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The Multi-tasker: The SNP’s Lucy Beattie is a newcomer to politics but says ‘I’ve been a lifelong supporter of independence’

By Scott Maclennan

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Lucy Beattie, the SNP candidate pictured on her West Highland croft.
Lucy Beattie, the SNP candidate pictured on her West Highland croft.

In the final part of our series of interviews with the two frontrunners for the Caithness Sutherland Westminster seat we talk to the SNP’s Lucy Beattie – a parallel interview with Liberal Democrat Jamie Stone can be found here.

If you want to know how Lucy Beattie came to be running for Westminster then the short answer is a radio interview with Jeremy Vine and a lifelong commitment to independence.

Another longer answer is that apart from being an academic, a teacher, and a crofter, she also enjoys the local open mic as a musician and singer – so perhaps her evenings were not busy enough.

Watching her go door to door in her hometown of Ullapool the reality of why she might want to go into politics became clearer as she engaged with those who mostly back her and those who did not.

The word that most comes to mind is reasoned. You get the impression she likes to work things out and the way she is received, invited in, the way she talks and is talked to shows she is respected.

But she is more concerned with substance than surfaces. She never speaks about what she does not know and has the confidence to discuss what it is she does not know but will teach herself about.

One of her most interesting characteristics is what appears to be a complete lack of vanity or self-regard – I don’t mean that she goes around looking unkempt, she does not – but that the debate not herself is the most important thing going on.

That selfless attitude may come from how at an early age she became a carer first for her father – an Irish immigrant who went on to become a prominent barrister – and also her mother.

Like her Liberal Democrat rival, she does not speak about this with self-pity or with a veteran’s pride, the feeling you get from her is that of a very Highland form of duty – ‘this is my family, I will look after them, what I want does not come into it’.

So her civic nationalism – nationalism with an exceptionally small ‘N’ – comes bundled together with growing up largely on the west coast while caring for others and still being involved in the community.

As she told me about what she is involved in, the variety of occupations needed to sustain a croft in the west Highlands as well as the teaching, the academic interests, the taking on of Jeremy Vine I felt the need for a nap and a rest myself.

So why run for Westminster and what does the man most famous for thumping the side of vans on his bicycle have to do with Dr Beattie running for Westminster – take a look:

The biggest difference between the candidates is the nuclear option – should new nuclear be on the cards for Caithness or not, with the SNP firmly against atomic energy.

First Minister John Swinney recently confirmed that the Scottish Government would not support any further nuclear sites in the country, yet there is demand for it in Caithness because Dounreay was such an economic boost for the county.

Dr Beattie has a not uncharacteristically nuanced view of it arguing the SNP are actually for clean energy not against nuclear and the jobs and skills should be retained in the north, the best method for that is renewables she said.

When talking about how the SNP could function with what is assumed will be a massive Labour majority, Dr Beattie argues that it is possible to reach across the political divide.

Despite being a lifelong supporter of Scottish independence, she acknowledges the influence of Donald Dewar who played a central role in delivering devolution for Scotland – an unusual and very Highland respect for the opposition.

In making what many would see as an “admission” that other parties can contain considerable people but of different convictions shows a level of maturity too often absent from contemporary politics.

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