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EXCLUSIVE: Sturgeon questions ‘ability’ of opponents after central belt bias claims

Nicola Sturgeon visited Alford to campaign for Fergus Mutch in Aberdeenshire West.
Nicola Sturgeon visited Alford to campaign for Fergus Mutch in Aberdeenshire West.

Nicola Sturgeon has questioned the “ability” of MSPs who accuse her of ignoring the north-east in favour of the central belt.

Several Conservative candidates – including the party’s leader Douglas Ross – have claimed the First Minister and her party have consistently overlooked the region in favour of other parts of the country.

Similar claims were also made by Aberdeen City Council’s leaders after the Granite City was placed in a local lockdown last year due to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

However, on a visit to Aberdeenshire West – one of Scotland’s most hotly-contested seats, with a Conservative majority of just 900 – Ms Sturgeon said she would “challenge and counter” the claim.

Although she said she would listen to those who feel their areas deserve more, the First Minister also said her opponents should do more to represent their constituencies in parliament.

She said: “What I would say to the Tory MSPs who make that claim is that if the areas they represent are being ignored, what does that say about them and their ability to make sure the constituencies they represent are being listened to?

“This constituency will not be in any way ignored if Fergus Mutch is the MSP because he won’t let it be, and I am pretty confident about that.”

Sturgeon ‘quietly optimistic’ of taking Aberdeenshire West

Ms Sturgeon was visiting Alford on the last day of campaigning ahead of Thursday’s vote, and revealed she is “quietly optimistic” the SNP can overturn Alexander Burnett’s 900 majority in the seat.

The First Minister said the party would draw on the experience of the 2019 general election, where Mr Mutch reduced Andrew Bowie’s lead in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine from around 6,000 to just over 800.

“We don’t take it for granted in any sense but we are quietly optimistic,” Mr Sturgeon said.

Nicola Sturgeon with SNP candidates Fatima Joji and Fergus Mutch in Alford.

“Fergus is a fantastic candidate and would be an outstanding MSP for this constituency, and he has been working incredibly hard for every single vote.

“I think the combination of the SNP’s good position in the polls and Fergus’s strong local commitment and effort puts us in a good position, but people have to come out and vote for it if they want to see the result we are hoping to record.

“We take huge heart from [the general election]. The 2019 election result was probably better than we had expected it to be although I know Fergus was working hard – I visited him in the latter stages of that campaign as well.

“It gives us enormous confidence that the SNP has the momentum here and is building the trust and confidence of people, and Fergus I think has really established himself on a whole range of local issues as someone who would stand up and be counted for this constituency.

“All of these things point in a positive direction but until the votes are in the ballot boxes you can’t take anything for granted, and I know Fergus will be working right up until 10pm on Thursday night.”

First Minister accused of ‘box-ticking’ after visit

Mr Bowie, who has been the MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine since 2017, accused the First Minister of “box-ticking” following her second visit to the north-east in as many weeks.

West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie.

“Their candidates have been anonymous up to this point,” he said.

“And it begs the question where the SNP have been for the last 14 years when north-east public services were being cut from Holyrood.

“Alexander and Douglas have been champions for their areas for years, speaking up for communities in Alford, Aberdeen and across the north-east.”

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