Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. It’s the Westminster constituency currently home to Scotland’s only Tory and it’s roughly the same size as Belgium. But those facts don’t tell you much about the area, its people and the issues they face. To find out what the constituency is really like, I accompanied Scottish Green Party candidate for the seat Jody Jamieson on a wee tour.
Our first stop was the town of Biggar in South Lanarkshire. I lived within 5 miles of the town until I was 16 so it’s always nice to go back, especially as my parents are in that neck of the woods. Jody and I were joining local Green campaigner and weel kent face Janet Moxley for a Fair-trade coffee morning she’d organised. We mucked in with serving the teas and coffees and did pretty well as resisting the fabulous array of cakes (all fair trade) made by local volunteers.
My dad popped along for a wee bit and stepped in as photographer to get all the volunteers in the shot. After our wee photo session, Jody, Janet and I went for a wander over to the Burn Braes – the local park of which I have very fond memories.
Janet has been campaigning on issues to do with the park and play equipment for a few years now and we were impressed to learn that the campaign group has had some success with lots of pretty exciting new equipment in place. We resisted playing on *most* of it!
Another stop on our mini tour in Biggar was the local primary school. A new school is being built near to the old one to try to address the growing number of people in the area. Except it probably won’t house all the children it needs to and the council plan to bulldoze the old building – a rather charming Victorian school – to make way for a car park. Despite outcry from local residents, parents and the community council, the council seem hell bent on ploughing ahead with their plans. Jody was not impressed.
Our lift to the next stop on our tour arrived in the form of the fabulous Tom Clancey from Innerleithen who’s doing a lot of the organising for Jody’s campaign. He also did all the driving for which Jody and I were hugely grateful.
We headed south from Biggar through part of the Borders where I grew up and over the Devil’s Beeftub to Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway.
We were greeted in Moffat by Chris and Alis Ballance, local Green activists and (in Chris’s case) the former Green MSP for the South of Scotland region. They hosted us in their lovely home where we met some more local Greens and had a super lunch. After a whistle stop campaign meeting, Alis took us out to see some more of Moffat. First stop was the Moffat Hospital – a community hospital which, like many more across the region, is threatened with closure.
Next stop was the Mercury Inn. Formerly a thriving hotel and well used pit stop for folk travelling through the town, the Inn has been closed for 14 years, lying derelict at the entrance to Moffat. Alis, part of a campaign group trying to get something done with the building, showed us around. The building is now labelled as dangerous and despite repeated calls from local residents, the woollen mill which owns it has done nothing with the property.
From Moffat we headed south again as the weather took a turn for the worse. In pouring rain, we arrived in Canonbie to meet local campaigners Bill and Lorraine Frew. Bill and Lorraine are well known in the area and across Scotland for their battle against fracking in Canonbie.
Jody and I were blown away by their account of the fight they’ve had on their hands with everyone from the local council to the Duke of Buccleuch and the Scottish Government. To their enormous credit, Bill and Lorraine have gathered support in the local area and shown that 95% of folk who took a view on fracking were against it. They recently exposed correspondence between Fergus Ewing and the Duke of Buccleuch who owns much of the land around them, showing more than a little divergence between the duke’s views and the SNP’s moratorium on fracking.
For me, listening to Bill and Lorraine’s experiences, all I could think about was the power that the community has (or doesn’t) compared with the power of a landowner or a local council. It was quite a wake up call and clear evidence, as if it were needed, that there’s an awful long way to go before community empowerment is more than just a buzz phrase.
Thanks to Janet, Chris and Alis and Bill and Lorraine for their hospitality and to Tim for the driving and the conversation.