It’s all over now for Lib Dems in Scottish Borders

Jim Hume on the campaign trail last month.
Jim Hume on the campaign trail last month.

The Borders, once a power base for the Liberal Democrats, is now without a single MP or MSP representing the party or its predecessors for the first time in over half a century.

That era of continuous national representation ended when the votes for candidates on the South of Scotland regional list were counted and calculated after this month’s Holyrood elections.

David Steel winning his old Borders seat for the Liberals in 1965.

David Steel winning his old Borders seat for the Liberals in 1965.

Prior to the polls, Jim Hume had looked destined to retain his position as an MSP after being named top of the Lib Dem list.

But his tenure of the seat, going back to 2007, ended after his party polled just 11,775 second votes in the entire South of Scotland region.

Its 3.7% share was even lower than the Greens 4.7%, with 14,773 votes.

By way of contrast, the Scottish National Party amassed 120,217 votes (38.3%), and the Conservatives garnered 100,753 (32.1%).

Mr Hume fared little better in his challenge to Conservative incumbent John Lamont in Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, coming a distant third with 2,551 votes – just 7.7% of the constituency vote, down by 9.6% on 2011.

It was a similar picture for the Lib Dems in neighbouring Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale.

There, youth worker Kris Chapman trailed in last of four, with 3,686 votes, or 10.4% of the poll, down by 17.7%.

Notwithstanding the vagaries of tactical voting, it is all a far cry from the electoral dominance triggered by the Liberals’ David Steel in 1965 when he took the Westminster seat of Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles from the Tories in a famous by-election victory.

The 78-year-old, now Baron Steel of Aikwood, held that seat until the boundary changes of 1983 when he was elected MP for the new bailiwick of Tweeddale Ettrick and Lauderdale, before handing the baton onto Michael Moore in 1997.

From 1983 to 2005, the neighbouring Commons seat of Roxburgh and Berwickshire was comfortably held by another Lib Dem, Archy Kirkwood.

That was a duopoly only broken by further boundary changes which saw Peeblesshire ceded to a new Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale constituency won and since held by the Conservative David Mundell.

Meanwhile, from 1999’s inaugural elections to the Scottish Parliament through to 2007, the Lib Dems sent two MSPs up to Edinburgh from the Borders with healthy majorities.

The tide turned in 2007 when Euan Robson lost Roxburgh and Berwickshire to the Tories.

Four years later, Jeremy Purvis’s eight-year reign as MSP for neighbouring Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale was ended by the SNP’s Christine Grahame.

That downward trend was temporarily arrested at the 2010 general election, when Michael Moore notched an emphatic win in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, grabbing 45% of the vote.

But last year, in the aftermath of his party’s electorally disastrous coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives, Mr Moore was swept away in an SNP landslide.

The next test of the party’s fortunes locally will come at next May’s elections for Scottish Borders Council, on which the Lib Dems currently have six out of 34 councillors – their lowest headcount since the authority’s inception in 1995.

And of that sextet, it is understood that only one – Selkirkshire’s Vicky Davidson – intends to seek re-election.

Lord Steel still represents the party in the House of Lords, however, along with Baron Kirkwood of Kirkhope and Baron Purvis of Tweed.