Prime Minister Theresa May lent her political weight to John Lamont and Rachael Hamilton’s campaigns on Monday with a visit to Kelso.
After making a speech in Edinburgh, she took her battlebus to the Borders town under a veil of secrecy, which party members said was neccessary following the weekend’s terror attacks in London.
Her destination – Abbey Tool and Gauge in Kelso’s Pinnaclehill industrial Estate – was only released to local press two hours ahead of the event, and we were asked not to publicise it beforehand, or even film it on Facebook Live.
When she arrived, she was met off the bus by Mr Lamont and the factory’s production manager Alistair Reid, who showed her around the facility, which makes precision parts and tools.
She was introduced to employees, such as Kelso rugby legend Adam Roxburgh, who operates one of the £350,000 machines.
He joked: “I got a call last night and I was asked to have a shave and wear clean clothes.”
After her tour, she answered questions from the local press.
We asked her if it was a difficult decision to come all the way to Kelso at a time of national crisis, the visit taking place only two days after the latest atrocities in London.
She said: “We paused the national campaigning yesterday, and I think it was right to do that, to show respect for those who lost their lives – and of course many have been injured – in the attack that took place on Saturday night.
“But I think it is also important to show our commitment to our democracy and show the terrorists that they cannot damge, cannot deter us from our democracy, and with the general election being on Thursday, I’ll continue to campaign, not just today, but over the next couple of days as well.
“Because I think there is a very clear choice for people in this election: do they want strong and stable leadership with me and the Conservatives, going into those Brexit negotiations 11 days after the election, fighting for the best deal for Britain, but looking beyond that to a better future.”
But since the party has been dropping poimts on the polls lately, did she regret calling the snap general election?
She told us: “I believe it was important to call the election, because we do stand at a critical moment of change for the country.
“The Brexit negotiations are the basis of everything else – we need to get Brexit right – and it was clear to me before I called the election that the other parties were working to frustrate those Brexit negotiations, not least the Scottish Nationalists, who are willing to prop up Labour and frustrate those negotiations.
“I want to get the best deal for everybody, and that’s why I believe me and my team are the people to vote for, because we are willing to go out and fight for the whole of the United Kingdom.”
But what, we asked, will a vote for the Conservatives do for Borderers, who live in one of the most poorly paid regions in the country?
She said: “We see the importance of strengthening our economy and ensuring there is growth and prosperity across the whole of the United Kingdom, and a key element of our vision of the future is our modern industrial strategy, that is about developing our capabilities, developing businesses across the whole of the United Kingdom, and as part of the future of the Borders, as we said in our manifesto, we would work to a Borderland growth deal, recognising people who live close to the border – they are going to be moving across the border – so it makes sense to look at a growth deal which takes in both sides of the border and I think that is an important thing for a more prosperous, stronger future.”
Mr Lamont, who hopes to overturn a 328 SNP majority in the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency after being pipped to the post by Calum Kerr in the 2015 election, had to resign his seat at Holyrood in order to fight for a place in Westminster for the third time, an act which shows, to a degree, how certain he is of winning, while Mrs May’s visit shows how important this constituency is in their plans, while perhaps giving away the sense that it may be a lot closer than they think.
Mr Lamont said: “The Prime Minister’s visit to Kelso just a few days before the election highlights how important she regards Scotland and our United Kingdom.
“A vote for the SNP or anyone else here makes it more likely that we end up with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister, who will grant Nicola Sturgeon her second independence referendum. With the result likely to be so close here, it’s clear I am the only candidate who can stop the SNP.”
He is up against the SNP’s Mr Kerr, who is up for re-election, Lib Dem candidate Caroline Burgess and Labour’s Ian Davidson.
And looking to take his Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire seat at Holyrood in the by-election is Mrs Hamilton, who had to give up her list MSP post in order to stand.
She said: “It was great to welcome the Prime Minister to Kelso. She has been a fantastic supporter of Women to Win, which I help lead in Scotland, and which seeks to encourage more women into politics.
“Her visit reinforces the Scottish Conservative pledge to stand up to the SNP and demand they focus on the issues that matter to the Borders, like sorting out our schools and local economy, and improving opportunities for young people .”
Lining up against her is the SNP’s Gail Hendry, Catriona Bhatia of the Liberal Democrats and Sally Prentice of Scottish Labour.
● First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visits Hawick – see page 16.