Thanks to John Lamont’s shock resignation from the Scottish Parliament, it looks like voters in the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency will have an extra choice to make on Thursday, June 8.
At the time of going to press, Holyrood presiding officer Ken Macintosh had not yet released details of how and when the resulting by-election will take place, but it is widely believed that it will run alongside the general election.
Mr Lamont has been thwarted three times previously in his attempts to win a seat in the House of Commons, but this is the first time he has thrown all his eggs into that one political basket.
His resignation will take effect next Thursday, May 4.
He said: “It has been a great privilege to serve the people of the Borders in the Scottish Parliament for the last 10 years.
“During that time, I have worked as hard as I could to represent every community, no matter how small. I have held over 1,000 local advice surgeries and assisted tens of thousands of local residents with problems and cases.
“I have always put local people before party politics.
“I want to continue that service to the Borders as a member of Parliament, and my approach to this important job will be exactly the same as it has been.”
It is fair to say that Mr Lamont’s decision came as a bit of a surprise, not least to his opponent, SNP MP Calum Kerr, who beat Mr Lamont by 328 votes last time, making the seat the tightest in Scotland.
Mr Kerr said: “Last year John stood for the Scottish Parliament on the basis that – having contested the Westminster seat three times previously – his priority was now playing a high-profile role in the opposition at Holyrood.
“If I had voted for him on that basis I’d be disappointed by this dramatic and unusual move.
“Given that in his previous two attempts to win the Westminster constituency, John did not stand down as an MSP, today’s announcement shows an astonishing level of confidence that the Tories will take the seat this time.
“Perhaps he thinks that he’s already on his way down to London.
“We’ll have to wait until 8 June to find out if the people of the Borders think that confidence is justified.”
Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson MSP, praised Mr Lamont for his record in Holyrood.
She said: “During his 10 years in the Scottish Parliament, John has built up a formidable reputation as a dedicated community campaigner for the Borders.
“Voters in the Borders can either pick John Lamont, one of Scotland’s hardest working local campaigners, who will put the Borders first and who will oppose Nicola Sturgeon’s damaging plans for a second referendum, or they can pick another nationalist who will continue to pursue his obsession with taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom.”
Mr Kerr said: “The Tories never stop telling us to ‘get on with the day job,’ and step away from the constitutional question.
“Yet today, John Lamont announced that he is leaving his day job to focus on fighting a single issue election campaign on the constitution.
“But people in the Borders and across Scotland know that a general election is about who is best placed to speak up for their interests.
“That’s what I’ll be focusing on over the coming weeks, while continuing to serve as an MP until Parliament dissolves on May 2.”
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have named their candidate – current deputy leader of Scottish Borders Council, Catriona Bhatia.
The Liberal Democrats held the seat for more than 50 years until 2015, and Mrs Bhatia – daughter of former MP Lord David Steel – says she is relishing the opportunity to win it back:
She said: “Having grown up in the area, it is an honour to be selected to be the local candidate.
“The Borders has a strong Liberal tradition, and I have already been speaking to many voters who are keen to come back to support the LibDems this time as they are fed up with the politics of division which is being promoted by the Tories and the SNP.
The LibDems are the only party offering common-sense policies which seek to unify and support communities and their place within Scotland, the UK and Europe.”
Chair of the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk Liberal Democrats, Frances Renton said: “We are delighted that Catriona is our candidate at this election. She has a strong record of delivering change and investment for the Scottish Borders in her 14 years as a senior councillor, and five years on the board of NHS Borders.
The experience and commitment that she could bring to the Borders at Westminster is significant, and gives the voters of the Borders an excellent opportunity to choose a new direction for the area on June 8.”