Ballantyne in hunt for 100 nominations
The Borders’ two Scottish Conservative MSPs – Michelle Ballantyne and Rachael Hamilton are on opposing sides in the upcoming party leadership campaign.
The post became vacant when Ruth Davidson – who also had links to the Borders, having attended Selkirk High School– resigned as leader at the end of August after the birth of her child.
Mrs Ballantyne, who was formerly a Scottish Borders Councillor for the Selkirkshire ward, is up for the job herself, while Mrs Hamilton is co-chairing interim leader Jackson Carlaw’s campaign.
The former, who is a list MSP for the South of Scotland, said she was keen to see the new leader crowned by party members rather than “in a dark room by political insiders”.
However, to trigger a leadership race against Eastwood MSP Carlaw, the hot favourite for the post, she has to reach 100 nominations from Tory councillors, MSPs, MPs and peers.
Mrs Ballantne said: “In 2011, the Scottish Conservative members made their voice heard when they chose a newly-elected Ruth Davidson to lead the party over seasoned veterans like Murdo Fraser or Jackson Carlaw.
“The party leadership will have far reaching consequences, and this is why the decision needs to be made by our members rather than in a dark room by political insiders.
“If I receive the 100 nominations required to trigger a leadership contest, I would bring to bear the experiences I have as a manager in the NHS, head of a charity and as a businesswoman to ensure we have a robust debate about the future direction of our party and policies.
“The Scottish Conservatives need to offer voters an optimistic and inspiring solution for the country’s future.
“The Scottish Conservatives are still the government-in-waiting.
“A proper contest will help remind people why.”
Meanwhile, Mrs Hamilton, the party’s shadow cabinet secretary for culture and tourism, placed her weight behind Mr Carlaw, co-chairing his campaign with fellow MSP Liam Kerr, who is the interim deputy leader.
Mrs Hamilton, who owns the Buccleuch Arms Hotel in St Boswells with her husband, said: “What we need is an experienced hand on the tiller. With his qualities as a passionate, experienced and driven politician, he is best placed to be leader.”
Next Friday, January 17, is the deadline for nominations.
Whoever ends up running the party in Scotland will have a tough job on their hands, with the Tories losing seven seats in Scotland in the December general election.
They still held sway in the south of Scotland, but struggled elsewhere, and with a Holyrood election less than 18 months away, there is precious little time to plug that gap.
Mr Carlaw says he is aware of the size of the task.
He said: “Scottish Conservatives have to raise our game. We need to examine our response to SNP failure with policies that engage and offer both solutions and opportunity.
“And they must be rooted in the ‘blue collar conservatism’ of the centre ground. In my view, that will inevitably mean having the courage to leave some of our previous positions, some even well established, behind.”
Mrs Hamilton added: “In little over a year, we will be fighting against an SNP Government which after 14 long years is failing on the domestic record.
“We, as Scottish Conservatives need to build a progressive and dynamic platform of policies, which challenge the SNP on their record, and I believe Jackson is the best person to do that.
“With Nicola Sturgeon already demanding another independence referendum, we need to present a platform in 2021 which is rock solid on the constitution.
“He will continue to oppose any new independence referendum, as we all believe that Scotland is always better off when part of our strong United Kingdom”.