First Minister pays flying visit to region to back candidates

Scottish Government First Minister Nicola Sturgeon paid a visit to Hawick on Monday to chat to supporters and try to boost her Scottish National Party candidates’ campaigns ahead of today’s elections.

The UK Parliament’s Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency had the country’s tightest majority in 2015, with the SNP’s Calum Kerr edging Conservative John Lamont to the post by 328 votes after a recount.

SNP candidates in the by-election and General election respectively, Gail Hendry and Calum Kerr, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and a host of party supporters in Hawick today.

SNP candidates in the by-election and General election respectively, Gail Hendry and Calum Kerr, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and a host of party supporters in Hawick today.

And in the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire seat at Holyrood seat, being contested at a by-election, Alex Salmond’s sister Gail Hendry faces the daunting task of trying to overturn the 7,736-vote majority Mr Lamont secured for the Tories over the SNP last year.

And while the Borders’ Tories enjoyed a remarkable outcome at last month’s Scottish Borders Council election, Mrs Sturgeon was quick to point out that neither seat is certain to end up blue.

She said: “The Tories have been pretty arrogant over the course of this campaign, almost counting the votes before the votes have been cast.

“We don’t take a single vote for granted, but as this campaign has wore on, I think more and more people are starting to see what the consequences of five more years of a Tory government would be and the consequences of sending Tory MPs to Westminster to boost Theresa May’s majority.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today.

“I think in Calum Kerr and Gail Hendry, you have what will be strong voices for Scotland, and the south of Scotland, and able to stand up for the interests of people in this part of the country and Scotland overall.”

Unlike the UK Prime Minister’s visit to Kelso later in the day, held under strict secrecy due to security concerns following the latest terror attack on London on Saturday, Mrs Sturgeon quite happily mixed with locals at Tower Mill, posing for selfies and answering questions, even from those with an axe to grind.

One man was desperate to talk to her about carer’s allowances. Jim Sykes, 68, of Hawick, has been looking after wife Donna, 67, since she was diagnosed with dementia eight years ago.

However, under current law, anyone over 65 is no longer entitled to carer’s allowance benefits, and he said Scottish Borders Council is halving his two-week respite allowance to one week.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today. Harry Marsland aged six from Newtown St Boswells.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today. Harry Marsland aged six from Newtown St Boswells.

Mrs Sturgeon replied: “We will be taking responsibility for the first time for carer’s allowance, and for the first time, we will be able to decide the level of it and also who is eligible for it.

“I’m not making excuses here, but sometimes the way benefits work is out of our control, but over the next couple of years, we are going to be able to change some of that.

“We are also trying to make available more services for people who are caring.

“You are absolutely right that we need to invest more in respite.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today.

After his chat with the First Minister, Jim, who runs a dementia café in the town’s 111 Masonic Lodge in Commercial Road on the third Thursday of every month, told us: “She seemed quite sincere. I know she can’t help everybody, but she seems intent to help our carers.”

Mr Kerr was delighted to welcome his boss to Hawick in the week of the election.

He said: “It’s great to see the Borders as the focus of this campaign. People have said to me that sometimes they feel that this is a forgotten land, and I think that myself and my colleague Paul Wheelhouse, working with Nicola, we are putting the Borders on the map.

“Here in Hawick, we have millions of pounds worth of investment, we have Scottish Enterprise and South of Scotland Enterprise coming.

“We are making sure your voices are heard, and we are getting investment back into our towns.”

Mr Kerr will be up against Mr Lamont again, and he added: “For me, when I go round the doors, I’m finding people are worried about Brexit, they are worried about Tory cuts and they don’t want more of the same.

The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visits Hawick today.

The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visits Hawick today.

“We don’t need a Tory MP that just rubber-stamps everything. If you rubber-stamp the rape clause and the two-child policy, there is clearly nothing you will say no to.”

Also fighting the Westminster seat is Labour’s Ian Davidson and Caroline Burgess of the Liberal Democrats.

Mrs Hendry, up against Conservative candidate Rachael Hamilton, Lib Dem Catriona Bhatia and Labour’s Sally Prentice, said: “I think it’s great Nicola has come to the Borders for my campaign and Calum’s.

“It shows that she supports us and that the Borders can be won by the SNP.

“There is an anti-Tory majority here, if we can turnout the vote.

“I think the two Tories showed from the start that they were pretty sure of both seats, but in all my years in politics, I have never been one to take a vote for granted, and I’ll be fighting for every vote until right at the last minute.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today. Lesley Armstrong aged four from Lilliesleaf gave Nicola yellow roses and a hug.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today. Lesley Armstrong aged four from Lilliesleaf gave Nicola yellow roses and a hug.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Hawick today.