Letter from Edinburgh

I went to Oldham for a day this week. There’s a by-election!

All the parties are asking their supporters for help. A great Liberal, Cyril Smith, was the MP for Roch­dale nearby. He was in the House of Commons when I was a member of Jim Wallace’s staff many years ago.

Cyril was an enormous character in every sense. And Elwyn Watkins, the candidate in this by-election, reminded me a little of Cyril, when we discussed how things were going on Monday.

By-elections are curious features of politics. The good people of the constituency tend to be somewhat fed-up with the mountains of leaf­lets and phone calls they get during the weeks of the campaign. To say nothing of the face to face canvassing.

My best discussion on Monday was with a Manchester City sup­porter. We debated Dalglish’s return to Anfield and the longevity of Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Traf­ford. I was forgiven for asking him about politics by the fact that I didn’t support United.

It reminded me of lengthy con­versations in Shetland elections over the relative merits of differing breeds of sheep. Another way to avoid politics and instead talk about real things that are of interest.

Much to the annoyance of the long suffering member of my campaign team charged with the responsibility of getting me to as many doors as possible. Experi­enced hands got used to taking the daily papers or a good book in the car, on the basis that I would spend too long leaning against a gate discussing crofting or fishing.

After that election, I was stag­gered to read reported Labour camp­aign advice for candidates saying that they were expected to spend no more than 45 seconds at each door. I guess that’s the dif­ference between the fun of cam­paigning at home, and in Oldham.

Back in Edinburgh it’s still cold and frosty. One of my oldest friends, John Farquhar Munro, is retiring at the next election. He lives near Kyle of Lochalsh and has a four-hour drive to Parliament through stunning Scottish land­scape . . . and snow.

In a former life he ran a haulage company in the West Highlands and he was the chairman of the Highland Council’s transport com­mittee for many years. We debated driving in the snow the other night.

“Ach, Tavish. All the cars have temperature displays now, and people worry about driving when it’s freezing. Twenty years ago no car knew the temperature but we were better drivers. People under­stood winter and had a couple of snow tyres ready at the first sign of frost.”

Perhaps, in the many government reviews of the winter, snow tyres will be part of the discussion.

Tavish Scott MSP


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