Tory MSP owes election to ‘cut of cards in car park’

Jeremy Balfour, top, cut cards with Iain McGill.
Jeremy Balfour, top, cut cards with Iain McGill.
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NEW Lothian Tory MSP Jeremy Balfour owes his election win not just to the voters of the region last week, but also to a cut of the cards one Saturday morning in a Livingston car park.

Mr Balfour – a city councillor for the past ten years – tied with Leith businessman Iain McGill for fourth place in the party’s internal contest to decide the rankings on the regional list.

No-one expected the party to win four seats in Lothian, so it did not seem to matter who took the number four slot and who was number five. But in line with Conservative central office rules, the two took turns to cut a pack of cards.

“We had both got exactly the same number of votes and that was the way laid down in the rules to decide who was fourth and who was fifth,” Mr Balfour recalled. So we literally had a pack of cards. I got a king and Iain got an eight or a nine.”

“I didn’t think much of it at the time – it was just going through a formality – but of course it has turned out to be more than that.”

Mr McGill added: “It was on a Saturday morning in a car park in Livingston.

“We were out every Saturday, 30, 40 or 50 folk campaigning together. It happened to be Livingston’s turn to be blitzed, so 40-50 of us met in a Livingston car park to spend the day knocking on doors and we cut the cards there before we went off campaigning.

“It all looked very academic back then – we would have been very pleased to get three MSPs elected; we didn’t expect to get four.”

In the end, Ruth Davidson won Edinburgh Central although she was also number one on the list, and the Tories got three list MSPs – Miles Briggs, Gordon Lindhurst and Mr Balfour.

This was Mr McGill’s third attempt at the Scottish Parliament. He has also stood three times for Westminster, once for the European Parliament and four times for the city council.

But he is not dwelling on what might have been if the luck of the draw had gone differently.

“I would dearly love to be elected one of these days, but I’m not going to be upset at coming close,” he said.

“I’m very pleased with the election result. I’m delighted we are the official opposition and we have 31 MSPs, including four from here. I didn’t expect to see that. Jeremy is great, so are the other guys. It’s a good strong team.”

He dismissed the twist of fate delivered by the cutting of the cards as “just a piece of trivia – a good story to tell in the pub”.

But he added: “I don’t think I’ll be playing cards with Jeremy again.”

Mr Balfour said: “I’m delighted to have been elected. I just wish Iain could have been elected too – and I hope he will be in the near future because he will make an excellent representative.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com