CONSERVATIVE John Lamont retained the revamped Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire seat that he took from Euan Roson of the Lib Dems in 2007 with vastly increased majority – up from 1,985 to 5,335, writes Bob Burgess.
The story was very much the collapse of the Lib Dem vote and a surge in the votes for the SNP.
The SNP’s Paul Wheelhouse netted 7,599 compared with his party’s return of 4,127 in 2007, pushing the hapless Robson into third place. His vote plunged from 8,571 to 4,990.
Lamont’s victory speech was short. He thanked and pledged to work for his constituents of whatever political flavour.
But a smiling Paul Wheelhouse described his second-place spot and the party’s victory across the country as “fantastic”.
And, reflecting on the fact the Lib Dems were pushed from second to third, he declared: “We have finally slain the myth that it is a two-horse race in the Borders. The SNP is very much alive.”
As he spoke, the community councillor from Ayton had no any idea that the voters had given so much confidence to the SNP and that within a few hours he would be a list MSP.
Mr Lamont had looked slightly worried, uneasy and reluctant to talk during the early stages of the count. As the night wore on, the jubilant cries of the SNP supporters gathered round the TV screens in the canteen marquee reverberated into the main hall, his concern took some work to ease.
Ease it did as his victory became slowly assured. But he knew this time it had not been against the traditional Lib Dem oppossition, but rather against the Scot Nats.
As the dust settled and with his seat secured, he said: “I have tried to work as hard as I possibly could have over the last four years on behalf of my constituents and I know many of them are voting for me, not just because of party politics, but because they recognise how hard I have been able to work on their behalf. I am delighted to have had such an increased vote and a larger majority than the last time.”
“The Conservative group is going to be very similar to the last time, unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats, which have changed beyond any recognition.
“My job, going back to Holyrood will be to hold the SNP Governement to account and to ensure that it does not push forward its independence plans, which I am sure Borderers do not want, particularly being so close to England.”
And he admitted that Paul Wheelhouse had done well: “People were very unhappy after being told for years that the only way to stop the Tories was to vote Lib Dem, and now we have a Liberal Democrat MP supporting a Conservative Prime Minister. That’s very difficult for Liberal Democrat voters to swallow, and I think that is the main reason why many Lib Dem voters in Scotland have decided to look to other parties to support at this election.”
So, what of the coming years? Mr Lamont said: “Obviously the job situation is difficult. We need to ensure there are sufficent job opportunities for young people in particular, so they can stay in the Borders. I know that is a great frustration, not just for young people, but for older people when they see their young ones having to go off to other parts to find work. Housing is another aspect of that because very often they can’t find a house in the Borders to live.
“These are all issues that need to be addressed – transport, roads, and traditional industries such as textiles, farming and fishing.
“There is lots to do, but I’m pleased to be back and I hope that the experience of the past four years will stand me in good stead for the next five years.”