A week long tour of his Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency has given MP Calum Kerr an insight into the issues he needs to prioritise over the coming months.
“It has been absolutely amazing,” said Calum, who has had a mix of formal meetings, chats with people on street corners and on their doorstep to get a flavour to what matters to the people he represents from Newcastleton to Cockburnspath.
Raising national and international awareness of what the Scottish Borders has to offer tourists and potential employers, and transport and broadband connectivity are clear front runners when it comes to priorities as far as Calum is concerned.
Over the course of two days he visited every corner of Berwickshire, and while in St Abbs took the opportunity to go and see the village’s new independent lifeboat.
“Euan and Paul appeared and showed me the boat,” said Calum.”The sun was shining but I think their smiles while showing me the boat were brighter than the sun.
“I think back to the time when they just got the news and Paul Wheelhouse and I met with the crew who were shell-shocked. It was done in such an officious way.”
And it turns out he had chosen the same day to visit St Abbs as Boyd Tunnock who was given a trip out on the lifeboat he contributed £260,000 to buy.
“The issues from Berwickshire have been very similar to elsewhere but when I have talked to people about the Borders it feels like a forgotten part of Scotland and you can multiply that in Berwickshire.”
Improving the region’s connectivity – both transport and broadband – is Calum’s number one goal for the Borders. Highlighting what it has to offer to both tourists and employers, then making it easy to get here to visit by improving transport links and upgrading broadband connections to convince employers that it is a good place to work.
“The fact is we dwell too much on the past and should seize the opportunity to build on what we have here for tourism and jobs which is why connectivity remains one of the biggest challenges we face.
“Nowadays you can work anywhere but that is predicated on connectivity.”
“I am doing a ton of work on broadband connectivity, I’m the digital spokesperson at Westminster and I’m so frustrated at the lack of progress and cohesion.
“I’m launching a Scottish Borders Digital Forum, Scottish Borders Council are on board, and there are a number of initiatives coming from Westminster.”
During his time at Eyemouth Calum caught up with the town’s enhancement group which has brought the community together to spruce up the town, creating floral displays around the centre. Earlier this year Calum ended up washing dishes at the enhancement group’s coffee morning and when he returned lat week he presented one of the organisers, James Anderson, with a cheque for £175 – money Calum earned by carrying out UK Government surveys.
Even here the importance of technology was clear – Facebook proving a game changer for the enhancement group as a way of getting in touch with people and asking for help.
Calum is the SNP’s DEFRA (Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs) spokesperson and inevitably he has had many conversations in recent weeks about the impact of the UK exiting the European Union.
“The general feeling I’m getting from people is that they are concerned that no one really knows what it means.
“At the independence referendum 58.5% of people in the Borders voted to remain part of the UK and they are now wondering what this means now. I am trying to understand what people’s concerns are about it and what areas I need to be aware of and campaign on – CAP payments being an obvious example.
“A significant amount of money comes into the Borders from CAP payments.”
“I was at the Royal Highland Show the day after the EU referendum and farmers were demanding that the Government honours the CAP system. They have announced that they will honour pillar one – money that goes to the farmers – but there is still no announcement about pillar two, which is where rural development money comes from for rural projects and that’s the next step for us.
“Speaking to the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses their main concerns about Brexit are access to markets and access to people as a number of our businesses rely on EU workers. Some even had EU workers coming in and asking if they have to go back home now. We are all calling for clarity.”