by our Ross-shire correspondent
IAN Blackford appeared on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday night – but that cut no ice with his constituents in Dingwall on the same night when they “empty-chaired” him with a giant cardboard cut-out at a hustings meeting in the town. There was a mixture of anger, amusement and derision as the outsize blown-up photograph of him appeared in the seat where he should have been sitting for a candidates’ debate.
Candidates from all the other parties challenging in Ross, Skye and Lochaber were present to air issues and answer questions from the public at the event.
But Blackford, seeking re-election as SNP MP for the constituency, was hundreds of miles away, having already said he had “no time” in his busy schedule to fit in local debates.
One constituent present said at the meeting: “He’s had plenty exposure on national TV as the SNP’s leader at Westminster. But he opts for the TV limelight every time. He can’t even spare an hour or two to meet and discuss the issues with other candidates and local people. It’s a disgrace.”
There was, however, a lively debate at the meeting, which had been organised by Dingwall Community Council, and the consensus was that Craig Harrow of the Liberal Democrats, seen as the main challenger to Blackford, had performed well.
One person present said: “After it was over Craig Harrow wandered over for a chat, and asked me how I thought he’d done. I thought that was a decent question from a good bloke – there was no trace of aloofness about him. I think he’d make a very good, down-to-earth MP, in the tradition of Charles Kennedy.”
Labour and the Conservatives have made it clear they are in favour of tactical voting to get rid of Ian Blackford, with Harrow being seen as the best choice to achieve that.
Blackford, who has been the SNP’s leader at Westminster, is defending a 5,000 majority – but that could disappear if other party voters unite against him.
Bookmakers have him as favourite to retain the seat, but the Lib Dems are throwing everything they can at efforts to oust him.
They paid for a special four-page pull-out supplement in Ross-shire’s leading newspaper, the Ross-shire Journal, this week, reminding voters of what’s at stake in one of the country’s key constituencies.
The loss of their Westminster leader would be seen as a massive blow to the SNP, regardless of how results go elsewhere.
Craig Harrow has been covering the length and breadth of the sprawling constituency to try and win more support, and is delighted by the response he’s received.
Ian Blackford, a well-heeled former Edinburgh banker, has attracted ridicule through attempts to now depict himself as “a simple 10-acres crofter”, referring to agricultural land he owns on Skye. He gains around £50,000 a year on top of his MP’s salary through company directorships he holds.
Harrow, in response, has reportedly been handing out fake £50,000 cheques to people on his travels throughout the area, a move which is said to have rattled and angered Blackford.
At the last election, Blackford and his team were accused of waging a particularly vicious campaign against the late Charles Kennedy, when he was at his lowest ebb.