Thursday, 12 May 2016

A political death - or is it?

CROSSBENCHER on the apparent demise of the Borders Lib Dems

At least one notable feature of the 2016 Scottish parliamentary election results appears to have passed the world's press by - the fact that the Scottish Borders is without an elected Lib Dem MP or MSP for the first time in more than half a century.

Less than a decade ago the Party ruled the Borders political roost with a clutch of election successes at both Westminster and Holyrood levels.

But after Michael Moore was firmly rejected by the electorate as the Hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk at the 2015 General Election, the sole Lib Dem representative was Jim Hume, a list MSP for the South of Scotland.

However, on May 5th he too was swept away on a combined SNP and Tory flood tide when the Lib Dems only polled a pathetic 11,775 list votes in the entire South of Scotland region. Their 3.7% share of the poll was even lower than The Greens on 4.7% (14,773) while the SNP garnered 120,217 votes (38.3%) with the Conservatives on 100,753 (32.1%).

The Scottish Borders constituencies were once a Lib Dem power base from the 1965 breakthrough when David Steel scored a famous by-election victory, then held the seat for a quarter of a century before handing the baton to Archy Kirkwood who passed it later to Michael Moore.

From 1999 when the first elections to the Scottish Parliament were held, through to 2007 the Party sent two MSPs up from the Borders, each time with healthy majorities. But the rot set in at the 2007 poll when Euan Robson lost Roxburgh & Berwickshire to the Tories while Jeremy Purvis came within a whisker of losing Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale to the Nationalists. Boundary changes would cook Purvis's goose four years later.

The Lib Dems appeared to be on the way out.

However at the 2010 General Election the highly popular Michael Moore notched up a remarkable win in Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk, taking 45% of the votes cast. But the apparent resurgence in his Party's fortunes was stopped dead in its tracks when only weeks after that triumph Nick Clegg took his troops into an electorally disastrous liaison with Cameron's Conservatives.

Borders voters did not forgive Moore in 2015, plumping instead for the SNP's new kid on the block, Calum Kerr.

The spectacularly disastrous slump in Lib Dem fortunes was reinforced at constituency level this time round when previous supporters deserted in droves leaving candidate Jim Hume with just 2,551 votes (7.7%, down 9.6% on 2011)). They did little better in neighbouring Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale with 3,686 votes (10.4% - down 17.7% on 2011)

So farewell then Borders Liberal Democrats; your political obituary is complete. Well, actually not quite....

For up in the House of Lords the Scottish Borders continues to be represented by three of the politicians who used to canvass for votes, namely David Steel (now Lord Steel of Aikwood), Archy Kirkwood (Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope) and Jeremy Purvis (Lord Purvis of Tweed).

It's hard to quantify what benefits the region reaps from their lordships' diligent attendance in the house of peers. But the services of the experienced trio come at a price.

Westminster's records of attendance allowances - members of the upper house can claim £300 a day for simply being there - and associated expenses including travel, parking, taxis, air fares, etcetera show that in the seven months of 2015 when the Lords was in full session the Borders threesome claimed more than £84,000 in allowances between them.

The individual tallies were Lord Purvis over £31,000, Lord Kirkwood £27,000 and Lord Steel more than £24,000. In addition, the combined expenses claims totaled more than £68,000 including £35,000 for travel costs and £21,000 for air fares. When attendance allowances and expenses are totted together the figure exceeds £150,000.

Other Scottish Borders peers who claim for attending the Lords are Lord Sanderson of Bowden, Lord Palmer and Lord Sutherland of Houndwood. And from November last year Lord Beith (former long-serving Lib Dem MP for Berwick-on-Tweed Sir Alan Beith) also joined the ranks of peers. The Party also lost their grip on Lord Beith's constituency in 2015 when it was taken by the Conservatives.

So there you have it. The Borders Lib Dems may have been kicked out of elected office at every political level, yet still they retain a strong local presence.

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