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COLIN CAMPBELL: Hard-hitting contest shapes up in election ahead

By Colin Campbell

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Councillor Angus MacDonald and MP Drew Hendry.
Councillor Angus MacDonald and MP Drew Hendry.

It won’t be Biden v Trump, it won’t be Sunak v Starmer, and it certainly won’t be Frazier v Ali.

But a hard-hitting contest is shaping up for the Inverness constituency in the upcoming General Election and it has all the makings of being the most fiercely fought for years.

Everyone knows Drew Hendry, now in his 10th year as SNP MP. Far fewer people will know Angus MacDonald, his Liberal Democrat challenger. But day-by-day and week-by-week that could be changing. No candidate I can remember has put so much effort into shaking off his anonymity.

There will of course be others in the contest from rival parties, but as of now in terms of public recognition they are already trailing far behind Hendry and MacDonald, and they’ll have a lot of ground to make up.

Three glossy and well-produced brochures from Angus MacDonald and his team of supporters have already landed on my doormat.

That’s as much as I received from all candidates during the three weeks of the 2019 campaign after the election had actually been announced. There are large billboards set up here and there with his face plastered all over them. I’ve read interviews and profiles of him in national newspapers. All this, and the election could still be months away.

Mr MacDonald in no particular order is a Highland councillor, a businessman, an entrepreneur, and a multi-millionaire. Which of these factors is most significant? I’d say the last one, without doubt. No one can buy an election victory. But he has the resources if he wishes to throw a lot of money behind his campaign, and it would appear that’s what he is prepared to do.

An email circulated to Lib Dem party members makes clear just how determined he is to win.

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“Apart from being a Highland councillor, my only job for the last year has been to win this election,” he says. “We are running it like a company, with a business plan strategy, weekly targets. Some days there are 10 of us canvassing, we have knocked on 17,000 doors so far and have a strengthening social media presence. Every house has had at least four mailings so far and there are massive billboards on the major roads.”

But Angus MacDonald also goes beyond merely tub-thumping on his own behalf.

He states: “Drew Hendry MP is well known with high name awareness, and he is quite popular in Inverness city, which is 62 per cent of the vote.

“The SNP are likely to mobilise a substantial supporter team when the election is called to put up signs, distribute leaflets etc.”

And he adds: “Many will find it hard not to support the Nationalists on the day.”

Recognition of the challenge he faces makes him an even more formidable opponent for Drew Hendry. And although few would deny the SNP has had a difficult – or disastrous – last 12 months, how many of those who have backed them in the past will now go as far as abandoning them altogether? Indeed, will the loud and forthright ambition of Angus MacDonald in itself motivate SNP activists to turn out in numbers to stop him in his tracks?

In the 2019 election Drew Hendry coasted back into office after a feeble, and in fact barely discernible challenge from opponents who failed to lay a glove on him. It’ll be very different this time around.

I’m already looking forward to head-to-head public debates involving Mr Hendry and Mr MacDonald and the other candidates. It’s essential these are held to bring their differences out in the open.

They should be fiery, combative, and as the campaign comes to a head apathy among voters should be dispelled by these confrontations where it could well be standing room only.

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