WATCH: Borders MP Calum Kerr delivers maiden speech
Rural areas of Scotland like the Borders have not so much been neglected by Westminster governments, as virtually abandoned.
That was the withering assessment of the current state of affairs, according to new Borders MP Calum Kerr.
His maiden speech as MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk in the House of Commons last week saw Mr Kerr tell the chamber issues such as patchy mobile phone coverage and lack of help for farming communities were holding the region back.
And while his constituency was “one of the most beautiful and diverse in these islands”, he said it faced real disadvantages.
“Rural Scotland, including my constituency, can feel like a forgotten land – a policy afterthought,” he said.
On mobile phone licensing, Mr Kerr said UK Government policy had left rural areas such as the Borders short-changed, while farming communities had an extremely poor deal from Tory ministers who failed to fight for their interests in Brussels. This is a remarkable abandonment. UK ministers have not so much been sleeping on the job as comatose in the corner.”
Mr Kerr also gave the House a potted history of the Borderlands, and paid tribute to his predecessor, Liberal Democrat Michael Moore.
And of his party’s delegation in Westminster, he said the new ranks of SNP members on the Commons benches had already made many friends.
“Honourable members should know, however, that Borderers have fierce pride, huge family loyalty and, if roused, fire in their hearts,” he added.
He went on, drawing laughs: “In this chamber, convention has it that opposing members are separated by two sword lengths. That has never been a propriety observed in my part of the world.”
Mr Kerr also welcomed the new Borders Railway and called for an examination into the feasibility of its extension to Hawick and Carlisle.
As well as attacking Chancellor George Osborne’s “crippling austerity Budget”, he slammed the UK Government for rejecting SNP amendments to the Scotland Bill. The speech drew applause from the benches, despite the convention against clapping in the chamber.
Speaking after the Jethart Callant’s Festival on Friday, Mr Kerr told us he had enjoyed a warm welcome from all those he had met since his election in May.
“Not everyone knows my name yet – there was one day where I actually thought my name was ‘The MP’,” he laughed.
“But I’ve had a really good reaction; a lot of people coming up to congratulate me and I’ve even had people coming up and saying that while they didn’t vote for me, they wished me all the best and that’s important because as an MP you’re there to represent everyone, whether they voted for you or not.”
Mr Kerr admitted it had been a steep learning curve at Westminster, with a large amount of work to tackle already: “There’s so much to learn, a huge amount.
“But we’re starting to make an impact.
“It’s been a really rapid start to a new parliament with the Scotland bill, the new EU referendum issue, English votes for English laws – so a lot of things to get straight into.”