Scottish Conservative candidate Harriet Cross claims the SNP “don’t have a plan for bringing Aberdeen forward”, despite the city facing a “huge hole” in employment.
The 30-year-old, who is standing for Aberdeen Donside in next month’s Holyrood election, says it is beginning to “really hit home that the north-east is being left behind”.
The chartered surveyor, who grew up in Braemar before moving to England to study and work for eight years, later returning to Aberdeen in 2018, would like to see more young people attracted to stay in the north-east.
She says the “presumption” in the village she grew up in was to move away for university and to find work but that, as Scotland’s third-largest city, Aberdeen should be “growing its own talent and it should be staying here and attracting more”.
She adds: “We have oil and gas but that’s something we know is transitioning and we need to make sure there are opportunities there for locals to stay and that we are building that resource and expertise now.”
Businesses in the Granite City have been rocked in recent months by the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 20 big name retailers closing their doors for good at one city centre shopping precinct.
The region has been further hit by the downturn in the oil and gas industry, which has already led to thousands of job losses.
Ms Cross believes a plan to support high streets could help, pointing to her party’s own strategy for an economic recovery, and she would like to see business rates reformed, in a bid to keep businesses in the city “above water”.
She adds: “We need to make sure we have the services in place so that the public can come into the city and see Aberdeen as somewhere they want to come, not just relying on internet shopping, as has become the case this last year.
“It can’t just be a mecca high street. It has to be a mix of shops, restaurants and bars, not just seen as somewhere to do practical shopping and leave again.
It’s a sad time for businesses here. It’s going to look very different in the next 12 months.”
“Behind all the names, it’s also all the jobs being lost and what is going to happen then?
“Especially in Aberdeen with all the job losses and vacancies and the fact recruitment in Aberdeen is so low.
“We’re going to have a huge hole in our employment and at the moment the SNP don’t have a plan for bringing Aberdeen forward and out of this and that’s what we need to make sure we don’t fall deeper into any more losses.
“It’s a sad time for businesses here. It’s going to look very different in the next 12 months.”
‘There’s never been a better time to be a woman in politics’
The Scottish Conservatives have faced criticism for their lack of formal mechanisms to ensure more women are elected next month, unlike the other major parties.
The 30-year-old thinks it is important for parliament to be more representative of wider society but says she would “hate to think I got anywhere because I’m a female”.
But Ms Cross says her party has given candidates all the tools they need, including support from Conservative network Women 2 Win, which offers extra training.
Indeed, she thinks it has “never been a better time to be a woman in politics”.
She adds: “The parliament should be representative across the board, young or old, whatever background you come from, male/female, LGBT, it doesn’t matter.
“How it can be damaging is if someone is seen to have got into a position where they have got there effectively because they have ticked a box that someone else doesn’t fit into.
“I’d hate to think I got anywhere because I was a female, I just don’t think that’s helpful to the cause.
“Yes, we should be helped because there are historical prejudices but I don’t think at any point we should be given an open door, ‘oh you’re a woman, off you go’.
“It’s a lot better if the people deserve it and worked themselves up.
“We have to champion ourselves and show we are capable rather than effectively voting for it to be handed to us.”
‘It’s not personal, it’s just political’
Online abuse has been cited as the “single biggest factor” putting women off standing for elected office and the Scottish Conservative hopeful admits it “does play on your mind”.
She says: “No one wants the sort of abuse you get, I turned on my computer and I had one like ‘you should be spat on in the street’.
“The way I approach it, and the only way I can let it wash over the top of me, is they would be saying it to any candidates in my position, it’s not personal on me.
“It’s their opinion of the party, not their opinion on me personally.
“I try not to read them, I think it’s a lot healthier not to. I think if you look at what is said to the Conservatives, it’s all pretty much the same stuff.
“I think there’s a lot you can overreact to if you become very sensitive to it but also if you just step back and look at it in the grand scheme of things, it’s not personal, it’s just political.”
However, Ms Cross has enjoyed communicating with voters, mainly by calling constituents, due to Covid-19 restrictions.
She says: “People are so willing and wanting to chat at the moment. There’s so much gone on in the last year and they just want to get it off their chest.”
The other candidates standing in Aberdeen Donside are Isobel Davidson (Scottish Liberal Democrats), Jackie Dunbar (SNP), Lucas Grant (Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) and Heather Herbert (Scottish Labour).