Holyrood 2016: Talking balls in the Borders

Hawick Balls Image copyright Walter Baxter
Image caption Hawick Balls were made famous by legendary rugby commentator Bill McLaren - just don't ask for them in Jedburgh

Ask my family. Mundane life, commonly, leaves me baffled. I could tell you the Liberal majority in 1906 but struggle to identify the price of milk.

But it is not often, in truth, that I suffer from confectionery confusion. I am generally pretty sharp on the subject of sweeties.

On traversing the Borders, however, I mangled my local delicacies. My head bows slightly as I confess that I muddled Hawick Balls with Jeddart Snails.

I know, I know, the shame. They are entirely distinct, one from each other. Yet I, fool that I am, contrived to inquire after Balls in Jedburgh.

Enough, Brian. I relate this tale of sweetmeats partly to whet your appetite but largely to emphasise that the constituency of Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire comprises a series of clear, proud communities, interspersed by vast tracts of land.

Somewhat neglected

Selkirk, Hawick, Jedburgh, Kelso, they compete with each other, most notably on the rugby field. To the east, the fishing port of Eyemouth. To the south, Coldstream and other parishes along the Border itself.

I encountered pride here, contentment. But also a sense that the Borders as a whole remain bypassed, somewhat neglected in political discourse. One man told me they felt they were "south of everywhere."

And yet the problems, the concerns I heard voiced, can be encountered elsewhere.

Image caption Archie Hume (right) is concerned about a lack of opportunities for young people in the area

For example, in Jedburgh, folk expressed anxiety about the condition of the High Street. To be clear, they liked the shops and cafes which are there. They deplored the gap sites and the scaffolding.

In Kelso, I chatted with Archie Hume who owns a country outfitter. He hoped for jobs, for opportunities which can keep young folk in the area, give them a reason to stay.

Then there is agriculture - the core of our existence, yet permanently precarious. That is an issue to be addressed by the candidates in this contest.

Win the sweeties

Yet, I emphasise, I found optimism too. Several folk talked of advantages offered by the new Borders Railway even although it does not directly cover this constituency, stopping at Tweedbank near Melrose.

Politically, the Borders voted Liberal Democrat (or predecessor party) for decades. But this Holyrood constituency is held by the Conservatives, with the SNP placed second last time out.

The question is: who will win the sweeties in this election?

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