The 2017 General Election takes place next Thursday, and while almost everyone is focussing on what the national results will be – the reality of the election is that it’s made up of 650 unique contests across the UK that decide who represents the people living there.
I’m from Dingwall, but this is my first General Election being able to vote for a candidate in Ross, Skye and Lochaber – after voting in Aberdeen North back in 2015.
This constituency was dominated by Charles Kennedy, the late ex-Lib Dem leader, who held the seat from 1983 until the last election. In 2015, he fell foul of what he called “the night of the long sgian dubhs” as the SNP claimed all but three Scottish seats and turning Scotland’s political map yellow.
This election won’t be so dramatic here in Scotland, but it’s still worth considering the potential candidates that could end up as MP for this vast constituency. One of the problems in this election, though, is that we can only vote for one candidate – and the way the polls have moved between the last election and this one seem to suggest that the result here is a foregone conclusion (with the SNP leading and the Lib Dems and Tories fighting it out for second).
It’s also worth considering what MPs in Scotland have influence over. Healthcare, education and a lot of infrastructure spending are devolved to Scotland, so Scottish MPs do not have a direct influence on how this is spent in Scotland. They do however have influence over taxation and the national budget, which affects how much money the Scottish Government has to spend on these things. MPs also have a key role in upcoming legislation on Brexit and potentially handing power to the Scottish Parliament for another independence referendum.
I’ll take a look here at what’s promised by the candidates and their parties, and let you know what they are standing for and against, and provide you with the links to leaflets and manifestos to help you make up your mind. I’ve ranked these resources in order of how helpful they are in deciding, with the leaflet first, then UK manifesto, then Scottish manifesto – as the UK-wide policies are those at stake in this election.
Ian Blackford (SNP)
Ian Blackford is the sitting MP, having being elected in 2015. He is an investment banker from Edinburgh, and has had a long association with the SNP before being elected, serving as the party’s treasurer.
Blackford was a reasonably prominent MP in the House of Commons, taking a lead on the campaign for WASPI women to have their pension age rise fairly. He was also instrumental in helping the Brain family stay in the UK as they struggled against potential deportation back to Australia.
The SNP’s key policies in this election are opposing Tory austerity; ensuring cuts to social security are reversed and that the pension “triple lock” remains in place to keep them rising in value. They are also campaigning against Brexit, trying to keep full single market access for Scotland and to keep the free movement of people between Europe and the UK. However they also support rises in income tax that they’ve failed to put into place here in Scotland despite having the power to do so, and they also support a freeze in corporation tax – meaning there’ll be tax breaks for businesses whilst people are paying more.
Ian Blackford is the leader in the polls and most likely to win this election, as are the SNP nationally in Scotland, but there are questions to be raised as to their record on putting progressive policy talk into action.
Ronnie Campbell (Independent)
Ronnie Campbell is becoming a “perennial” candidate here in Ross, Skye and Lochaber, having run in the last two elections without much success – propping up the vote on both occasions.
While all I have on Campbell’s policies are an image of his leaflet from 2015, I can safely say his priorities are land management and the overhaul of the Crofting Commission so its members are held accountable through elections. He’s also a supporter of upgrading the A82 and limiting government bureaucracy, as well as being a Gaelic-speaker and prioritising the language in previous elections.
Leaflet (from 2015 and not the best quality image): https://pbs.twimg.com/media/C-uzd-wXsAA9dzV.jpg:large
Jean Davis (Liberal Democrats)
Jean Davis is a former councillor who served the Aird and Loch Ness ward of Highland Council from October 2015 until the local elections last month, where she was defeated. She had previously fought in five elections without success.
There is quite a full bio of her on the Lib Dems site that sets out her history and what she is prioritising in her candidacy.
She is pro-EU but anti-independence, and is running on a specifically anti-centralisation platform, which could prove popular among those feeling too many services are being axed and shifted towards the central belt. Her key focus is on making sure the Highlands is served well enough in terms of healthcare, particularly in mental health.
While a lot of her points are very well received, the truth is that these issues are devolved to the Scottish Parliament – and there’s little that can be done to solve them at Westminster.
