Scotland politics

Scottish election: Rural voters highlight priorities

Over the past few weeks candidates have been hitting the campaign trail across the length and breadth of the country - but are their messages getting through in Scotland's rural areas?

Politics Show Scotland reporter Hayley Jarvis visited Dumfries and Galloway to find out how relevant this election is to people there.

Almost one million people live in the countryside, so I wanted to find out what the big issues are for them in the run-up to 5 May, and whether they think politicians are listening.

Beef farmer Alistair Martin says he has seen difficult times since buying his farm 14 years ago.

He has seen the BSE crisis and rises in commodity prices. A regional representative for NFU Scotland, the biggest issue for him now is the next round of reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy.

While the outcome will ultimately be thrashed out between Westminster and Brussels, he believes whoever wins the election next month will have a vital role to play.

He tells me: "Holyrood is still very important. They are our ears in the first place and it's up to them because agriculture is devolved to Scotland.

"They then have to take the message further afield, whether it be Europe or Westminster."

While some in the countryside complain of being overlooked by Holyrood - Alistair feels politicians are beginning to take notice.

"The central belt, does it have it's own agenda? It probably does because the majority of people live in the central belt and we are only a minority of people that live in the countryside so you can see why it takes quite a bit of lobbying to get them to listen," he says.

Agriculture is one of the largest employers in the region, but after a turbulent few years in the industry an increasing number of farmers have been looking at other uses for their land, such as tourism.

But are new businesses getting the support they need from politicians? Duncan McConchie, doesn't think so.

He was met with a stream of problems when he decided to turn his farm land into the adventure centre, Laggan Outdoor.

"It was horrendous," he says. "Things like we were asked to do upgrades to the A75 trunk road to the value of £180,000.

"We got no help from the Scottish government at all.

"And when I raised the issue of us being asked to upgrade the A75, I raised it with the minister for transport at the time, and the answer back was that it was something to do with our local authority.

"The local authority then said it was Transport for Scotland. We just carried on regardless, we had to."

Tourism is also important to Wigtown, Scotland's Book Town. But it is an also an area affected by unemployment.

Chris Hanna, who runs the community regeneration social enterprise Marchars Action, says it's difficult to attract large employers and keep them.

A recent reminder of this was the loss of 200 jobs when R&D construction went into administration earlier this month.

She said: "I think there are not many large employers. Here are lots of little businesses and we rely so much on them to employ, particularly now that the councils are cutting their staff levels down.

"So every employer, whether it employs five or six people, is crucial to a community like this."

'Make things easier'

Many people have to travel far to get to work, such as RSPB warden Will Cranston. He does a 60-mile (97km) round trip each day, and the rising cost of fuel means this is becoming expensive.

"It would be good if they [Holyrood] could put some pressure on Westminster just to make things easier for Joe Public," he says.

"Since we elect the people that in are in power, they should maybe listen to us."

Over in Glencaple in Dumfries, shop manager Ann McLetchie believes rural issues are being overlooked.

Up until last year she ran a full post office service, but it was reduced to a few hours a week in the last round of post office cuts, which she says has had a detrimental affect on her business and the community.

"Of course the customers go to the town now," she says.

"So they using the car and fuel, and if we had the post office here it would save using fuel.

"I don't think they're listening to the rural people. They don't see the country as they do in the cities - it's different altogether."

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