THE countdown to the Scottish Parliament election is well underway, with voters going to the polls on Thursday, May 6.

Today, we focus on the battle to win Renfrewshire South – a sprawling constituency that stretches all the way from Johnstone to Barrhead, taking in the likes of Lochwinnoch, Howwood and Kilbarchan, as well as parts of Linwood, Elderslie and Neilston along the way.

Tom Arthur, of the SNP, is hoping to retain his seat but faces competition from East Renfrewshire councillor Paul O’Kane, who is the Labour candidate, former footballer Derek Stillie, who is standing for the Scottish Conservatives, Liberal Democrat hopeful Christine Cosh and Renfrewshire councillor Andy Doig, who is flying the flag for his new pro-independence party Scotia Future.

SNP man Arthur highlights his ‘proud record’ as area’s MSP

The Gazette: Tom ArthurTom Arthur

TOM Arthur is hoping his record as Renfrewshire South’s first SNP MSP will help him retain the seat next month.

After winning the constituency with a majority of more than 4,000 votes in the 2016 election, he has pledged to help the area recover from the Covid pandemic and enjoy a “greener, fairer future” if successful on May 6.

Mr Arthur said: “I have supported budgets which provided record funding for our NHS and invested in school estates, including new primary schools to be built in Neilston and Johnstone.

“I’ve supported the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment, a game-changing benefit to reduce child poverty which will be doubled from £10 to £20 per week under an SNP government.”

Mr Arthur also pledged that his constituency office would remain “open and accessible to all.”

He said: “I’ve held jobs fairs in Barrhead and Johnstone. I’ve worked with local groups to protect the Fereneze Braes, stop proposed flightpath changes over Uplawmoor, improve safety on the A737 and oppose damaging planning applications in Kilbarchan and campaigned with the Lochwinnoch community against proposed development at Burnfoot.”

O’Kane calls for unity in bid to recover from Covid pandemic

The Gazette: Paul O'KanePaul O'Kane

Labour candidate Paul O’Kane is focusing on helping Renfrewshire South recover from the Covid pandemic.

He has also heaped praise on key workers who have performed a vital role over the past year.

Councillor O’Kane, who represents Newton Mearns North and Neilston, said: “They have kept our country going, bravely working in our hospitals, care homes, schools and shops, delivering goods and essential supplies and keeping us safe.

“The upcoming Scottish Parliament election is a chance to elect an MSP who will focus on rebuilding from the pandemic.

“The next Parliament must be a recovery Parliament – spending the full five years relentlessly focussed on rebuilding and delivering the things that really matter: good jobs; an NHS that sees you when you need to be seen; warm, affordable housing; a world-class education and childcare service; a care service that puts people before profit; and action to reduce the cost of living.

“This is precisely what I will prioritise if elected.”

Councillor O’Kane also stated his opposition to a second independence referendum, insisting it would shift focus away from the pandemic recovery.

“We must continue to work together to rebuild,” he added.

Stillie shows red card to plans for ‘divisive’ Indy referendum

The Gazette:

Conservative candidate Derek Stillie is campaigning against “another divisive independence referendum” as he aims to secure votes in Renfrewshire South.

The former professional football star, who played in goals for the likes of Dundee United, said: “We cannot have a recovery and a referendum at the same time.

“Our communities across this constituency have been devastated by the effects of the pandemic and we must focus on our recovery.”

Mr Stillie also said he is committed to fighting for people’s jobs and rebuilding communities.

“I will stand up for our children’s education recovery by backing Scottish Conservative plans for a national tutoring programme to allow pupils to catch up,” he added.

“I’ll look to tackle the backlog in our health services and ensure patients can be treated as quickly as possible after waiting over the last year for vital treatment and procedures.

“And I want to make our recovery digitally-led. As more of us continue to work at home, we must have the digital infrastructure in place, which is why I pledge to deliver full fibre broadband for everyone by 2027.”

Lib Dem candidate will fight for ‘things that really matter’ to voters

The Gazette: Christine CoshChristine Cosh

Christine Cosh has pledged to “fight for the things that really matter” if she is elected on a Scottish Liberal Democrat ticket on May 6.

She welcomed additional funding secured by party leader Willie Rennie in this year’s Scottish budget, including more than £250,000 to provide more in-class support to children who need it by topping up the Pupil Equity Fund.

“This is money paid directly to headteachers to provide additional support to pupils from less well-off backgrounds,” she said.

“Other key changes the Lib Dems secured in the budget negotiations include more support for business and an extra £120million for community mental health services.

“Willie and the Lib Dem MSP team at Holyrood have done brilliantly in securing so much extra cash from the Scottish Government, which will help put recovery first in Renfrewshire South and across Scotland.

“The Scottish Liberal Democrats want to fight for the things that really matter – investment in decent jobs, high-quality education, good mental health services and tackling the climate emergency.”

Councillor hopes for new future as ‘strong voice’ at Holyrood

The Gazette: Andy DoigAndy Doig

Experienced politician Andy Doig has pledged to provide a “strong local voice in Holyrood” if voters choose him as MSP for Renfrewshire South.

Councillor Doig is standing for his new Scotia Future party, which wants a “truly independent Scotland,” outwith the EU.

“I am an addictions housing support worker in Barrhead and Neilston for a local charity, so I know the challenges our communities face,” he said. “I’m also an Independent councillor on Renfrewshire Council for Johnstone North, Kilbarchan, Howwood and Lochwinnoch.

“My party, Scotia Future, stands for real independence and a Scotland of equals, which means a truly independent Scotland, with a Swiss-style deal in EFTA (European Free Trade Association).

“This gives us the best of both worlds – inside the single market for jobs and trade but outwith an EU moving closer to political and military union.”

Councillor Doig is also in favour of police and social work services being decentralised to local government from Holyrood.

“Renfrewshire South needs a strong local voice in Holyrood who is not afraid to speak out or take on vested interests,” he said. “Someone who has a record of action, not words.”

READ MORE: Starting pistol fired in race to Holyrood