Rab leads Labour’s Holyrood bid

Rob Stewart during the council strike of march 2006
Rob Stewart during the council strike of march 2006
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SELKIRK’s Rab Stewart has emerged as a surprise candidate for the Scottish Parliamentary elections.

The 59-year-old former trade union official has been selected by the Labour Party to fight the new Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire seat on May 5.

A resident of the town for nearly 40 years, Mr Stewart was the overwhelming choice at a hustings meeting of the rank and file held just before Christmas.

And he said Labour now stood its “best chance for generations” of electoral success in the Borders.

“When I was a union official, I was always amazed at the number of Labour supporters who tactically voted for the Liberals come election time,” he told The Wee Paper.

“In September I was finally convinced to stand for Holyrood when I met a woman in Selkirk who told me she had voted for Lib Dem Michael Moore at the General Election to keep out the Conservatives and, despite his victory, she has still ended up with a Tory-led government.

“The policies of draconian cuts by the new coalition have completely changed the face of British politics and Labour, which achieved so much to better the lot of ordinary people before the banking crisis, is definitely on the way back.

“I really fear for the impact of cuts on the Borders where the economy is already weak. The proposition that the private sector will step into the breach and re-employ the legions of public service workers who will lose their jobs is, frankly, ridiculous.

“What has happened since has appalled me and I simply cannot stand by and watch without trying to do something to protect jobs in the Borders and give the lie to the myth that this is all Labour’s fault.”

Penicuik-born Mr Stewart joined the Labour party in 1979: the same year that he began work as an industrial officer with the former Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) based in Galashiels. In 1992 he moved to the union’s Edinburgh office, serving as regional organiser for south-east Scotland and sitting on the Agricultural Wages Board.

He took early retirement in March 2010, from Unite, the union formed on the amalgamation of the TGWU and Amicus.

During his career, he represented workers in the private and public sectors, negotiating on a national level in textiles.

He was the election agent for the late Neil Glen who stood for Labour in Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale in the 1987 General Election.

Mr Stewart, who is married to Jean, has an extended family of four children. Clare is a college student, Brian works as a chef in Sweden, Kathleen works in a call centre and their youngest, Rebecca, is a pupil at Selkirk High.

He admits he faces an uphill task, given Labour’s showing in Roxburgh and Berwickshire in 2007 when Mary Lockhart polled only 8.2 per cent of the vote, trailing in fourth behind Tory John Lamont, the Lib Dem Euan Robson and the SNP’s Aileen Orr.

Mr Lamont and Mr Robson will do battle again in the new constituency, which now includes the Scottish Borders Council ward of Selkirkshire, while Paul Wheelhouse will go for the SNP.

Labour fared better in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk at the 2010 General Election, with Ian Miller grabbing a 10.2 per cent vote share and coming third behind Mr Moore and Mr Lamont, with Mr Wheelhouse in fourth place.

“There is a real sense of betrayal among many voters in Selkirk who feel they were conned into thinking they were embracing values that have now been thrown on a bonfire by politicians,” said Mr Stewart.

“These disaffected voters are looking for a party they can trust.

“We are still a rich country and should be using our wealth not to cut jobs and destroy our ability to compete, but to create opportunities for our youth.

“I’m certain Labour has its best chance for generations to give the Borders a true voice, so often muffled in the past by tactical voting.”