The political map of the Borders is set for a sizeable shake-up
The Boundary Commission for Scotland this week published its revised proposals for the UK Parliamentary constituencies '“ which could significantly change the political map of the Borders.
It marks the beginning of an eight-week public consultation process, which ends on Monday, December 12.
While the main constituency in the Borders – the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency held by Scottish Conservative MP John Lamont – has been largely unchanged, it has grown slightly to take in part of Tweeddale, including Innerleithen, the new boundary being Cardrona.
This makes the constituency 3,992km2, with an electorate of 73,812 people.
Mr Lamont – whose constituency grows by 4,000 voters, said the public consultation must take its course, but has welcomed the fact that most of the Scottish Borders has been retained in one Parliamentary seat.
He said: “It is perfectly reasonable for the independent Boundary Commission to look at refreshing the Westminster constituencies, which have remained largely unchanged for nearly 20 years.
“It is now for the public to have their say on these proposals and I’d encourage Borderers to take a look at them.
“I am pleased, however, that the Borders remains largely in the same Parliamentary constituency.
“While parts of Tweeddale will be in a new seat, the majority of the Borders will be represented by one MP. Our area is linked by common traditions and it makes sense to have one MP representing this community in Westminster.”
However, Scottish Secretary David Mundell’s constituency of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, changes greatly.
Tory MP Mr Mundell loses the Tweeddale section of his constituency, which would, under the proposals, be in with Midlothian.
While this new constituency of Midlothian and Upper Tweeddale is much smaller than Mr Lamont’s – at 1,106km2, it holds more people, with an electorate of 76,824.
Mr Mundell said: “It remains a great privilege to serve as the MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, so naturally it is a disappointment that the proposals would mean losing the Tweeddale section of my constituency.
“I do support the reduction in the number of MPs as we need to make parliament cost-effective, but of course these changes will only happen if parliament votes for them.
“The revised proposals from the boundary commission have taken into account the views of local people and that looks to be the case across Scotland in terms of the revised proposals, which shows that the consultation system is working.
“There is further consultation to be carried out and I would encourage local people to get in touch with further comments on the proposed new constituencies to the Commission by December 11.”
However, the proposed new Dumfriesshire and Lanarkshire South East constituency which stretches as far north as Carluke, will see voters in Gretna share an MP with those living on outskirts of Glasgow in a new constituency of over 78,000, compared to the current constituency of just over 67,000.
Commenting on the revised proposals, South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth, said: “I welcome the fact the boundary commission have accepted my suggestion to keep Annandale and Eskdale together and the town of Dumfries together by changing their original proposals.
“But to have a constituency with the name Dumfriesshire, which historically is the county of Dumfries, that doesn’t actually contain any part of the town of Dumfries, is just typical of the type of ill-thought out nonsense you come to expect from the Boundary Commission.
“Having voters in Gretna share an MP with those on the outskirts of Glasgow is pretty much the death nail of MPs representing a particular local area with clear links. The failure of the commission to even consider linking parts of Galloway with Ayrshire, which have far closer links than Annandale has with Lanarkshire, was also a missed opportunity.
“However, the real issue is the fact these proposals to cut the number of MPs in Scotland under new rules brought in by the current Government to favour the Tories, is no more than a desperate bid to save a floundering Conservative government. It is blatant gerrymandering that will create constituencies where our Westminster MPs are even more remote from their constituents and it will weaken Scotland’s voice, showing once again that the Tories are prepared to put trying risk the UK with their anti-Scottish polices, just to try to save their own skin.
“Boundary reviews should be about updating Parliamentary constituencies to take account of population changes, not fiddle the size of constituencies to suit the party in government.
“The last time the Tories tried this with the review before the 2010 election, it was booted out by parliament and that means the current constituencies are out of date.
“The government should do the decent thing and drop these plans before parliament boots them out as well and carry out a proper, independent review to update current constituencies.”
The commission has prepared these revised proposals after considering the responses to its consultations on the initial proposals, which were published in October 2016.
The UK Parliament has decided to reduce the number of constituencies from 650 to 600. In Scotland, this means that the 59 constituencies will be reduced to 53.
Lord Matthews, deputy chair of the Boundary Commission for Scotland, said: “After careful consideration of all of the comments received during the consultations on the initial proposals, the commission has designed this revised set of constituencies.
“Where the legislation has allowed it, we have tried to respond to the views expressed to us. However, in some areas, we have been unable to make changes because of the constraints on constituency design within which we work.”
“This is the final opportunity we have to obtain views on our proposals so we can further improve them where the legislation allows us to do so.
“I hope people will take the opportunity to contribute, whether for or against what we have proposed.”
After considering the responses to this consultation on the revised proposals, the commission will develop its final recommendations and submit its report to the Secretary of State in September 2018.
Members of the public and interested parties can get further information and submit views on the commission’s interactive portal at www.bcs2018.org.uk
Further information can be found on the commission’s website: www.bcomm-scotland.independent.gov.uk/2018_westminster/