Scotland politics

Thomas Kerr: The 20-year-old Conservative from Shettleston

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Media captionThomas Kerr says his win shows there are are now "no no-go areas" for the Conservatives in Scotland

"When you stand as a Conservative candidate in the east end of Glasgow, you never expect to win", says 20-year-old Thomas Kerr.

But that is exactly what the young PR and advertising student has done.

Against all expectations, including his own, he was elected to represent Shettleston at Glasgow City Council in the local elections.

One of the most deprived areas of Scotland, the community has long-favoured Labour and the SNP.

Yet on Thursday Mr Kerr managed to nudge SNP candidates Laura Doherty and Michelle Ferns into third and fourth place respectively.

In fact he was only beaten into second place by one of Scottish Labour's most prominent politicians, former council leader Frank McAveety.

Mr Kerr's shock win may be partly explained by his own background.

He grew up in nearby Cranhill, a "really run-down, working class" neighbourhood, with his grandparents and mother.

It was, he admits, a "really tough upbringing" but he credits his former secondary school - Eastbank Academy - with giving him the ambition and drive to get into politics.

"The school motto was 'aim for stars'," he said. "That was always the expectation I had when I was there."

Image copyright Thomas Kerr/ Twitter
Image caption Mr Kerr said he has been campaigning in Shettleston since the autumn

His political curiosity was piqued when he was taken to a protest against the Iraq war by his aunt when he was just 10.

"She is an SNP supporter and is best friends with (SNP MSP) Christine McKelvie, so I was standing with them," he said.

But he initially campaigned for the Scottish Labour party before joining the Conservatives as a young teenager.

"I decided I wanted to join the Conservative party in 2011, after Ed Miliband was elected to lead the Labour party," he said.

"I had been campaigning with (former Labour MP) Margaret Curran as she has a fantastic personality.

"But then some people were telling me that some of my views were a bit more right wing. So I looked into Conservative policies and that's when I started to get involved. I was 14.

"I had to get my granny and granddad to sign the forms allowing me to join.

"They have always encouraged me in my politics, though I have no idea what they vote, even now. But they said if that's what I want to do, I'll sign you up. "

'Play by the rules'

So how did the rest of his family and friends react to his decision to join a party that is still considered "toxic" in parts of Scotland?

"They were shocked," he admitted. "I had a lot of family asking 'How can you be a Conservative?'

"I told them Conservatives believe that it's not who you are or where you come from, if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be rewarded.

"The SNP and Labour seem to think that if you grow up in a box, you should stay in a box.

"I think half of my family vote Conservative now."

Image copyright Thomas Kerr/ Twitter
Image caption "People will be fed up seeing my face pop through their letter boxes," he admitted

As he grew older, he campaigned for Better Together ahead of the Scottish independence referendum and last year he stood for Shettleston in the Holyrood elections.

He said he stood for the council election because he cares about the community.

He never expected to win but started to get a feeling that things were going his way on polling day.

"Growing up where I grew up was a really tough upbringing but it gave me something and now I want to give something back," he said.

"I will only stand in the east end of Glasgow because it's the only area I'm passionate about. I just want to serve the people I'm elected to serve."

And he already knows exactly what he will do on his first day in the office.

'Chuffed and proud'

"The first thing I will do when I get my desk on Monday will be to write a letter to get a pedestrian crossing put in at Mount Vernon train station," he said.

But what about the bigger issues? What would he ask of Theresa May that would improve the lives of the people of Shettleston?

"To be honest, I'd rather have a conversation with Nicola Sturgeon, to say, look, it's time to get back to the job that you were elected to do," he said.

"We don't want a second independence referendum, the people of Shettleston are fed up."

In the meantime, his family are "chuffed and proud" of his success at the polls. His grandparents were in tears when the results were announced.

And his SNP-supporting aunt? "She came down to the count to give me a big hug."

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