Nationalist Christine Grahame looks likely to retain her Midlothian South seat as she basks in the success of the Borders Railway, says Ian Swanson
CHRISTINE Grahame won this seat for the SNP at the last Holyrood election with a comfortable majority over the Liberal Democrats.
Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale – to give the constituency its full name – stretches from Penicuik, Newtongrange and Gorebridge down to Peebles and Galashiels in the Borders.
The Lib Dems had held the previous Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale seat since the start of the Scottish Parliament, but the party’s unpopularity and the inclusion of parts of Midlothian, with its strong Labour tradition, meant they could not hold on.
Ms Grahame – who was previously a South of Scotland list MSP – says one of the main achievements since the last election has been the Borders Railway, which passes through the constituency.
She campaigned for the line and says it has already brought benefits. “There has been a huge boost to Gorebridge and Newtongrange with the delivery of the rail line,” she says. “It’s a huge success and I’m delighted.”
Key issues that come up during the campaign include regeneration of town centres like Penicuik and delayed payment of benefits. “The Scottish Parliament is getting new welfare powers, so I’m glad we are taking that over,” she says.
Ms Grahame claims the Labour vote is collapsing and the Lib Dem vote is small. “The Tories might hold on to theirs,” she says. “But it’s not big.”
She insists, however, she is taking nothing for granted. “I think the idea this is a skoosh for the SNP is wrong. I don’t think anything politicallly is ever a skoosh. The electorate changes – people will have moved, new people will have moved in.
“You need to tell people what you have been doing and win them over afresh.”
She says her record includes setting up a cross-party group to re-establish the railway line and fighting for it despite scepticism from others. “I stuck to my guns and campaigned for it. I knew it would be a success.”
She has also campaigned on behalf of grandparents who take over the care of their own children’s children when they are unable to cope; working with the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which helps former mining communities; and campaigning to help stop the closure of Ladywood community centre in Penicuik.
Labour candidate Fiona Dugdale, who works in mental health and is fighting her first election, says she has found “real enthusiasm” for the party’s policies when she has been out and about, chatting with people on the doorstep.
She says the council tax freeze had had a negative impact on public services, including cuts to community policing.
“I am firmly behind the Keep our Cops campaign in Midlothian and if elected will fight the SNP council cuts that will see the loss of 14 frontline police officers from our communities. Hundreds of people have signed a petition against this move.”
Ms Dugdale, who lives in East Lothian, is no relation to the Scottish Labour leader. She says: “I am driven by a passion to rid society of poverty and inequality.
“People are really supportive of our position on tax and ending the cuts. There is also great support for our housing policy as access to affordable housing is an issue across the whole constituency.
“People are telling us about the problems with getting an appointment with a GP, and we know that a number of surgeries in Midlothian are restricting new patients joining their lists. I know that local GPs do their best in difficult circumstances. I am proud that this crucial issue will be addressed through Scottish Labour’s plans to increase the NHS budget in real terms over the lifetime of the next parliament. This includes the guarantee of an appointment at a GP surgery within 48 hours.”
The Lib Dem candidate is youth worker Kris Chapman, who lives and works in the Borders.
He fought the 2010 general election in Aberdeen North, but has not stood for the Scottish Parliament before.
Mr Chapman acknowledges the Lib Dems’ problems but says he offers a “fresh face, positive attitude and new lease of life”.
He says: “There is a desire for a Lib Dem voice in this area.
“The coalition was a problem, but we are moving beyond that now.
“People are starting to look at the new powers and want a Scottish Government that is responsive to those powers and will use them.
“People like the fact we’re taking the initiative and saying ‘We have new tax powers, this is how we will use them and this is the positive effect it will have’.”
He names civil liberties, healthcare and education as among his priorities.
And issues he says the voters are worried about include the loss of the 14 police officers; GP numbers and the length of time it takes to get to see a GP; and public transport.
“We need good public transport,” he says. “Many elderly residents going to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary need two buses. That makes practical life really difficult.”
Michelle Ballantyne, the Tory candidate, is leader of Conservative group on Borders council. She says: “People worry about housing, employment, children, care of the elderly and the state of the roads. All these things come down to how we deliver good services for people
“Without a strong economy to finance the support people need you end up in mess. It’s easy to promise everything, much harder to deliver it. If you are serious about wanting a good health service and good education, you have to be serious about the economy.”