Youth has its day as Conservatives falter but hang on

Nathaniel Buckingham (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party) for Tweeddale West. The youngest elected councillor for SBC at the 2012 elections relaxes at his Peebles home with wife Katie, 8 month old Connnie and William (2).
Nathaniel Buckingham (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party) for Tweeddale West. The youngest elected councillor for SBC at the 2012 elections relaxes at his Peebles home with wife Katie, 8 month old Connnie and William (2).

IT all began so well for the Conservatives on Friday morning when the first result was declared at Eildon Mill in Tweedbank where the votes from the Scottish Borders Council election of the previous day were being counted, writes Andrew Keddie.

Nathaniel Buckingham, a 29-year-old civil engineer from Peebles had been elected as one of three councillors in Tweeddale West, polling 885 first preference votes, just 12 short of the required quota for a stage one victory under the esoteric single transferable vote (STV) system.

Mr Buckingham, it emerged, had been elected at the fourth stage of that process to replace West Linton’s Neil Calvert, depute leader of the outgoing council and the man given most credit for bringing the local authority’s finances under control following the notorious education overspend at the start of the last decade.

When the count ended, three hours after that declaration, Mr Buckingham was officially the youngest member of the new council, some nine years the junior of precocious leader David Parker who had, with negligible success, appealed for younger candidates to come forward this time round.

“I’m delighted to be the youngest councillor and to have kept the Conservative flag flying because Neil was certainly a hard act to follow,” said Mr Buckingham.

He added: “Neil had a lot of support in West Linton and I live in Peebles, which is certainly not a Tory heartland, and that makes victory all the more satisfying.”

A former pupil of Priorsford and Peebles High, Mr Buckingham graduated in civil engineering from Durham University and has since worked with the international consultancy Aecom which has an office in Edinburgh.

It was at university that he first felt “the buzz” of representing his peers, running the student body for his college.

That informed his belief in what he calls “the conservative ethos” of allowing people to pursue their aspirations, untrammelled, as far as possible, by red tape.

He said: “I want to take these values into local government and make sure it runs as efficiently as possible, although service to constituents, and working harmoniously with my ward colleagues, are paramount.”

Married to Katie and with two young children, William, two, and Constance, one, Mr Buckingham believes his relative youth will be an advantage in fulfilling the latter ambition.

He told TheSouthern: “I am from a younger generation and, as a backbencher, I will try to speak for them. I want to experience life on the council and to strike a balance between it, my family life and my career which, thanks to laptops, Blackberries and conference calls, I still intend to pursue but perhaps with less intensity. I believe the world of work is important in keeping councillors grounded and alert to the problems and challenges people in the Borders are facing.”

Mr Buckingham’s declaration was applauded by his party’s faithful who went into the election with 12 councillors and emerged with 10.

“That’s definitely one we could have lost,” observed Sandy Scott, who was later re-elected in Jedburgh and District.

Len Wyse, Mr Scott’s erstwhile party colleague in that ward and executive member for environmental services, was ousted in his re-election bid.

Further Tory losses were suffered in Galashiels and District (Fiona Lackenby) and in Mid Berwickshire where Trevor Jones, vice-chairman of the planning committee, was ousted, while one of their higher profile hopefuls – former MP and Scottish party chairman Peter Duncan – failed to make an impact in Leaderdale and Melrose.

These disappointments were assuaged in part with the election of constituency association chairman John Greenwell in Mid Berwickshire and the success of two new candidates – Michelle Ballantyne and Simon Mountford – in taking over from prominent retirees in Selkirkshire and Kelso and District respectively.