Best man for Borders job at Holyrood will be a woman

Gail Hendry launching her campaign in Hawick, accompanied by MP Calum Kerr and MSP Paul Wheelhouse.
Gail Hendry launching her campaign in Hawick, accompanied by MP Calum Kerr and MSP Paul Wheelhouse.

Whichever way voters go at next month’s by-election for the Scottish Parliament’s Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire constituency, the best man for the job will be a woman.

Nominations for the poll, on Thursday, June 8, the same date as the next UK Government general election, have now closed, and the four-strong list of candidates for the seat vacated by John Lamont last month is an all-female one.

Labour's Sally Prentice.

Labour's Sally Prentice.

The candidates set to battle it out at the ballot boxes are Gail Hendry, representing the Scottish National Party; Liberal Democrat Catriona Bhatia; Rachael Hamilton, for the Conservative and Unionist Party; and Labour’s Sally Prentice.

Mrs Hendry, former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond’s sister, is no stranger to polling stations, having run SNP MP Calum Kerr’s victorious campaign for the UK Parliament’s Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk seat in 2015.

The mother of three, of Hawick, was also election agent for SNP regional list MSP Paul Wheelhouse’s failed challenge last year for the Holyrood seat she is now contesting herself.

The 53-year-old, a lecturer in the access department at Borders College in Galashiels, said: “I believe this area would benefit from having an SNP representative at Holyrood who can command the attention of our government ministers when requesting more investment.

Catriona Bhatia.

Catriona Bhatia.

“I know the area well and understand the needs and aspirations of communities in the constituency, having served as Calum Kerr’s election agent when he successfully contested the Westminster seat in 2015.

“The Tories have an appalling record in cutting expenditure on public services and on reducing the Scottish Government’s budget year on year. I fail to see how that can help the fortunes of this area and the whole of Scotland in general.

“During his term as MSP for this constituency, John Lamont has argued against virtually every Scottish Government policy or initiative designed to help the Borders and its economy.

“He even opposed the restoration of rail services to the region but then seemed to change his mind when he realised how successful that particular SNP project had been.

Candidate Rachael Hamilton.

Candidate Rachael Hamilton.

“It’s time that the Scottish Borders had a strong, dependable MSP.”

She added: “I am taking unpaid leave to focus on the campaign, and it was a hard decision as I love my students, but sometimes, you have to stand up and make the difference yourself.”

The seat became vacant following Mr Lamont’s decision to quit his Holyrood job to focus on bidding to claim the Westminster seat that Mr Kerr beat him to last time round by a majority of 328.

Hoping to retain the Scottish Government seat for the Conservatives is former South Scotland list MSP Rachael Hamilton.

The 46-year-old, the Tories’ tourism and small business spokesperson, has stood down as a regional MSP, as required by Holyrood rules, to vie for the seat that North Ayrshire-born Mr Lamont, 41, had held, in various formats, since 2007.

Ms Hamilton, co-owner of the Buccleuch Arms Hotel in St Boswells with husband Billy, said: “I am honoured to have been selected as the Scottish Conservative candidate for the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire by-election.

“John Lamont has been a fantastic and extremely hard-working MSP, so I know I have some big shoes to fill.

“However, I promise that if elected in June, I will continue with his hard work.

“Just like in the general election contest, this by-election will be between me and whoever the SNP decides to select.

“The Borders deserves a hard-working MSP who will stand up for local services, not someone whose number one priority is breaking up the United Kingdom.”

Herefordshire-born Mrs Hamilton lives in Maxton, near St Boswells.

She has been a regional list MSP since May last year after failing in her bid to win the East Lothian seat from Labour’s Iain Gray.

Like Mrs Hendry, former Scottish Borders Council depute leader Ms Bhatia, 48, of Eshiels, near Peebles, has a family background in politics, being the daughter of Lib Dem grandee Lord Steel of Aikwood.

A mother of four, she was first elected to the council in 2003, only standing down at this month’s local election as a councillor for Tweeddale West.

“Unfortunately politics in Scotland is becoming increasingly polarised and we will need to fight back to show that a centrist, Liberal agenda which unifies communities and the country is the way forward,” said the former hotel boss.

“It is heartening to look to France and Canada, where moderate and progressive voices have won the argument.

“I hope to be able to use the skills and experience that I have gained at Scottish Borders Council as executive member for both education and the health board to be a strong and effective local representative at Holyrood. 

“This by-election will be about pushing back the politics of division, which are the hallmarks of the Tories and the SNP, and sending a message that the Borders wants common sense and unity for an area which voted to stay in the UK and the European Union.”

Bidding to win the seat for Labour is Sally Prentice, of Swinton in Berwickshire.

The 27-year-old stood at last week’s council election for Kelso and district but was eliminated after stage five of the vote redistribution.

The single mother of two, originally from Haddington in East Lothian, has previously worked in customer service and studied midwifery.

She cites free education, maintaining the National Health Service, care for children and the elderly, VAT exemption for some public service bodies and introducing a food coupon scheme to encourage healthy eating as her main priorities.

Miss Prentice said: “I am not a seasoned politician, and I wish to serve my constituency, not govern.

“My heart is in it, my ego is not. I wish to help shape a fairer Scotland. I have always had the view that if you don’t like something, change it.

“I joined the Labour Party officially in 2015, when Jeremy Corbyn became leader.

“I have been brought up with our values and beliefs, often describing myself to people as having Labour through me like Blackpool rock.”