General Election: Challengers to watch

Written by on 6 May 2015 in Inside Politics

Holyrood's guide to the most interesting election challengers

Alex Salmond: GordonOverview: Having left Westminster to preside over Scotland, Alex Salmond’s political career has come full circle as he aims to join the expected Scottish National Party victory march to Westminster.

Background: Born in 1954 and brought up on a council estate, Salmond was educated at Linlithgow Academy and read economics and medieval history at St Andrews University. He was Assistant Economist in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, and then rose as an economist for the Royal Bank of Scotland. He has been married to Moira since 1981 and they live in Strichen in Aberdeenshire. 
Political Career: Salmond first entered politics in 1987 for the Banff and Buchan Westminster constituency, and went on to lead the SNP twice, including to a referendum on independence.
After Scotland voted No, many wondered what would be next for him, and it turned out the answer was to target a return to Westminster to ensure these promises were kept, to stand in the seat of Gordon, held in 2010 by the Liberal Democrats, saying he found it “impossible to stand on the sidelines”.

Johanna Boyd: Stirling

Overview: A former barrister and council leader, Johanna Boyd is seen as a rising star in the Labour Party and seemed set to win the election in Stirling before the surge in support for the SNP.

Background: Boyd grew up in Clackmannanshire, where her family worked in pubs and hotels, she attended Dollar Academy and then went on to study law at King’s College, London.
She then became a barrister, specialising in local government law, so was well equipped to move to the political sphere.
She lives in the area, is married with three children, and speaks fluent French.
Political career: Boyd was elected as a councillor for Stirling Council in 2012, and within a year had been made Leader of the Council. If this was not ground-breaking enough, she was also the youngest leader of a council in all of Scotland, and the first female leader in Stirling Council’s history.

Roger Mullin: Kirkcaldy and CowdenbeathOverview: Taking the seat of the former Prime Minister would be a real coup for the SNP, and Roger Mullin is the man with the chance to do so.

Background: Having worked internationally for the United Nations and other organisations, Mullin currently works a little closer to home as an Honorary Professor at Stirling University. He also writes a monthly column in The Times Educational Supplement Scotland and does work as an educational consultant. He is a former Vice-convener of the party.
He is married to Barbara, who has also stood in a parliamentary election for the SNP in the seat of Ayr. The couple have three grown up daughters.
Political Career: Mullin has stood unsuccessfully in four previous general elections and a by-election, and by 2010 numbers this would have been another defeat.
However Lord Ashcroft’s constituency polling has suggested there could be a 28.5 per cent swing to the SNP from 2010, which would win Mullin the safest seat in Scotland. 

Mhairi Black: Paisley & Renfrewshire South

Overview: Mhairi Black is hoping to be big news for two reasons, by ousting a big Labour name and by becoming the youngest ever MP in the House of Commons aged just 20 years old.
Background: Born in Paisley, Black marched at a young age in favour of a Scottish Parliament and now studies Politics and Public Policy at Glasgow University. She has done some volunteering for Oxfam in her spare time.
Political Career: A constituency poll in April indicated her lead over her prominent rival had increased to 11 per cent. To beat the former Foreign Secretary she will have to overturn his 16,614 majority from 2010. She says she wanted to force Douglas Alexander to campaign as Labour have never had to do so in the area.
A party activist during the referendum campaign, Black views the legacy as a renewed political energy which helps the SNP. However just after the results she commented she was going to head-butt “goading” Labour councillors. She told the press she was emotional and that she was not about to hurt anybody, but regretted her comment. The press have since published historical tweets in which she swore at the Celtic football team during a match.  She responded: “You have to think about what your political opponents are doing, trawling through to find old messages written by a teenager and holding them relevant in a country where 100,000 children are living below the poverty line.”

Michael Marra: Dundee West

Overview: Former party adviser and charity worker Michael Marra is fighting an uphill struggle to be the saviour of the Labour Party in Dundee West.
Background: Marra has two masters degrees, one in History from Glasgow University and one in Development Economics and International Development from the London School of Economics.
He has worked as the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Oxfam Scotland, and as a political advisor in the Scottish Parliament. He did a lot of work during the independence referendum, as the Director for Five Million Questions: Understanding Scotland’s Referendum, and was the Head of Strategic Planning and Creatives for Better Together. His sister is Jenny Marra, the MSP for the North East region.
Political Career: Marra was selected late in the game, when the MP Jim McGovern withdrew his bid for reselection due to health issues only a few days before the deadline for nominations.
The seat has been in Labour hands since 1950 but with Dundee dubbed ‘independence city’ after 57 per cent voted for independence during the referendum anything could happen.

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh: Ochil & South Perthshire

Overview: After having been in both the Labour and Conservative Parties, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh is set become an MP, having finally settled on the SNP as it dominates the polls.
Background: Ahmed-Sheikh grew up in Edinburgh where her father was a Conservative councillor.
She studied law at university, and then took an unusual career turn by working as a starring role on a Pakistani television programme while she and her family lived in Pakistan, and was also in a Bollywood film.
She is married to Zulfikar and the couple have four children.
Political Career: Ahmed-Sheikh is trying to unseat Labour’s Banks, whose relatively small majority over the SNP in 2010 of 5,187 would have made this a key target irrespective of the unprecedented shifts in Scottish voting intentions. 
After having stood as a Conservative candidate in the 1999 Scottish Parliament election, she joined the SNP at the turn of the century and stood for the party in the 2014 European Parliament elections. She was on the board of Yes Scotland.



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