AS leader of Scottish Borders Council, David Parker had more than a passing interest in the seismic electoral events of last week, writes Andrew Keddie.
His local authority, currently run, like the UK government, by a coalition of Conservatives and Lib Dems, depends on the largesse of the Scottish Government for more than 80 per cent of its revenue and cannot look to Council Tax to generate extra income given the huge mandate for the SNP at Holyrood to freeze that local levy for the next five years.
Mr Parker was first elected as an SNP councillor but quit the party in 2002. His decision to run on an Independent ticket paid rich dividends the following year, paving the way for him to lead a variety of administrations at Newtown.
“The results on Thursday and Friday were an emotional roller coaster with great victories, but also difficult losses, in the Borders,” he told us.
“The outcome is fascinating for our region and we have never been better represented at both Westminster and Scottish Parliamentary level by members who are actually in government.
“In Michael Moore MP, we have a Westminster cabinet minister, while in Christine Grahame and Paul Wheelhouse we have two members in the new majority Scottish government. Meanwhile, in John Lamont and Jim Hume, we have MSPs who have demonstrated they can be enormously effective for our area.
“The job for Scottish Borders Council and, indeed, all the electorate in our region is to use this significant government representation to ensure we get the things that matter to us.
“Improvements to economic growth, the return of the Borders railway and the re-opening of Reston station along with keeping Borders services close to the public are just some of the commitments we need to secure.
“We may be looking forward to the prospect of an independence referendum and a five-year council tax freeze, but other matters closer to home, not least jobs, must not be forgotten.
“We have come a long way since the advent of devolution in 1999 when we had two Lib Dem MPs and two Lib Dem MSPs and with Christine Grahame representing our area for the SNP on the list.
“Today, only one Lib Dem MP remains with an SNP and Conservative MSP in the two Borders constituencies and a Lib Dem and SNP member focusing on our region on the list.
“Much has changed over the last 12 years, but one should always remember that for every electoral high, there will be a low and, given what happened last week, one can only wonder what the Westminster election in 2015 and at Holyood the following year will bring.”
Asked for a personal view on last week’s winners and losers, Mr Parker told us:
“Christine Grahame finally won the seat [Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale] for the SNP having campaigned vigorously since 1992. There is no doubt boundary changes and the national swing helped her enormously, but her hard work on the ground over many years was a major factor in delivering the seat and giving the Borders our first constituency SNP MSP.
“Jeremy Purvis, who had held the old version of the constituency for the Lib Dems since 2003, will be a loss to the Borders, having made a significant contribution to the return of the Borders railway and the campaign to retain Heriot-Watt University in the region. His result was actually the most credible performance of all the Lib Dems across Scotland and I can’t help but feel he was the right candidate, but in the wrong place at the wrong time. There can be no doubt we will see him back on the Scottish political scene again.
“And watch out for Peter Duncan, who came fourth for the Tories … the former MP was well received during the campaign locally and his arrival on the local political stage is only the beginning of the story for Peter in the Borders.”
Turning to Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, Mr Parker said there was “no real surprise” that John Lamont had been returned for the Conservatives.
“He has earned a reputation as a hard-working constituency MSP and now has the largest majority and safest Conservative seat in Scotland: a prize he well deserves.
“The major shock in that seat was the SNP’s Paul Wheelhouse, a rising star of the party, taking second place but, of course, earning his place at Holyrood through the list. He was a very capable candidate who we will come to hear lots about in the years ahead.”