Scotland politics

Harvesting votes in berry country


When the election was called, the Conservatives were fairly sceptical about Perth and North Perthshire. The SNP's Pete Wishart won here by 9,641 votes in 2015.

Now, they're quietly optimistic they could be in with a chance - based in part on local election results.

But how real is the apparent revival of the Scottish Tories? And what are they offering Scots beyond opposition to another independence vote?

On the outskirts of this beautiful constituency is Alyth - home to some of the massive fruit farms that supply UK supermarkets with berries. Rowan Marshall runs the 70-year-old family business.

"Almost 100 per cent of the pickers are all seasonal from the EU - I feel like we need 100 per cent free movement - we're very reliant on seasonal workers from then EU," he tells the BBC.

What if that doesn't happen?

"I think we'd scale back production a lot."

Down the road in Perth, there are economic concerns too.

Audrey Maestri has run a florist in the city for three years. She's from a traditional Labour-supporting background, though has recently backed the SNP. This year, for the first time, she's thinking of voting Tory.

"From a business side the conservatives are definitely showing more for small business; from the Scottish working class background it's SNP. I've never been this undecided."

That's the sort of voter Ian Duncan is trying to win over. But what would he do as an MP?

Based on the leaflets the party has been circulating across Scotland - the top priority is pretty clear. They'll oppose an independence referendum. But is the issue being used to avoid talking about other - perhaps less popular - policies, I asked Mr Duncan.

"Other leaflets set out where we stand," he says (without producing one to back up his point).

"We need to make sure Perth is connected - right now there's a serious problem in terms of roads and in terms of cyber connectivity."

Theresa May says she wants to end free movement and bring net migration to under 100,000. Would Mr Duncan support a cap on net migration given what we were told at the farm?

"I will look at those figures and see if they work for this constituency. If they do, I will support it. If they don't, I won't."

But shouldn't people also be thinking about benefits, about potential budget cuts and the end of the triple-lock pensions guarantee when they go to vote?

"They should be," he says.

"But the one thing now when you talk about independence - all those bread and butter issues are affected by it.

"Every single issue you're talking about now will be exacerbated by greater focus by the Scottish government on independence."

'Repetitive message'

If the Tories are to win here - it'll take quite a turn around.

Pete Wishart has been MP here since 2001 (the boundary and name changed in 2005).

"People are beginning to get tired of this repetitive thing from the Conservatives - we know they don't want another independence referendum," he says.

Will he use a mandate to argue for one?

"I will - with everybody in the SNP - use my mandate to progress this idea Scotland should be an independent country - it's an intrinsic belief that motivates me as a politician."

But he adds: "The most important thing is who is in the best position to represent Perth and North Perthshire.

Straight fight?

But do the other candidates think its a straight SNP/Tory fight?

"Absolutely not," says Lib Dem candidate Peter Barrett.

"I think that Perth and North Perthshire is ready for change and I think the Lib Dems have got a strong chance".

A view similar to that of the Labour candidate David Roemmele.

"I think Labour has a very good chance - although I haven't stood for elected office before I certainly have a very good campaign team behind me."

Back at the fruit farm with Rowan, a dilemma.

"A lot of this fruit goes down to England - so a breakup of the UK wouldn't favour us," he says. "But also a hard Brexit with no free movement of people and no free trade deal would be disastrous."

There's under a fortnight left for the people of Perthshire to weigh up their priorities.