SOUTH Ayrshire SNP candidates are hoping that scandal-plagued Boris Johnson and tactical voting will cut into the core Tory vote in the area.

As one pro-independence voter told The National: “We have hope that there’s a bright light at the end of the Tory tunnel.”

In the 2017 elections, the local Tory party gained a staggering 43.4% of the vote, a big jump after their vote share dropped to only 31.5% in 2012. There are hopes that the Covid-19 rule-breaking in Downing Street will filter down to the local level, but as one candidate cautioned: “It’s so hard to tell.”

The outgoing administration is under SNP-Labour control, despite the Conservatives returning the highest number of councillors in 2017 (12). But in the last election Labour haemorrhaged votes, dropping from nine to five councillors, with the SNP remaining static at nine (2012 and 2017).

The Tories evidently picked up some of the Unionist vote due to voters moving over from Labour, but this time round there are hopes that the SNP will be able to make gains off the back of the Prime Minister’s Covid-19 rule-breaking and the distrust sowed by Westminster Tories.

Whether or not this will come to fruition is still up in the air, as the Tories gained over 7000 more votes than the SNP last time round.

Margaret and George Weir, a married couple both standing as SNP candidates in Ayr West – which voted 59.2% Tory in 2017 – are well aware that the area is one of the lowest voting pro-independence wards. And the Tories know it too. They’re standing three candidates in Ayr West, Troon and Prestwick, and standing two candidates in each of the other five wards.

Members of the public walk past closed down shops on June 5George Weir and Margaret Weir a married couple, both standing as SNP candidates in Ayr West. Credit: Alison Wood.

George told The National: “A lot depends on what happens with the traditional Tory voters. “Hopefully the voters who previously voted Tory are going to be influenced by the smell that comes from down south and also we hope that they might see in us some of the values that they can relate to.”

The computing science lecturer at Strathclyde University, who hopes to retire from the role if he’s elected in May, said that he believes tactical voting will have a bigger impact on the Tories than the SNP, and may push voters to other parties or independent candidates.

He said: “I assume that there are some Conservatives who would prefer not to vote for the SNP, so they have to find someone else, or not vote.”

With the voting franchise extended to 16 and 17-year-old this time, and no Green candidates standing in the area, the couple also hope that could give the party a boost, but they aren’t counting on it.

But as Margaret, a former primary school teacher, pointed out: “Unless you have something that directly affects them, they have enough time to worry about politics later.”

Alba are also standing four candidates across South Ayrshire, but not in the Weirs’ ward. They said they aren’t concerned that Alex Salmond’s party could cut into their vote share.

Margaret said: “It will be interesting to see if the Russia Today carry on has any effect. Boris has got away with murder literally with his partygate scandal because of Ukraine and I think Ukraine and Russia will also have an impact on Alex Salmond, but who knows, it’s so hard to tell.”

READ MORE: Dumfries and Galloway council election: Tories look to take control of key

The candidates also added that the cost of living crisis will have an impact on both the deprived and wealthier parts of the community, and price rises are causing serious concern. George added: “I think the impact of a number of the changes made by the Westminster government are going to hit people quite badly who are not very well off to start with.

“We hope it won’t be too dramatic but I think you will see the effect, and it will affect everybody.”

The Weirs pointed out that their ward includes one of the most deprived areas, Wallacetown, as well as wealthier parts, but that locals in both areas have raised concerns about fuel prices and energy costs.

There was one big issue that came up time and again when The National spoke to locals in the area – the high street and the scores of empty shops which plague the town.

Walking from the popular beach promenade to the main street, almost every second or third shop lies abandoned or with a “to let” sign hanging above the front door. Some even had piles of rubbish and abandoned furniture visibile in the windows.

Members of the public walk past closed down shops on June 5

SNP voter Chrisanne Wands, 69, said she would spend hours in the town shopping previously, but now leaves after half an hour, adding it needs “major improvements”.

She said: “There’s nowhere to go. Debenhams is gone, there aren’t even pound shops to go to now, the biggest shop is Wilko and the rest are charity shops and nail bars. I know it’s common in most town centres but in Ayr it’s particularly bad. I want the council to look at it. I’d like to see them encourage more tourism in the town, the beach is fantastic, but it’s not the draw that it used to be, so they need to sort it out.”

Wands also said that many in her age group are “absolutely appalled” by the partygate revelations, adding: “There are people in my social circle who say they cannot be forgiven or let off the hook and hopefully that will be the same across the country.”

Andrew Duncanson, 18, who is hoping to study at the local college next term and lives in Maybole, agreed that the area needs more of a draw. He said: “I wouldn’t say there’s much for young people here, the place to go is Glasgow where there’s more shops. It is a nice place to live but most people leave at 18, people just want out as soon as they can.”

Mhairi Jackson, 17, who works for the National Trust, and lives in Maybole, said the town centre was her biggest issue.

She explained: “It is a lovely place, it’s not dirty, there are places in Ayr that maybe have issues with litter, but the town is a nice place to be.

“However, you wouldn’t come here if you weren’t from here, so they need to make it more appealing to tourists and not just the locals.”

Both Jackson and Duncanson where undecided on where to lend their vote, but insisted they would “never” vote Tory.

Members of the public walk past closed down shops on June 5

Kirsten Moncur, 38, a data analyst who lives in Ayr, recently moved to the area from Glasgow, and also picked out the High Street as her biggest concern. Moncur, who said she would be voting for Alba but not the SNP due to the GRA reform going through Holyrood, said: “The high street is a mess, so that should be a priority, and the seafront, I like it, but it could have more here.”

Clive Drummond, a 67-year-old from Ayr, who said he would be voting SNP and would have also voted Green had they stood a candidate, said he was keen for more active travel infrastructure in the area, such as walking and cycling.

He said: “I think we need more of that infrastructure here, but the key thing for me is that things move really slow and take a long time to be put in place, and that needs to change.”