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Musical chairs in the Scottish Borders

A second Conservative MSP resigns in a bid to win a different parliamentary seat

Rachael Hamilton MSP

The Scottish Conservative spokesperson on tourism and small business, Rachael Hamilton (South Scotland) (Con), has announced her candidacy for the Ettrick, Roxburgh & Selkirkshire by-election taking place on Thursday 8th June. This is the Scottish Parliament constituency seat made vacant by fellow-Conservative John Lamont as he focuses on his bid to win the equivalent Borders seat at Westminster. There was no requirement for him to resign (see below for an explanation of why she had to...) but it has been taken as a sign that the party's polling numbers are strong and they are confident that they can overturn the SNP's slim majority and defeat sitting SNP MP, Calum Kerr.

Biography - Rachael Hamilton

Rachael Hamilton grew up on the family farm in rural Hertfordshire, before studying agriculture and joining Schering Agriculture as an agronomist. Moving to Scotland, she subsequently worked for Scotbeef Ltd based in Bridge of Allan working for the Galloway family in livestock quality assurance.

In 2008, Rachael and her husband Billy purchased The Buccleuch Arms in St Boswells. They have three children. A local campaigner and agent for the Scottish Conservatives from 2002 onwards, she was herself elected on the South of Scotland list in 2016.

Why did she resign?

As a regional list MSP, Rachael Hamilton has to resign in order to challenge for the constituency seat. The Scottish Parliament's standing orders don't allow sitting regional list MSPs to fight constituency seats from the safety net of their existing position. This was the case for SNP MSP Mark MacDonald who resigned his NE Scotland seat to challenge Aberdeen Donside in 2013, following the untimely death of Brian Adam. Similarly, in Moray in 2006, both Richard Lochhead and Mary Scanlon resigned their regional seats to challenge for the seat that had been held by Margaret Ewing. Only one could win, and with Richard Lochhead successful, Mary Scanlon departed Parliament for the remainder of the session, returning on the regional list the following year.

2016 Scottish Parliament result

Will there be a byelection?

Unlike constituency seats, Scottish Parliament regional list vacancies don't spark byelections. Under the Additional Member System, the party is perceived to still 'own' the seat and the successor is then taken - in order - from the list of names submitted by the party in advance of the 2016 election. Subject to the internal rules of each party, candidates can be constituency candidates and regional list candidates, but can't be elected twice, therefore any constituency MSPs are discounted from the regional list rankings, as set out in the table below.

In the case of Rachael Hamilton's replacement, the next name on the Scottish Conservative South of Scotland list is Michelle Ballantyne, leader of the opposition Conservative Group on Scottish Borders Council in the last session. The other two remaining names on the party’s South of Scotland regional list are Alex Allison and Lee Lyons.

For an explanation of what happens when the names on a regional list run out, read this thread from the BBC's Philip Sim.

So, is that it? No...

Michelle Ballantyne - now presumptive MSP for the South of Scotland - is currently standing for re-election in Selkirkshire at the local authority elections this Thursday. There is no rule against her being both councillor and MSP (known as a dual mandate), but it has been pointed out that a strong result for Conservative council candidates could conceivably give them control* of the authority and you can't be an MSP and Council leader. So, either way, expect more machinations in this suite of seats before the week's out.

* The Conservative group's failure to find a coalition partner last time round might also be their downfall in 2017. With 34 seats on the council, the Scottish Conservatives would need to a) double their group size from nine to 18 to have an outright majority, b) run as a minority administration or c) find independents willing to join forces. Scottish Borders has always elected a number of independents - eight in 2012 plus two quasi-independents representing the Borders Party. Of these, six and two respectively joined the ruling coalition. Tune back in on Friday for more town hall number crunching as we survey the results of all 1,227 council seats...

Biography - Michelle Ballantyne

Originally trained as a nurse, Michelle Ballantyne studied for a BSc in Quality Management at Heriot-Watt University, joining NHS Lothian as an Operational Manager in 2001. In 2005 she joined face2face borders ltd - a confidential drug and alcohol support service based in Galashiels - as Head of Service. She was elected to Scottish Borders Council to represent the Selkirkshire ward in 2012. The Conservative group gained nine seats (from 34) in 2012, as did the SNP group. A 'rainbow' coalition between SNP, LibDem, Borders Party and independent councillors pushed the Conservative group into opposition. Michelle Ballantyne has led the Conservative group during this five-year session.

Update Monday 1st May. We understand the LibDem candidate for the General Election contest (against Calum Kerr and John Lamont) will be Caroline Burgess.

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