Encountering Douglas Alexander in the much-frequented North Berwick cafe Cake, he’s anticipating the arrival of a bacon roll. There follows the predictable jests about refraining from filming him in the act of eating it, a lesson all too vividly remembered from the 2015 election campaign and the infamous incident of Ed Miliband’s struggle with a bacon sandwich.

Alexander brings to Lothian East Labour’s campaign a combination of experience and charisma, as a former major player for New Labour who served under both Blair and Brown.

The target for Labour in Glasgow and across Scotland for some time has been East Lothian, particularly considering it was where they came closest to a victory against Nicola Sturgeon’s prominent SNP in 2019.

Alexander believes much has changed since then. He stresses that many of the issues currently facing people in East Lothian are familiar problems to people all over the country.

The shared feelings of frustration with both governing bodies, worries about the cost of living and the prevailing cynicism towards politicians are things he understands fully. He’s quick to highlight his disappointment at what he describes as the “cruelty and incompetence” of the Tories, all while claiming that public life in Scotland hasn’t improved under the SNP.

Alexander declares his intention to reignite the belief that politics can be a transformative force in people’s lives, drawing comparisons to the political climate of 1997.

Alexander became notably unseated by Mhairi Black of the SNP in his former Paisley and Renfrewshire North constituency during Scotland’s Labour wipeout in 2015. Since then, his career has had a touch of glamour, with a senior fellowship at Harvard University and an advisory role to U2’s Bono on global poverty.

Someone might argue that he exemplifies the familiar concept of a high-profile figure parachuted into a seat with little local connection. However, Alexander, who has now relocated to the county with his family, responds forcefully to this, pointing out that he was chosen by hundreds of local Labour party members in a highly competitive selection last February.

Ever since being selected, he informs us, he’s been tirelessly engaging with the constituents – lately as often as three times per day. He feels that if elected, he’d return to Westminster not just older and, in his own words “with a few more grey hairs”, but also wiser and keen to make change a reality.

The SNP has without doubt faced its fair share of problems in this region. They secured a win five years ago with Kenny MacAskill. However, in 2021, MacAskill transferred his loyalty to Alex Salmond’s Alba Party, becoming one of its pioneer MPs.

The Nationalists’ candidate for this general election, local man Iain Whyte, was already lined up for months. While he decided to step back citing health reasons, the reins were swiftly handed over to Lyn Jardine, the currently serving leader of the SNP in East Lothian Council.

Jardine candidly admits the circumstances were unexpected but feels she had to rise to the occasion. She’s fully committed to the campaign and promises to not be easily outperformed by Alexander. She uses the experience of MacAskill, a high-profile candidate potentially absent more often than present, to illustrate her point.

Jardine points out that local supporters who voted for Kenny as an SNP MP felt somewhat betrayed. She suggests Labour risks a similar situation by fielding Douglas, due to the potential parallels drawn.

It’s no secret that there are murmurs that Alexander might be immediately assigned a major role in a Starmer Cabinet, possibly even that of Foreign Secretary. Alexander promptly brushes away such speculations, suggesting that such rumours are nothing conclusive, “unsourced nonsense”.

Alba’s new candidate in the region, George Kerevan – previously an East Lothian SNP MP from 2015 to 2017 – defends ex-MP MacAskill unflinchingly, who is now campaigning in Alloa and Grangemouth.

It’s evident Kerevan’s main rallying point is independence. However, he expresses an urgent need for serious changes in the face of a persisting cost of living crisis.

No matter the outcome of the polls, the Conservatives hold an undeniable influence in East Lothian. Recent elections have seen them transform the seat into a three-way marginal, finishing just 500 votes behind the SNP in 2017.

Hamilton mentions, “I think a lot of people are liking a fresh face and a breath of fresh air coming into this campaign. We’ve got former MPs running for this seat and I think they want change, and the only way they can get change is voting Conservative.”

However, during a door-knocking session back in North Berwick, after Alexander has finished his roll and bacon, a Conservative supporter reveals he won’t vote Conservative this time but Labour instead. This must give Alexander hope for the coming election.

What are the locals saying?

Joy Barnard, Haddington

“I’m going to vote Labour for the first time in my life. I’ve been an SNP voter for many years. I feel we need change in Westminster and while my heart is still with independence, I think for the time being it should be taking a backseat.”

Frank Neate, Aberlady

“I’ve got a bone to pick with the politicians on all sides about raw sewage being dumped in Aberlady Bay. I’m inclined to go with the Lib Dems because they’ve shown a willingness to talk about this issue.”

Liz Mackay, Tranent

“I don’t know which party I’m going to pick and I’ve always voted Labour. There’s no message that convinces me. I’ve got a child with assisted needs, I need help with that, that’s not coming through. The NHS and care is a big issue here.”

Joe Olynec, Drem

“They’re building all these new houses in East Lothian but very little affordable houses. The infrastructure is not there. All of this is a bit of a worry, actually. I thought I knew who I was going for but now I’ve turned 360 degrees – but I’d rather not say!”