ONE of the new faces in the Scottish Parliament after Thursday’s election could be Gail Ross, currently an SNP councillor and Caithness civic leader.

A councillor since 2011, she agreed to stand as an MSP candidate after Rob Gibson, the party’s current MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, announced he would be retiring after the election.

Having served five years as a councillor, it seemed a natural progression. If elected, Ross aims to concentrate on issues facing rural communities such as affordable housing, jobs and land reform.

“We really need affordable housing and we need to make sure we have got land for that,” she points out. “We need to work with landowners to make sure land is released for housing. That is where land reform comes in. One of the aims is to give communities more of a say and more ownership. It is a big issue. We have to make sure land is available.

“I think the Highlands, and our constituency especially, has got so many opportunities – we have really good people, a lot of innovation, fishing, farming, crofting, renewables, science and technology, tourism. But there are things we need to look at. We have similar challenges to an island community: challenges with transport and connectivity. Patient transport needs to be joined up, we need to look at care in the home, we need to safeguard rural education and generally have to make sure that rural areas get care and attention.

“What I am hearing loud and clear is the need for housing and good jobs that will keep young people in the area and attract families. Like the rest of Scotland we have an ageing population, and we need to make sure young people leaving school either have a job or a good apprenticeship. If they do go away for further education, we have to make sure they have a job to come back to.”

The constituency is massive – the size of Northern Ireland – and that is a challenge in itself, says Ross, who has a five-year-old son.

“People want to see their MSP so I have to be prepared to travel. It is a big job and I am under no illusions whatsoever as I have worked for Rob for the last nine years.”

A member of the SNP since 1997, the 39-year-old joined the party when she was a student in Glasgow, first studying advertising and PR, then English and psychology

“At first I had no real interest in politics but my boyfriend’s family had an Irish Catholic background and that opened my eyes to the struggles of Irish independence and my interest led on from there.

“The more I learned about the SNP and their policies, the more I liked it. For me it is the only party that stands up for Scotland.”

After living in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Ross went back to Caithness to work in the SNP constituency office.

“I was encouraged and mentored from the beginning so, when the by-election came up in 2011 and I got emails and phone calls asking me to stand, I thought why not? I got nearly 50 per cent of the vote so I decided something must be right.

“I have loved being a councillor because I wanted to do something to help people and that is what politics is all about. It is all about trying to make people’s lives better and there is no better feeling than if you get a case and solve it. It is impossible to help everybody but people appreciate it if they know you are trying.”