Recollections of my time as MP for East Lothian

Michael Ancram

It is 30 years since I was first adopted as Parliamentary Candidate to fight the Labour held constituency of Berwickshire & East Lothian in the Conservative cause. I had the privilege to represent the constituency in Parliament for the seven months between the two elections in 1974.

For a 28-year-old, as yet unmarried, and innately curious about all aspects of human life and society it was the perfect constituency. Geographically vast and infinitely varied, it was a kaleidoscope of different interests, which were totally absorbing in their fascination and challenging in their complexity.

The (still) mining communities of Tranent and Macmerry at the time of the miners’ strike and the three-day week, defiant and uncompromising but prepared to give a fair hearing to the contrary case. From them I learned a lot about mutual support and community cohesion.

As I did also from the fishermen of Port Seton. Trawling for prawns in the Firth of Forth in the days when technology did not provide the guidance available today and when conservation was natural as a consequence of the random nature of fishing, was a hard and uncertain way of life. It made for a tough and resilient community.

Farming in East Lothian at that time was in its heyday with reasonable prices and ready markets. Not all however was plain sailing. I recall cries of anguish from pig farmers, and growing concerns from the horticultural sector as the effects of oil prices in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war began to bite. Inflation had not yet bitten, and farmers would even on occasion donate a calf for auction for party funds! Try that now!

Torness was only a controversial plan on the drawing board. Blue Circle Cement at Dunbar was in the throes of industrial action. Haddington was still a market town looking for replacements for its departing markets, its future tech character still well below the horizon.

My time as the local MP was – from my point of view at least – far too short. But coming from the Borders (Jedburgh) and working in Edinburgh (as a young advocate) I found myself very much at home. East Lothian was essentially a most friendly place. Even my political opponents were amiable.

My memories are therefore mixed. Berwickshire & East Lothian was a constituency of never- ending fascination. Every problem brought to me was different. East Lothian was as different from Berwickshire as chalk and cheese. From the serried houses of Prestonpans to the rural eccentricities of Gifford, from the beaches at Aberlady to the moorlands of the Lammermuirs, from the Bass Rock to Nunraw Abbey, every journey was an adventure and every encounter the start of a new interest. I loved every moment of it.

Perhaps it was because I was young, but East Lothian remains for me part of a golden age never to be revisited. Or more likely it is because East Lothian was, still is – and will always remain – just that little bit special.