Cllr Shona Haslam is the Leader of the Scottish Borders Council and the Conservative candidate for Lanark and Hamilton East
An election campaign has to be the hardest, longest, job interview for any job in the world. In the last four days, I have walked 67,000 steps and, with my team, delivered 2000 leaflets and knocked on 1500 doors. With three weeks to go, it is only going to get busier, crazier, and colder from here on in.
As a councillor, I have fought local campaigns and European campaigns but this is on a different level. A whole new vocabulary is required from knocking up, to GOTPV, to running the board. The learning curve is steep and fitness levels are increasing.
As a female candidate, I am getting a huge amount of support from the Party that is really quite humbling. In Scotland, 23 out of 59 candidates are women, which is testament to the work that Scottish Conservative Women and Women2Win have been doing over the last couple of years within the party. I am even more excited about the fact that at 45, I am one of the oldest women selected as a candidate. The breadth and depth of the party and our candidates at the moment is really encouraging and shows the great diversity that exists within the Conservative Party of today.
I have had a bit of grief in the media about continuing to claim my salary as a councillor and Council Leader. Interestingly, the male council leader who is standing for the Conservatives has not had any coverage on this at all. But apparently I am not able to do both my councillor duties and campaign at the same time. This is most galling when I am sitting at 11.30 pm every night, with just about thawed out toes, catching up on council emails and reading.
But being a councillor gives you a really good basis for understanding the issues that matter to people the most. They want to make sure their bins are emptied, their roads are fixed, they can see a doctor, their kids are educated, and they have a job. As a councillor, you are plugged into how these things get done – and what the challenges being faced by local government mean for these essential services.
You have a real connection to the issues that people are raising on the doorstep; politics is always local. There are big issues, of course there are. Brexit and Independence are always mentioned, but it is the local issues that people really want to know your views on, what will you do for them and their street, town, and locality.
The constituency where I am standing is the closest three way marginal in the UK, 350 votes separate the top three parties: SNP, then Conservatives, then Labour. It is so close that every vote really does count, and so the “one more street” at the end of a cold canvass session could actually be the difference between winning and losing. It certainly focuses the mind and energises the volunteers.
One challenge the Conservative Party does need to think about over the next five years is building a base of party activists. This is something that the SNP have done really effectively over the last 10 years or so. There are so many people who whisper on the doorstep that they will be voting Conservative, but many SNP activists who will loudly and boldly say their voting intention. We have to give them the confidence and pride to vote Conservative and be proud to say so. So onwards and upwards, three and a bit weeks to go.
Dig in, put on your thermals, and get out there and knock on doors. Don’t even think about asking the candidate to put something else in the boot of their car.