The Lib Dems on a national level support having a second referendum on EU membership once negotiations to leave have finished and we know what will be at stake. However, the Lib Dems do not support a second independence referendum – believing that issue to have been settled by 2014’s referendum. They also support a small rise in income tax to help pay for increased funding for the NHS, education and social security.
On the whole the Lib Dems have done well to rebrand themselves a bit from 2015, but it does seem that their policies on both referendums are a little opposed to
Scottish manifesto: https://blog.stevenkellow.com/manifestos/scottish-lib-dems-2017.pdf
Robert Mackenzie (Conservative)
Mackenzie is a local businessman and farmer, having been born in Dingwall and running a family own farm in Easter Ross. He has no previous political background that I could see.
His aims for the local area, although relatively hard to find in his leaflet, are to create more jobs and training for people (especially young people) in the area, and to improve local transport and communication infrastructure. On the whole he believes a strong economy is the best solutions to these problems. He is also aiming to ensure that the UK gets a good deal out of Brexit and he is opposed to a second independence referendum.
The Conservatives are nationally campaigning to continue their plans to take the UK out of the EU, with single market access and free movement looking likely to be lost in the process. On a Scottish level, the party’s key argument is against another independence referendum and standing up to the SNP.
I’m unsure on how the Conservatives’ policies will help those living here in this part of the Highlands, as Brexit will have a massive impact on funding for infrastructure and agricultural projects here and the lack of access to the single market could be a problem for our stakes in the energy economy in particular.
Scottish manifesto: https://blog.stevenkellow.com/manifestos/scottish-conservatives-2017.pdf
Peter O’ Donnghaile (Labour)
O’ Donnghaile is another candidate who fought in May’s local elections, coming second-last in a crowded field in Eilean a’ Cheo/Skye.
O’ Donnghaile is aiming to promote the local economy so that there is less inequality in our area and so that local business can thrive too. He is also backing Labour opposition to SNP and Conservative cuts in both Parliaments, aiming to protect funding for local schools and NHS Highland. He is also a Gaelic-speaker, supporting the language’s revival across Scotland.
Labour are campaigning on a platform of restoring public services and giving more funding to healthcare, education and more and doing so by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthiest 5%. They are committed to taking the UK out of the EU, but remaining in the single market and keeping free movement of people as close to what we have now as possible.
For me this is a local candidate with a vision that reflects a fairer and more inclusive set of policies that will positively impact on the lives of people that live here. I think Labour’s is a very progressive manifesto too which brings new ideas to the table and the sort of change we need to see UK-wide.
UK manifesto: https://blog.stevenkellow.com/manifestos/labour-2017.pdf
Scottish manifesto: https://blog.stevenkellow.com/manifestos/scottish-labour-2017.pdf
Lewis Sturrock (Something New)
As the name suggests this is a relatively new party, having only been formed before the 2015 General Election and only standing 2 candidates nationwide in that election and this one.
Sturrock himself is a lecturer in Computing and Digital Media, and his party’s platform is heavily based around the ideas of technologically-aware, sustainable and transparent governing – along the lines of the Pirate Party.
His bio page on the party’s website also has local issues though, trying to reduce the suicide rate of the area, allowing all residents to have the same right to access health and education services, greater transparency in the Highland Council and helping cut bureaucracy in arranging events.
Honestly I support a lot of the party’s aims and think it’s great that new parties are appearing to combat modern issues, and the party does have a thorough manifesto for dealing with a range of public services.
Despite politics being a national game, more so than ever before in a UK General Election some might say, it’s still important that candidates have a real local knowledge and connection to the people they represent. It’s encouraging to see the consensus on improving infrastructure and protecting what is an economically disadvantaged part of the country. That’s why I think it’s vital to vote for a party that really will make a difference here in communities like Dingwall or Portree, or anywhere else in our part of the world.
Right now I’m still personally undecided, torn between voting SNP and Labour, but the beauty of democracy is that you all get to choose for yourself too. If you like the sound of a candidate’s ideas and the party’s manifesto, then make sure you get down to your polling station next Thursday, June the 8th, and make your voice heard.