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How personal tragedy unites the frontrunners for the far north seat and influences their politics

By Scott Maclennan

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The SNP versus the Liberal Democrats: Lucy Beattie and Jamie Stone.
The SNP versus the Liberal Democrats: Lucy Beattie and Jamie Stone.

The two frontrunners for the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross seat are in most respects polar opposites – but both Jamie Stone and Lucy Beattie feel a sense of urgency to take action on behalf of carers for very personal reasons.

On the face of it they could scarcely be more different – one favours nuclear power, the other does not; one is a unionist, the other is pro-independence; one is a political veteran and the other a newcomer; one lives on the east coast and the other on the west.

• Divided over the nuclear option: Jamie Stone and Lucy Beattie do not agree on a nuclear future for Caithness

• The candidates for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross say why they should represent the UK’s most northerly mainland constituency

Speaking to them both at length in recent days, they do share one thing in common – and that is that personal tragedy led both the Liberal Democrat’s Mr Stone and the SNP’s Dr Beattie to become carers for a loved one.

The former is a carer for his wife who suffered a brain tumour 25 years ago and the latter for her late father and mother from a very early age. For both candidates, their experience has deeply informed their political world view.

It is clear that what motivates either of them to become a politician, to represent people and hopefully improve things cannot be reduced to this one link and both have other reasons.

But social care is one of the biggest items in the Liberal Democrats manifesto They want a higher Carer’s Minimum Wage, to give unpaid carers paid leave, and provide the Scottish Government with funding to deliver an uplift to Carer Support Payment.

The SNP want to scrap “punitive welfare reforms for sick and disabled people”, halt DWP repayment demands on Carer’s Allowance, and allow overseas care workers to bring their families to the UK to reduce shortages.

The SNP's Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross candidate Lucy Beattie was a young carer for both her parents.
The SNP's Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross candidate Lucy Beattie was a young carer for both her parents.

But what makes someone a political animal – someone with the drive to spend their weekends working, not to mention at least two days a week travelling to and from London to sit in Westminster – is often a personal trauma.

In recent days the Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey became emotional when he spoke about taking care of his disabled son with his wife – this is something both Mr Stone and Dr Beattie would understand.

“My wife was struck down by a brain tumour 25 years ago and nearly died but thank goodness is still with us, so I am a carer and on a personal level these issues mean a very great deal to me,” Mr Stone said.

“The help that we get now I am exceptionally grateful for. There are some wonderful people who come on weekdays to help. But I am also aware that one of the main challenges is that carers are not remunerated properly.

“Carers are over-taxed for the mileage money and that is just wrong because if you are a carer in north-west Sutherland or Wester Ross you have to travel many, many more miles to get to people.

“And that is wrong and it is an issue I have raised time and time again, so we have to work hard to try to improve the package and actually I am delighted that Ed Davey has spoken out on this – he is a carer himself.

“And so I am glad that he does understand the issue, as so many politicians pontificate and don’t know what it is actually like, but I do – and that is what drives me to fly the flag and to bang the drum for carers.”

While Dr Beattie confided that her own experiences looking after her parents has also pushed her to do what she can for carers – top of the list is achieving recognition for them.

“I was a young carer for both my mother who was an alcoholic and my father who suffered from epilepsy from a young age, and what is really important is recognition for carers,” she said.

“I was a young carer myself but it was never recognised as such and it is so important to give carers equity – which is so different from equality – in terms of support for them.

“Whether that is assistance with travel, particularly in the Highlands where we do have longer distances to cover, for a range of different reasons including accessing healthcare or assistance in other ways.

“Many women are also unrecognised carers, often looking after an elderly relative or someone else close to them so I would be keen to privilege their voices in this as they often go unnoticed.

“Of course this is a Department of Work and Pensions issue and a lot of work needs to be done to improve the situation for people who are carers. We need to do something for them.”

The SNP and Liberal Democrat candidates face competition from Steve Chisholm – Alba; Fiona Fawcett - Conservative; Eva Kestner – Labour; Sandra Skinner – Reform UK; and Anne Thomas – Green. The general election takes place next Thursday, July 4.

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