Lib Dems play musical chairs as June 8 nears

Caroline Burgess
Caroline Burgess

They say a week is a long time in politics, and the past seven days has certainly seen some moving and shaking locally.

Catriona Bhatia, named last week as the Liberal Democrats’ choice to stand for the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP’s seat at the general election on Thursday, June 8, has chosen instead to contest the Scottish Parliament seat of Ettrick Roxburgh and Berwickshire in a by-election on the same day.

Catriona Bhatia

Catriona Bhatia

In her place, vying for the Westminster seat, is Caroline Burgess, 36, an Edinburgh mother of two who works for the NHS.

Mrs Bhatia, daughter of Lib Dem peer and former Borders MP Lord Steel, said: “This by-election will be about pushing back the politics of division which are the hallmarks of the Tories and the SNP, and sending a message that the Borders want common sense and unity for the area, which voted to stay in the UK and the EU.”

The Lib Dems, and Liberals before them, had ruled the roost in the Borders for over 50 years until 2015, when the SNP’s Calum Kerr edged Tory John Lamont to the tape in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, and Mrs Burgess is relishing the opportunity to win it back:

She said: “The Borders has a proud history, and I want to ensure that all its people have an MP who is going to represent their interests and ensure the area prospers.

John Ferry,
Lib Dem candidate for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, 

submitted photo May 2017

John Ferry, Lib Dem candidate for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, submitted photo May 2017

“I do not want to see a hard Brexit – we need to work as closely as we can with Europe – and I’m against another Scottish independence referendum.”

Also standing for Mr Kerr’s seat is Labour’s Ian Davidson, originally from Jedburgh and Galashiels.

The 66-year-old was a Labour MP in Glasgow, where he now lives, from 1992 to 2015.

He told us: “I think there is an opening for Labour in the Borders as the SNP is on the wane. We need to focus on regenerating the region and back away from the aye-been mentality.”

Ian Davidson

Ian Davidson

Meanwhile, Langholm’s Douglas Beattie has been selected as Labour candidate for the Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale seat general election.

Born and raised in Dumfriesshire and educated at Langholm, then Lockerbie Academy, he did a master’s degree in politics at Glasgow University.

The BBC News journalist said: “Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen the area suffer from the impact of austerity and a decline in local industries, which has led to fewer local opportunities for young people and local services suffering as a result of the cuts imposed by the Tory and SNP Governments.

“We badly need an MP who will get their sleeves rolled up be a local champion for the area to start reversing that decline.”

Douglas Beattie

Douglas Beattie

Also standing for the seat currently held by Conservative David Mundell is Liberal Democrat John Ferry, a former financial journalist brought up in Airdrie and now staying in Peebles.

In November, the 40-year-old was elected as chairman of the Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale branch of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and he also chairs the Lib Dems’ Borders policy forum.

This is his first time as a candidate, and despite the fact that the Lib Dems finished fifth place at the 2015 election, with the SNP a close second, he is optimistic.

“I think people have reassessed our performance in the coalition government and realised we had a good moderate influence there,” he said.

“I think they are starting to realise some of the really good social democratic work that was done came from us.”

Scottish secretary Mr Mundell will be defending the seat he won in 2015.

The deadline for applications to stand in both seats in the general election is next Thursday, May 11.