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Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson is facing a reselection battle within the SNP for his Cunninghame North seat ahead of next year’s Scottish parliament elections.
Mr Gibson is facing a challenge from former Amnesty International director Osama Bhutta and former Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock MP Corri Wilson.
The seat has been held by Mr Gibson since 2007. Party members will decide in a ballot at the beginning of November.
Arran SNP councillor Ellen McMaster this week welcomed the selection contest. She said: ‘The Scottish Parliament election next May will be hugely important for Scotland’s future and Arran needs to help send the right MSP to Holyrood to work for us and with us.
‘The SNP has a fantastic democratic tradition. The party constitution allows for ordinary members to select our candidates for public elections.
‘So it is heartening to see the level of interest in the competition to represent Cunninghame North and Arran. This is a welcome development as it creates an opportunity for open debate about the big issues that face us and an occasion for Arran’s 180 SNP members to participate in selecting the best representative.’
Here is what the candidates had to say this week:
At the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, a hard-working, dedicated and enthusiastic SNP campaign team won Arran by 69 votes over Labour, to give us a majority of 48 in Cunninghame North, the first SNP parliamentary gain in the West of Scotland since the party’s formation in 1934, helping us win 47 seats to Labour’s 46 across Scotland. This propelled the SNP into forming the Scottish Government for the first time.
As the island’s newly-elected MSP, I was already aware Arran, with just under 7 per cent of my electorate, had long been neglected by MPs and the MSP I replaced. The island never had the attention and representation it deserves, with perhaps a handful of visits per year, if that, which I am proud to have changed.
Never taking voters for granted, building trust with constituents and devoting time, energy and resources to their concerns is important. Since my first three surgeries on Arran on Monday June 11 2007, I have held 378 on the island, across nine communities, prior to lockdown in March.
From securing the Emergency Medical Retrieval Service and saving Corrie Primary School in my first year, I have also helped deliver the No Take Zone, a fuel derogation, the new Shiskine Health Centre and Road Equivalent Tariff – which I insisted should be included in the 2011 SNP Manifesto. I have also helped secure an extension of the summer ferry service to six months, secured the £12.6 million MV Catriona from Gigha, saving the Lochranza to Claonaig Route, lobbied for construction of new harbours in Brodick and Ardrossan and the Glen Sannox and secured the resources to build 96 affordable homes. I have also helped with the extension of broadband, intervened to stop HMRC closing Arran Aromatics as it then was and dealt with thousands of individual enquiries.
I’m very active in parliament, speaking in every single ferry debate and after every ferry statement since 2007, constantly seeking improvements. I participate in the Arran Ferry Committee, was out with SNP activists helping to save the Brodick to Ardrossan route and always advocate strongly on behalf of Arran businesses.
Constituents like having an MSP they can rely on.
In a big party like the SNP, there will always be a handful of people who don’t see eye to eye and that’s fine. It was their right to invite others into this constituency to run for selection. I am, however, grateful for the outpouring of support from many island members, backing my reselection because they believe I am best qualified to represent Arran.
Of course, I joined the SNP in 1979 because I believe in Scottish independence. This isn’t a licence to print money. I’d never insult people’s intelligence by suggesting otherwise. It’s not a magic bullet. It will require hard work. Nevertheless, Scotland should shoulder its responsibilities and set our own course to a more prosperous, fairer, more equal future. It is always better to take one’s own decisions than have them taken by your next door neighbour.
Having built the SNP’s majority up to 8,724, it’s hardly surprising my two challengers are keen to inherit it, rather than seek to win the Tory held constituencies they actually live in, both of which the SNP gained at Westminster level last December.
A senior leader with human rights giant Amnesty International, Osama Bhutta has left his job to run for election in Cunninghame North next year.
For the last four years, Mr Bhutta has been Amnesty’s global communications director, overseeing its output and working with activists around the world to advance its causes. Before that, he worked in the Middle East during the Arab Spring for broadcaster Al Jazeera and was the SNP’s Glasgow Central candidate in 2010.
He said: ‘Working on other people’s causes has been incredible but now I want to come back to my own. Amnesty is non-political, so I had to decide between the comfort of staying in my job or throwing my hat in the ring to campaign with the people of Cunninghame North. I chose the latter. Now I hope they’ll choose me too.’
Explaining why he would make such a dramatic move, Bhutta explained: ‘The next crop of MSPs entering Holyrood will face planet-sized problems. We need major shifts to deal with climate change, to make things fairer for people after Covid-19 and to create our new state. All of these things will be driven by people power. It’s people who make change and MSPs have to be part of that.
‘The old model of a parliamentarian standing up to make a speech every now and again and turn up for a photo opportunity is dead. When I said I was thinking of standing last month, I said there was too big a gap between parliament and the street.
‘The main thing I was looking for was constituencies which wanted to do things in a modern, collaborative, people-powered way. That’s how the conversation with SNP members in North Ayrshire started.
‘They seem like an amazing group of people and I would love to work with them on everything we need to achieve together for our people in the next few years.’
Ms Wilson said: ‘I was approached by several local members asking me to consider standing and, after careful consideration, I agreed. As a party activist and member for many years I passionately believe in democracy. Members should have an input into their party’s direction and have the right to choose who their candidate is.
‘I have always advocated and practiced joint working with councillors and activists in Ayrshire for the sake of a stronger voice at Holyrood and Westminster.
‘Cuninghame North is a beautiful part of the world but, of course, has its challenges. Along with local issues, the Brexit outcome and the recovery from the Covid pandemic, there will be much work to do. With many veteran MSPs retiring, we need to fill that gap with experienced parliamentarians, not just with a political background but with a working knowledge of the private and third sector too, and I am confident my background in the above and my time as an MP will be an excellent foundation for going forward to get Scotland back on track and to facilitate independence if that is the will of the Scottish people.
‘In achieving independence, our core values and integrity will be important as never before.
‘Whilst it is not easy unseating a sitting MSP, it is right members have a choice. I’m sure if Kenneth has been doing a good job he will have nothing to fear and will welcome the contest. If not, having worked with many activists from North Ayrshire over the last few years, it’s clear to me there is an excellent, experienced group of committed people who want to be part of our journey going forward and I welcome that. I’m ready to take up the mantle and be a strong voice for Cunnignahame North working with and for members and constituents.’