Westminster candidates in Perthshire took centre stage at a heated hustings debate on Wednesday evening.
About 200 people attended the event at Birnam Arts Centre, organised by The Courier in conjunction with the Federation of Small Businesses and the Perthshire Chamber of Commerce.
The speakers were candidates for the neighbouring Perth and North Perthshire and Ochil and South Perthshire constituencies, Gordon Banks (Labour), Peter Barrett (Liberal Democrats), Luke Graham (Conservative), Xander McDade (Independent), Louise Ramsay (Scottish Greens) and Pete Wishart (SNP).
Local issues were put on the back burner as candidates slugged it out on international and national problems including the future of Trident, English votes for English laws and whether the UK should remain in Europe.
Concerned about a future EU referendum, Mr Barrett said: “You all saw how the government of Scotland was put on hold for two years while the SNP worked up their independence campaign.
“Well, the last thing we want for business and for our economy is for a referendum on whether the UK remains part of Europe. Just imagine having a debate on whatever ragbag of policies David Cameron may or may not be able to negotiate with Europe.”
Mr Banks added: “This referendum idea came out of the fear that David Cameron had a couple of years ago over the growth of Ukip. I wonder now if he’s kicking himself for actually having committed to such a policy.”
Mr Graham said: “I disagree. It wasn’t out of fear, it was because it has been a long time since we have had a referendum on our relationship with Europe and institutions have changed greatly since then.”
The talks also focused on the economy and helping fledgling firms. Ms Ramsay said: “Small businesses need customers and customers need money and in times of austerity, everybody loses.”
Outlining his case on English votes for English laws, Mr McDade, who admitted he has no chance of getting elected, said: “England is crying out for de-centralisation, because they know they need power locally much like we do here.”
Mr Wishart suggested Scots had been “demonised” by sections of the London-based media. “It has been absolutely appalling but the response we have seen from Scotland is quite magnificent.
“We’re not having our choice degraded like this and the Conservatives will fall flat if they continue to endorse this issue of Scottish voters.”Lots of toil but not much troubleThe Perthshire village of Birnam is perhaps mostly widely known for its atmospheric woods which, according to Shakespeare, is where Macbeth learnt he was just a few simple steps away from becoming the king of Scotland, writes Jamie Buchan.
Similar prophecies were made about our future rulers last night at the well-attended hustings meeting in the village arts centre, albeit in a far more civilised fashion.
Hustings are meant to be an oasis of calm, reasoned discussion in what is often a chaotic, loud and occasionally confusing election battle.
It was a chance for people to hear what their Westminster candidates had to say, without first wading through the usual deluge of flashy photo ops, rehearsed soundbites and verbal fisticuffs.
Questions taken from the floor steered the conversation to national and foreign policy, rather than local hot potatoes like parking and the future of Perth City Hall.
Fiercely-debated plans to build a new road at Perth Crematorium or the ongoing controversy over T in the Park’s new home didn’t get so much as a look in.
Instead, we heard views on the contentious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), Europe, nuclear warheads and austerity.
And it was all very civil and well-behaved until someone mentioned the ‘R’ word.
Attempts to discuss the possibility that someway down the line the SNP may call a second independence referendum were shouted down by some sections of the audience.
As one resident put it: “This election isn’t about another vote on independence. It’s only Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories that are talking about a second referendum, not Pete (Wishart), Nicola or the SNP. Stop going on about it, it’s getting boring.”
Another local earned a round of applause by telling the panel: “For God’s sake, just move on.”
It was hard to pick a clear winner from last night’s debate, although Pete Wishart remained cool-headed throughout despite attacks from all sides.
Louise Ramsay of the Greens was clearly impressed by the youngest candidate Xander McDade, however, going so far as to suggest he should join her party.