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Claire McLaren: Perthshire is God's country but Tuscany comes a close second

Claire McLaren

Claire McLaren: Perthshire is God's country but Tuscany comes a close second

Claire McLaren has lived her whole life in Perthshire; the Lib Dem councillor, who represents the Strathtay Ward on Perth & Kinross Council, tells us why only Tuscany could come close to bettering it.

Describe the area you represent in one sentence

I just call it God’s country – it’s the part of Perthshire where, when you’re driving north the scenic countryside really hits you yet we’re still really close to Perth.

How long have you lived there?

I’ve lived in Perthshire all my life and I’m now 55. I don’t quite live in the ward, but my family is here. I was brought up on a dairy farm – Stewart Tower – and my family still farms there. It’s where I went to school, it’s where I went to clubs. The area is home.

Tell us something we won’t know about your local area

The Murthly Hours, which is held by the National Library of Scotland and is described as one of Scotland’s great medieval treasures, is the oldest book of hours [prayer book] in Scotland. It belonged to the Stewarts of Grandtully, who owned the land that gave the book its name. Also, the Inchewan Burn in Burnham was the boundary between the Gaelic-speaking north and non-Gaelic-speaking south.

Who is the best-known person from your area?

Veronica Linklater, Baroness Linklater of Butterstone. She was a Liberal Democrat peer who has left a legacy throughout the UK with her prison reforms. She was a great advocate for women who visit prisons and set up the first visitors’ centre that also offered advice to women.  

What challenges are unique to your particular part of the country?

The top challenge is road safety on the A9, particularly the junctions around Dunkeld. Other challenges are due to the rural-urban split. There are areas where there’s poor mobile phone signal and no broadband connection. Despite being in central Scotland this area does experience the issues that are predominantly seen further north in more rural areas.

What made you stand for election?

I have very, very deep roots in agriculture – all my cousins, aunts, uncles, everyone is involved in agriculture. I got married when I was very young and had three children, but the marriage didn’t last the course. It was a particularly challenging period for a long time and my life, and my focus was on bringing up the children. During that period, I rented out properties and I developed a few properties. I also had an online home interiors business and I really stood for election by default – it wasn’t a conscious choice. I had a friend who stood as a Lib Dem candidate at the last Scottish election and I became involved in helping with her campaign then there was a byelection and I became the candidate for that. Then the 2021 local elections came on the horizon and I was asked if I was going to stand. It was Covid and we were all at a pause in our lives and I thought why not, but I thought if I’m going to stand it has to be in an area I have a connection with and have resonance with.

Strathtay Valley | Alamy

What’s the one thing Holyrood politicians could do that would be of greatest benefit to the area you represent?

Be more realistic about what’s achievable with road safety on the A9 – put some realistic politics in there, realistic decisions. 

What’s the best bit about living where you do?

We are very close to Glasgow and Edinburgh and all that they offer culturally and socially yet we are in the foothills of the Highlands. We have the best of everything here – the countryside on the doorstep but the benefits of the city as well.

Is there a particular word you love using that only people in your part of the country would recognise?

Bourach. It means a mess. In agricultural terms we’d say the place is a bourach, it’s a midden. A midden and a bourach are closely linked in my view.

If you could live anywhere else where would it be?

There aren’t many places that could better Perthshire but I would choose Tuscany. It has a better climate, and the food – the Italians know how to do it.

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