Argyll and Bute Conservatives met in Inveraray at the weekend to select their Candidate in the Scottish Election 2011.
At a packed meeting, Jamie McGrigor MSP emerged as the victorious Candidate following what is described as ‘a closely argued run- off’ against former list MSP, Dave Petrie.
All those present unanimously endorsed Jamie McGrigor’s selection.
Afterwards, McGrigor said: ”I am honoured to have been selected as candidate for the next Scottish Election.
‘As an experienced and long standing MSP for Highlands and Islands, I have a very good knowledge of Argyll and Bute and I fully understand the problems and opportunities facing the people living and working here.
‘I am encouraged by the recent upswing in Conservative support but my wish is to represent all of the people of Argyll & Bute as their elected MSP. It has always been my wish to win my home seat as First Past the Post.
‘I look forward to meeting as many Argyll & Bute people as possible during what promises to be a vigorous and exciting campaign in these challenging times’.
With the Scottish Conservatives recently in a period of dedicated self-harming, threatening a cull of candidates and officials on age grounds alone, – and in which McGrigor’s name was mentioned – reason would seem to have reasserted itself.
With no negative evaluation here of Mr Petrie, Jamie McGrigor has a strong support base in Argyll that his party would have been ill-advised to abandon on the basis of a panic-stricken whim.
He has been actively supportive of the new Board of the Mid Argyll Swimming Pool Board, working to connect them with potential sources of private sector funding. His interest has been welcomed by communities, among others, from Islay – with the Bank of Scotland’s withdrawal of its business banking manager; to Campbeltown, whose Machrihanish Airbase Community Company is working to acquire the former RAF base for the community; to Bute where, as a fellow farmer, he was involved in efforts to persuade First Milk not to close the Roethesay Creamery with loss of local jobs; and to Loch Striven where he researched useful recipients for his letters in the continuing dispute with the unaccountable private enterprise that is Clydeport.
As a politician Jamie McGrigor has a sharp nose for the issues that matter to constituents. This has seen him:
- campaign successfully to restore the bull-hire scheme to support the genetic health of livestock in crofting communities
- succeed in getting a Tartan Register established
- get a commitment from Dr Liam Fox, before the May 2010 general election – since honoured – to set up an independent inquiry into the disastrous fatal crash of an RAF Chinook Mk 2 helicopter in 1994 on the Mull of Kintyre. All 29 on bard died in an aircraft fitted with the unreliable computer control system, FADEC, over which the pilots had no power of manual intervention.
McGrigor is a member of the landed gentry who makes no pretence of being anything else but who cannot be dismissed as an anachronism, as others of his kind might be.
We have seen him meet with people who were anti-Tory and anti what they imagine he stands for – only to discover on meeting that he is a straightforward listener, easy to talk to and prompt to do what he can.
He will be a formidable opponent and from what we see, will either be the winner or a close contender, depending on selection choices made by other parties.
Other party selection choices
The Liberal Democrats
As we understand it, the Liberal Democrats will choose between two candidates, with the favourite being Councillor Alison Hay.
Candidates coming from a local authority background have the advantages of knowing something of how the levers of power work and being locally known in varying degree – and the disadvantage of facing any negative judgments already made in the face of local experience.
The Lib Dems, more than the Conservatives – who are being offered the door by their London counterparts, have inherited the stardust of the UK coalition government, with two members now in key senior posts that impact directly on Scotland – Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Michael Moore, Scottish Secretary.
Both men look assured and comfortable in their roles and both have recently come to Holyrood for discussions with the Scottish Government and with parliamentarians.
Party Leader, Tavish Scott, has noticeably raised his game – which means he has the capacity to raise it.
The Labour Party
We understand that the Labour Party in Argyll may have two principal candidates to choose between, both of whom previously having said they would not stand again.
One is David Graham, the party’s candidate in the May 2010 general election and who, against all the odds, brought in a vote of over 10,000 and came a close third.
