Tales from the trail: Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill

Mhairi Fraser tells us what life campaigning as a Conservative PPC in Scotland is like.

When I tell people that I am running as the Conservative candidate in Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill in the General Election, I am normally met with a nervous laugh and a mumbled, “Good luck”.

It’s true – North Lanarkshire isn’t a Tory heartland in the same way that Windsor or Sevenoaks are. The constituency that I am fighting was historically an area of heavy industry, with many of its inhabitants working in iron, steel or coal production, and it was hit hard when these industries declined.

But now the three towns of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill have rejuvenated themselves, and are hubs for business. And it’s in areas like this that I think the Scottish Conservatives should be able to find a home – areas which need a strong economy to spur on their progress, and to give local people the opportunities they need to support themselves and their families.

My campaign is founded on this message about the economy. I have three main pledges that branch off from it: increasing employment, creating opportunities for young people in the area and boosting business. Under the Conservatives, the UK has emerged from an economic nadir to become one of the fastest growing economies in the developed world; I don’t want to see the economy slide back into recession under the policies of Labour or the SNP. The whole country suffered under the shambles created by the last government, and it’s a message that seems to resonate with people – nobody’s forgotten.

I have a small group of very committed party activists and volunteers in North Lanarkshire who are pounding the streets with me and delivering my leaflets through doors. The main aim is to get my campaign pledges out to as many people as possible, and leafleting is the best way to do this. Knocking on doors is an alternative that takes a little more time, but it is also essential in developing a good understanding of the issues that matter to people.

I don’t think you can run a campaign these days without an online presence. I have a website, email address and Facebook page through which constituents can contact me. I find a small number of people reach out through Twitter, but I prefer to give them my email address – it’s pretty risky as a new candidate to try to condense views on contentious policy issues into 140-character soundbites!

The last thing that I want to do is sound like a typical politician spouting lines from a political press office. When I’m trying to get my message across to voters, I use stories from my own life: how my grandparents got on by setting up their own small business, or how my friends at university and I nervously looked ahead to a sluggish job market as we studied during the recession.

Really, it’s all about explaining why I’m a Conservative and why I think we’re best placed to take Scotland and the rest of the UK forward. Everyone knows it’s a decision between David Cameron and Ed Miliband for Prime Minister, but we’ve also got Ruth Davidson as Leader of the Scottish Conservatives up here, and my campaign literature includes a message from her to reinforce what we stand for; she’s done a great job of breathing fresh life into the Party and dispelling the misguided image that people had of Tories north of the border.

When I talk to people in Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill they have very similar concerns to what you would hear in every corner of the country – they want stable jobs, good public services, a great education for their children, safe communities and a little bit of money left over to enjoy life with. It’s all about tying these concerns back to the need for a strong economy, and that the Conservatives are the only Party who can offer that.

The campaign so far has been exhilarating and the final run in with be as intense as it can get. It’s exciting to be a candidate in an election like this one – and I’ll be working my hardest for a Conservative majority in 2015.