’s a bit like when I got elected to parliament 30 years ago, I would have hardly have believed that we would win with a thumping landslide majority 10 years later,” he says. “In politics things change, fortunes go up and down.”

Darling clearly still doesn’t think much of Jeremy Corbyn, whose leadership election he described as a cloud with no silver lining. So will he endorse Corbyn for prime minister?

“You know where I stand on that,” he says.

“We need to get on. We’re fighting a general election campaign, leaders come and go, but it’s important that we get the best possible result for the country and that means having a sensible, sizeable opposition…” Darling stutters and corrects himself, before adding, “…members of government that can actually make a difference."

“He’s the leader," says Darling. "There’s no question that he’s the leader, and it’s for him to convince people over the next six weeks, and voters will make of it what they will."

Murray is also asked if Corbyn — who he accused of “destroying the party” — has been a handicap to his campaign.

“In Edinburgh South this is a straight fight between Labour and the SNP, and people will vote on that basis,” says Murray.

“They understand that they’ve got to send Nicola Sturgeon a strong message that we don’t want a second independence referendum.”

And what about Tony Blair, who told the Daily Mirror on Monday that he was prepared to "get his hands dirty" with frontline politics again?

“I welcome his voice," says Darling. "He’s making the point — as I am making today — that what we can’t do is allow the debate to be hijacked by people who have a very narrow, negative, and extreme view of Europe.

“What comes out of the Brexit negotiations will define the future for the next few generations, never mind the next few years.”

The former chancellor also has some economic advice for the SNP, which saw the economy shrink on its watch last quarter, and RBS, which he saved from oblivion with a budget-busting bailout in 2008.

“The more uncertainty you create, the less likely it is that businesses will invest,” he says. “Ever since the whole prospect of a referendum was put back on the table by Nicola Sturgeon last year it’s made businesses stop and think.

“It’s bad enough with Brexit, and it’s just going to be compounded with the prospect of a second independence referendum.”

He adds: “It’s almost 10 years now, but I’ve always said it would take a long time for RBS to recover because it was very badly damaged at the time of the crash.

“I think that the government should be patient, and it certainly has to solve two issues: RBS has got to settle with the US government in relation to claims that have been made against them, and secondly they’ve got to decide what to do with the Williams & Glyn part of the bank, which has encountered a lot of difficulties.”

And so Darling departs into the Edinburgh May Day sunshine, perhaps to buy a loaf in Tesco, and on the way out his advisers cast a glance at the neighbouring branch of RBS where one of Bruntsfield’s less well-heeled residents holds out a begging bowl.

If they need an image of the real challenges facing Scotland in this general election campaign, perhaps this is it.

Contact markmclaughlin at .

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