The other is Hugh Raven, the candidate who, in 2001, gave Alan Reid a major fright in his own first outing after taking over the seat from Ray Michie, cutting his majority to just over 1,600.
If these two candidates do contest the seat, we are picking up a lot of pro-Raven support based on the assumption that apparently (our word, our italics) superior communication skills are needed.
In our view such a selection would be misguided. As we have said and will say again in the case of the SNP, candidate selection should be a case of horses for courses.
Hugh Raven is a talented individual and was a formidable candidate in 2001.
But that was in the heyday of New Labour, to which he unequivocally subscribed, with which he is associated and which, with applications of stake and garlic, is now gone for good.
The new vote that Raven attracted in 2001 was from the middle class intelligentsia who bought in to New Labour in those still heady days – but will not do so now.
The new vote that David Graham put on in this year’s general election was a regeneration of the party’s core vote by a candidate who knows that constituency.who can talk to it with unpretentious lucidity and listen to it.
Labour will not be in the position of building a new vote for sometime. It is in retention mode.
In our view, Hugh Raven will not secure the core vote that David Graham recently did and can do again; nor will he attract those he drew in during the very different days of 2001. His time, like the golden days Labour threw away and turned to something dark and unpleasant, is gone.
We’ve been here before – quite recently. We do not see any evidence that the SNP realises just what a tough gig it is going to be to retain the Argyll and Bute seat at Holyrood which it has only held since the ast election in 2007.
The party is tired, has become unable to respond to events as effectively as it once did and has been suffering a range of entirely avoidable and self-inflicted wounds – with the Dunoon-Gourock ferry tender specification still to be unveiled.
The majority is small. The sitting MSP, Jim Mather, now Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, could retain the seat he took from the Lib Dems in 2007 but has decided not to stand again. The party will choose from four worthwhile candidates and, in our view, this will come down to two principal contestants.
Mike Mackenzie was the party’s candidate for Argyll and Bute in the 2010 general election, one of its major successes, putting 27% on its vote but still coming fourth.
It was Mr Mackenzie’s misfortune that the financial crisis of Autumn 2008 and the very different political climate it bred, had leached a lot of propellant from his party’s fortunes. The still sitting Lib Dem MP, Alan Reid, told us frankly that, before this, he would not have been able to hold the seat against the SNP.
Michael Russell MSP, is currently Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning and with previous Ministerial posts for Environment and for Culture in his portfolio.
Mr Mackenzie is a good and honourable candidate but cannot speak with the authority of experience of government where Mr Russell certainly can.
In an election campaign Mr Russell could expect to face synthetic but awkward heat over a couple of hostages to fortune he offered, were taken and would be paraded again.
As Environment Minister, he brought forward a proposal to generate income by leasing 25% of Scotland’s forest estate to private forestry interests for 75 years
This was a typically innovative proposition but failed to consider how deeply visceral is the attachment to land. The Lib Dems in particular capitalised on that unconscionably, conducting an alarmist and dishonest campaign, consciously misleading constituents but nevertheless succeeding in inflaming public opinion to the point that the proposal was dropped
Then, recently, Mr Russell had the embarrassment of announcing a spectrum of exciting eminences in various fields, who had agreed to work with teams of specialist teachers to develop aspects of the Curriculum for Excellence. This was followed within 24 hours by the public dissociation with the initiative of actress Tilda Swinton and film maker Mark Cousins.
Tilda Swinton is a wonderfully talented actress but tricky – a wild card always likely to prioritise her own sense of independence above all else – and a natural outsider. Her inclusion was another hostage to fortune and, as with the forest leasing scheme, a hostage taken.
We have previously described Michael Russell as a warrior, and that combative and confident nature will be needed by his party if it is to have a chance of retaining this seat. It is also a characteristic suited to seeing off reheats of issues like those described above.
The party has a clear choice to make. Does it want most to settle old internal scores; or does it want to win?
This is going to be interesting.
We suggest that you have fun doing what we do – put different permutations of candidates from each of the parties together and see who, in each situation, has the best chance.