THE NEW BATTLE OF FALKIRK

VOTERS in Falkirk will be put under the spotlight in the run up to the Scottish Parliamentary election.

Within hours of the dissolution of Holyrood the party big guns were already lining up visits to the area.

Many view the Falkirk West seat as pivotal to who will gain overall power in the country on May 5.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray visited bus builders Alexander Dennis last Thursday and was back in town on Tuesday afternoon, meeting shoppers in the Howgate centre, as part of a 48-hour tour of “battleground” seats.

Prime Minister David Cameron had also been due to visit the Camelon plant on Friday morning, but it was cancelled at the last minute as the Libyan crisis developed.

Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie has already been in the Falkirk area visiting health facilities, including the new Forth Valley Royal Hospital.

And First Minister Alex Salmond, who has regularly appeared in both the Falkirk West and Falkirk East constituencies during previous elections, is likely to turn out to support the SNP candidates.

But it was another political no-show who grabbed the headlines at the weekend, sparking furious debate over a planned event.

Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, had been due at the launch of his party’s Scottish manifesto.

The briefing had been scheduled for the Macdonald Inchyra Hotel in Polmont on Saturday evening and was due to be followed by a social event for BNP members.

But hotel bosses pulled the plug on the event the day before, claiming they had not been aware of its “true nature”.

The BNP blamed Labour MP Eric Joyce for starting a hate campaign which led to the cancellation after he encouraged people to contact the hotel by Twitter and e-mail to protest about the planned meeting.

In his on-line blog, the MP wrote: “It would be massively helpful, whether or not you come from the Falkirk area, if you could Tweet and e-mail the general manager to express your concern and to request that Macdonald Hotels refuse bookings from the British National Party.

‘‘Scotland has relatively few members of the BNP, mercifully, but that doesn’t stop Nick Griffin and his racist thugs trying to get a foothold.

‘‘Wherever these people rear their ugly heads, they need to be challenged face on.”

After it was cancelled, a BNP spokesman said Mr Joyce was guilty of incitement.

He said: “Joyce is a man looking to cause another man harm. Surely this is just the same as discrimination.

“Perhaps a lot of people don’t agree with what we stand for but there’s a way to do things.”

A spokesman for the hotel owners said the management had not been aware of the true nature of the meeting until 24 hours before and it was then cancelled.

Mr Joyce was unable to be contacted for a comment.

The election campaign began in earnest this week with the SNP’s Michael Matheson hoping to retain the Falkirk West seat, where, in a repeat of the 2007 head-to-head, his nearest opponent is likely to be Labour political veteran Dennis Goldie.

Then only 776 votes separated the pair and, while the Nationalists will be hoping to hold on, if not increase their share, Labour will aim to reverse the result.

Yesterday (Wednesday), both of Scotland’s main Party leaders threw their political weight behind their candidates.

Alex Salmond, First Minister and SNP leader, said: “Michael Matheson is an excellent candidate in Falkirk West and has been an excellent MSP for the past four years.

“He has a real record of working with the people of Falkirk, delivering benefits like the small business bonus for 1500 small firms in the area and fighting to protect local jobs, winning the £4.5 million green bus fund that has brought work building 46 low carbon buses to Alexander Dennis, saw the SNP Government back HeroTSC to create 200 new jobs in Larbert and support local business like Malcolm Allan’s.

“Labour tried to take the people of Falkirk for granted once before, they should not do so again. Michael will be working hard over the next six weeks just as the whole of the SNP will to ensure that we re-elect an SNP government with the record, team and vision to take Scotland and Falkirk forwards.”

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said: “I have always said that this will be a doorstep election and Falkirk West is certainly one of Labour’s targets.

“When Alex Salmond was talking to his own MSPs in Edinburgh as parliament rose, I was visiting different parts of Scotland talking to people about their concerns.

“We have an excellent candidate in Dennis Goldie in Falkirk West and I know he and his team will be fighting for every vote.”

In Falkirk East, the main contenders will be Labour’s Cathy Peattie, who has represented the constituency since the Scottish Parliament was formed in 2000, and the SNP’s Angus MacDonald, currently a Grangemouth councillor.

Four years ago, Mrs Peattie had a majority of 1872 over the Nationalists.

Nominations close at 4 p.m. on Tuesday when the full list of candidates will be known.

We Say P12