The political spotlight turned to Berwickshire last week when BBC presenter Brian Taylor and his team broadcast a live hustings programme from Coldstream Community Centre.
‘Brian Taylor’s Big Debate’, a travelling topical discussion programme for BBC Scotland, aired live from 12.05pm-1pm on Friday.
With a Question Time-type approach, the programme allows members of the public to question politicians on the news of the week.
Friday’s panel consisted of four of the five candidates contesting the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire seat in the forth-coming Scottish elections; Rab Stewart (Labour), Paul Wheelhouse (SNP), Euan Robson (Lib Dem), and John Lamont (Conservative).
Audience members quizzed the panel on subjects as diverse as road versus rail, a single police force for Scotland, and under 18 alcohol abuse.
Youth unemployment was also raised. Although recent figures show employment in Scotland to be rising, youth unemployment remains a growing problem, and Berwickshire resident Graham Bell asked the candidates how they would reverse the flow of young people out of the Borders, who leave to find work.
Labour candidate Rab Stewart said he had been surprised to learn recently that the age profile in one of the Borders’ traditional industries, textiles, was in the mid to late fifties. “They (young people) aren’t being encouraged to learn and develop (in these traditional industries)”, he said. “We are suffering really badly in the Borders from a lack of investment in young people. We must invest in young people.”
Paul Wheelhouse said he’d like to see more modern apprenticeships and graduate opportunities in the Borders to keep young people here. He said: “We have historically exported people to other parts of the country and further a field actually, there’s a roaring trade of people emigrating from the Borders to New Zealand, Australia etc.
“I hope that the Borders companies engage in modern apprenticeships to give people the opportunity to work in the Borders.”
But members of the audience said that small businesses in the Borders would need a financial incentive to take on apprentices, as they simply couldn’t afford to do so without help.
Euan Robson said there was a need to change Scottish enterprise into regional development banks so that money could be targeted locally and would stay in the area. He also encouraged better links between schools and further and higher education, and Border businesses. “We have good links but they could be better,” he said.
John Lamont, MSP for the area during the previous parliament, said it was “very important” to invest into the business sector to create more jobs. He added: “We need to help small business, and be less dependent on the public sector.”
When Brian opened the debate up to the floor, audience members felt that transport was a “major problem” in employing youngsters and keeping young people in the area.
Brian then asked if young Borderers were willing to work, one resident replied: “Yes, that’s not a problem. One of our greatest assets here is our youngsters, but to actually get them there (to work) from the towns and villages is a real problem.”
A lady in the audience agreed. She said: “It comes down to the transport system, we need to invest in buses so young people can get to work and stay here.”
From the audience, Councillor Donald Moffat said that Scottish Borders Council do not have enough young people in apprenticeships.
He added: “If SBC had one per cent apprenticeships, that would be about 100 people. As it stands SBC only has about three apprenticeships.”
Another member of the audience who had moved to the area from Newcastle, asked the panel if there was any scope for a kind of citizenship scheme for “incomers” to the area.
While Paul Wheelhouse said that the SNP have an “inclusive” stand point on who could be a Scot, adding that residents should be “very welcome” to become a citizen if they wanted to be, Euan Robson branded the idea of Scottish citizenship as “completely unnecessary”.
He said: “I would totally reject the idea of the parliament legislating on citizenship. In my view we’re all part of the United Kingdon. Take my own family for example, I have one daughter who was born on one side of the border, the other daughter was born on the other side of the border. Why should they have separate citizenships?! We don’t need it.”
He added: “We have enough to do looking after the economy and domestic issues in Scotland, without all this.”
John Lamont said he, too, would be reluctant for parliament to legislate in this area, but said that communities being pro-active and engaging with newcomers is a good thing, and pointed to Coldstream as a good example of how it should work. He said: “Coldstream is very welcoming. Most communities across the Borders, I think, are very similar.”
Rab Stewart added: “Anyone who comes into the community, engages with the community, is always going to be welcome in that community. ‘We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns’”.
Following the live debate Brian Taylor thanked the audience for attending, and praised the community centre, which he said was really well kitted-out. He added: “We have been made really welcome here in Coldstream.”