In the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, the last list region to declare was the North East at around 9 AM. Not until then did Liam Kerr ever expect to become an MSP.
He had had a good night – coming second in the Aberdeen Donside constituency and pushing Labour into third place. However, he was fifth on the list for the North East region, meaning he was unlikely to get in; but when his Conservative colleague Alexander Burnett won in West Aberdeenshire he was pushed up to fourth.
Remembering the morning when the results, at last, came in Mr Kerr described himself as ‘stunned’. Two years on, as Mr Kerr prepares himself for a new challenge – the Forfar Triathlon – Mearns Matters caught up with Mr Kerr to see how his life has changed since the election.
Mr Kerr described being an MSP as ‘not part of his life plan’. Before his election, he was a lawyer who had just set up his own practice.
Born and raised in Edinburgh — where he still stays with his parents when he is at Holyrood, ‘to save the taxpayer a little money on him’, he jokes — he moved to Aberdeen 15 years ago and met his wife, who is from Fraserburgh.
In Aberdeen, he joined the local Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association, and in 2013 was elected as chair. He described his decision to stand as a logical progression from that and a feeling that he should ‘stand up and be counted’ — even if he never expected to win.
Mr Kerr’s core principles closely match those of the Conservatives, making it an easy decision to join the party. Those are, he says, that people should have personal responsibility and make the best decisions for their own lives. The state, while providing essentials such as health and education services, should not be overly involved in people’s lives.
Other parties, he says, have tended to centralise too much. He singles out the North East as having been treated as a ‘cash cow when times were good’ and it is time now that people at Holyrood ‘lift their eyes from the Central Belt.’
In opposition, his party are limited in what they can achieve. Yet he passionately believes that the Scottish Conservatives can form a new government after the next election in 2021. Pointing out their leader, Ruth Davidson, is the best at Holyrood and she has a philosophy behind which the whole party can unite.
He says of all his colleagues at Holyrood are all trying their best to make Scotland better, but their ideas on how to do so can be fundamentally opposed. Mentioning the Labour leader Richard Leonard as someone he admires personally and enjoys the company of but with whom he shares no common ground in their political vision.
On his time as an MSP, his only desire is to make his local area, his region, and Scotland a little better. He describes the job in terms of an ‘opportunity’ and a ‘responsibility’ which have been given him somewhat unexpectedly but which he values. The voters have given him five years to make his mark and if they do not want him after that is their prerogative.
Often when speaking to Mr Kerr there is the sense that he truly loves his job. He described two particular incidents recently in which he felt he had managed to make a difference. In the first, some elderly residents who had tried for a while to get a stair lift fitted, finally managed when Mr Kerr got involved in the process.
On another occasion, planned repairs to a local bridge would have seriously affected the wedding plans of a local bride. With the council’s help, Mr Kerr was able to postpone the repairs so that the wedding day went unhindered.
In the three years left in his term, Mr Kerr hopes to continue serving the North East as best as he can.
His most recent campaign — called Finn’s law — aims to make the punishment for assault of a police animal tougher than it currently is. A petition in support of the campaign already has over 37,000 signatures, with no signs of slowing down.
On Sunday, Mr Kerr will take part in the Forfar Triathlon. He is competing with another North East MSP, Mairi Gougeon, to raise money for charity. The idea, Mr Kerr says, was Ms Gougeon’s. He joked, that he thought it was a great idea at the time but is more and more worried as the time approaches. Mr Kerr has never done anything like this. He has joined a gym and begun taking part in park runs. He recently discovered, at the age of 43, he is classed as a veteran.
Thankfully, he says, like running for parliament, he sees it as a challenge and he likes a challenge.