DUMFRIES and Galloway is set for a showdown between the Tories and the SNP, Labour and Greens, as pro-indy candidates put their faith in the young vote in the upcoming local elections.

The rural area has a strong core Conservative vote – as one local said: “If they put up a sheep in some parts they would vote for it, as long as it’s blue.”

But the council is currently an SNP-Labour administration, and while the Greens increased their share of the vote at the last Holyrood election, gaining votes from Labour and the LibDems, this was only a 0.5% boost. There is, however, expectations that this will filter down at the local level and that the party’s co-operation deal with the SNP will see Greens sit on the council for the first time.

The Tories won the largest number of seats in 2017 (15) – but the combined councillors of the SNP (14) and Labour (10) kept them out of office.

In 2022, the Tories are putting up 20 candidates – two in each ward – in Dumfries and Galloway, clearly targeting the area as a key battleground where they hope to take control.

The area has a large number of older people, with 55% of the population aged 45 and over according to National Records of Scotland statistics from 2018. These voters tend to lean to the Tories.

The SNP and Greens are focussing their energies on the younger generation, now that the voting franchise has been extended to 16 and 17-year-olds. Whether or not they turn up to polling stations on the day is yet to be seen – and 16 to 24-year-olds only account for just under 29% of the D&G population.

But local elections notoriously have a low turnout, so even the smallest boost in vote for any party could be the key here.

The D&G area is vast – it covers the main town of Dumfries, but surges east and west taking in scores of villages, coastal communities, farmland and more rural areas.

To the far west, there’s Stranraer, which lost its ferries to nearby Cairnryan. Moving east from there, you’ll find Scotland’s national book town, Wigtown. Not far from Galloway Forest Park, which hosts one of Europe’s most acclaimed skygazing areas (a view from which is shown below), is Newton Stewart. Castle Douglas sits more centrally.

The National: Handout file photo dated 15/11/09 issued by the International Dark Sky Association of the night sky above Galloway Forest park. Stargazers could spot a bright light in the sky days before Christmas, similar to that which is said to have led the three wise

Each area has its own issues, as Kim Lowe, the SNP’s candidate for the Abbey ward, tells the Sunday National.

The area she is standing in includes Dalbeattie, a rural town with a population of around 4200, and where Lowe lives, as well as swathes of farmland and even parts of suburban Dumfries – Cargenbridge and Troqueer.

Some of the big overall issues in the area are affordable housing and retaining young people – which Lowe sees as going hand in hand.

It also bleeds into the issue of connectivity. Without a car, the D&G area can be difficult to navigate easily, with long bus times between services and the number available being stripped back by various companies, in part due to the pandemic, but the issue was there already. There are only seven working railway stations in the area, with connections to Glasgow available from Dumfries, but if you need to go to Edinburgh then you have to travel to Lockerbie.

Lowe, 59, says one of the main reasons she is standing is to support young people.

“They shouldn’t have to leave this area,” she says, noting that many leave at 18 to pursue a university degree elsewhere.

She goes on: “They should have somewhere to live affordably and do whatever training they need without having to leave.

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“Of course some will still choose to go to university and then come back to live here, but a lot of the time that will be with their parents. We need to solve that problem so that the homes are there for them.”

Lowe adds that she is hoping to reach out to new young voters, and hopes this will give the party a boost.

She explains: “I want to get in with them and say, ‘what do you want for the future?’ Some of them want to stay in the area so how do we do that? Working with training agencies, working with businesses to say it’s great to take on a young person and give them that skill and incentive to stay here.”

The spectre of Covid still hangs in the air. As Lowe (below) is leafleting, she is taking a step back from door-knocking in case some voters are still uncomfortable as cases peak across the country.

The National:

Lowe thinks if the core SNP vote turns out, they will pick up between 20% and 25% of the overall vote, and the party’s local group are pushing the postal vote and urging voters to sign up.

In 2017, they picked up 20.7% of the vote share, while the Tories picked up 37.2%. Realistically, all eyes are on a shared administration.

For the Greens, young people are also high up in their priorities, and Laura Moodie, their candidate for Dee and Glenkens, said that it is “frustrating” to see under-22s given free bus passes when the infrastructure isn’t in place.

The 43-year-old, who lives in Borgue, a village on the outskirts of Kirkcudbright, said that she believes the key is to bring the buses back into public ownership.

She said: “The profitable routes have been skimmed off by the private sector and the non-profitable routes are having to be massively subsidised. They’ve all been obviously reduced through Covid, even the profitable routes, and they’re not coming back. There doesn’t seem to be joined-up thinking or enthusiasm to fix that.”

The National:

Although Moodie (above) concedes there are less young people in rural areas than urban, she believes the co-operation deal with the SNP has “increased our recognition factor”.

More people are willing to speak to her on the doorstep than previously, Moodie says, having stood in the area in 2021’s Holyrood elections. She adds: “I think a lot of older people appreciate that there needs to be a voice on the council speaking up for younger people.

“We’ve got one of the youngest candidates standing in Annandale South, Cameron Garett, because we really want to have that voice there speaking up for them as they are often overlooked.”

The Sunday National asked locals for their views on the biggest issues. Quiet town centres filled with empty shops, fears of the cost of living crisis relating to fuel prices and connectivity came out on top.

One Tory voter, Malcolm Mills, 36, from Moffat, said that Partygate wasn’t an issue for him, as he was more concerned about the cost of fuel. “They’re the party I can trust, I have more faith in them as individuals,” he says.

The National:

One SNP voter, who didn’t want to be named, wasn’t surprised that there was a core vote who wouldn’t be concerned by the PM’s actions.

“The farmers have always tended to vote Conservative and it doesn’t really matter what anybody says or does, they will continue to do that,” he explains.

Graham McLeod, 57, from Dumfries, who has previously stood as a Green candidate in the area at various elections, said he has faith the party will pick up more votes at this election.

However, he sounds a note of caution: “There’s always hope, without hope what do you have? But I think, to be perfectly honest, in Dumfries and Galloway, anybody who’s not the big three are very much up against it.”

For traditional Labour voters Jeanette Wilson, 65, and her husband Douglas, 73, the town centre and getting around the area on public transport were the biggest issues.

“They need to do something about the town centre,” Jeanette says.

“People used to live above these shops and they would have been lovely houses. Now it’s a shame.”

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