SHE was the first MP elected in Scotland’s dark, winter general election. And the first thing she did was to praise the man she had just unseated.

At half-one in the morning of Friday, December 13, the SNP’s Margaret Ferrier paid tribute to her Labour opponent, Ged Killen.

“We disagree on what Scotland's future should be,” Ferrier told exhausted activists gathered in an East Kilbride sports hall for the count, “but, on behalf of the constituency, thank you for being our voice for the last two years.”

Back in 2017 Killen had narrowly wrenched the seat, Rutherglen and Hamilton West, from Ferrier. Earlier, in 2013, as a 26-year-old rookie politician he had beaten her in a South Lanarkshire council by-election. The pair, therefore, have electoral history.

So Ferrier’s gesture was appreciated. “I thought it was a nice thing to do,” Killen told The Herald on Sunday as he reflected on his loss. “People like to see their politicians being magnanimous, they like to see us trying to show where the common ground is; especially these days, when much of politics is so divisive.”

Welcome to the too-often-ignored reality of Scottish politics: that despite a mood music of shrill and partisan rhetoric on social and mainstream media, it is mostly local and it is mostly civil.

Ferrier and Killen have been working against each other – and yet, also, effectively, alongside each other – for seven years.

They are both from the place they represent and have no plans to go anywhere else. And that, election watchers suggest, sets the tone of their contest: even if they wanted to, there would be no point in running a nasty or bad-faith campaign; it would just come back and bite them.

This is the case all across Scotland. A detailed analysis carried out by The Herald of the backgrounds of 59 MPs elected north of the Border shows the vast majority have a strong personal link to their seat.

More than half of them – 32 – went to secondary school either in their constituency or in a neighbouring one.

Killen went to Trinity High in Rutherglen and has stayed in the area since he was a toddler.

Ferrier went to Holyrood secondary just across the border in Glasgow. She has lived in the constituency for more than 20 years.

On top of the 32 locally schooled MPs, another eight were educated in the general region they represent. Four of those had lived in the constituency for more than a decade before they were elected.

Another 10 MPs who had no schooling in or near their constituencies had clocked up more than 10 years in their seats before they ran for office.

They include three MPs born outside Scotland. Belfast native Philippa Whitford, the SNP MP for Central Ayrshire, was a surgeon in the hospital serving the constituency for 18 years before she was first elected in 2015. Edinburgh East’s Tommy Sheppard, also originally from Northern Ireland, and Edinburgh North and Leith’s Deirdre Brock, who hails from Australia, had lived in the capital since the mid-1990s.

Being schooled in an area – or living there for a decade before election – is a pretty arbitrary measure of "localness" for a politician.

Nine of the 59 MPs fail this unfair test. That is not to say they can not be local – or cannot become local after election.

Take Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland for the best part of two decades. Originally from Islay – and therefore aware of island culture – he was a prosecutor in the north-east of Scotland went he threw his hat into the ring to be a Liberal Democrat candidate in the constituency in the 2001 general election.

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But Carmichael was not a complete stranger in a seat where "ferryloupers" can be frowned upon. He had worked at both of Kirkwall’s big hotels, the Albert and the Ayre, a decade or so earlier.

After 19 years representing the area – and being re-elected five times – does it really make sense to suggest he is not local?

In December’s election two of the SNP’s stars – MEP Alyn Smith and former MP and TV presenter John Nicolson – won seats with which they did not have strong connections. Smith took Stirling. Nicolson secured Ochil and South Perthshire – despite muddling the seat with his old East Dunbartonshire constituency at a hustings. But this is far from typical. Ochil is unusual, recently, for having relative outsiders as MPs.

Local Labour incumbent Gordon Banks in 2015 lost to an outsider, London-born, Edinburgh-raised and Glasgow-based Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. She was in turn defeated in 2017 by an English-born-and-raised Tory called Luke Graham (who had lived in the constituency for a time). Mr Graham insists he is staying in his Perthshire home after his unseating.

Some Scots can take a pretty liberal attitude to what qualifies someone to be regarded as compatriot. Politicians, for example, talk about migrants as "new Scots". As a stateless nation, Scotland has no citizenship. That means nationality can be a vague and even disputed concept. Is is determined by place of birth? Parentage? Accent, dialect or language? Schooling? Long-term residence? Cultural or political affinity?

The same questions apply to what makes a politician – or anyone – considered as local.

Back in Rutherglen, newly elected Ferrier admitted there are those who will never accept her as local, even after decades.

Ruglonians, she explained, can be a proud bunch after living in the shadow of Glasgow.

She said: “Rutherglen is a really interesting constituency because people have really got to live there forever – they have got to be born in Cambuslang – before you are fully accepted as local. I moved in to the area about 20 years ago, from the neighbouring ward in Glasgow.

“Sometimes you do get asked that question: where do you come from?

“Voters really do believe you are going to care more about the constituency because you live in it yourself and you have some history there.”

Did it make a difference to her campaign that she was local? Ferrier thinks so. “It probably did help that Ged was local as well, whereas the other candidates they did not live locally though they were local councillors.”

Ferrier first took the seat in the great SNP surge of 2015, turning around a 21,000 majority for the incumbent Tom Greatrex, then one of New Labour’s rising stars. Greatrex, who had replaced a local stalwart Tommy McAvoy in 2010, did live locally – but he was originally from Kent and has since left the area.

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Ferrer said her local credentials gave her an advantage. After she in turn lost, she stayed put and fought to get her seat back.

“When I lost the seat in 2017, I was still living in the constituency,” she said. “That actually makes it more difficult for you when you are no longer the MP because people are recognising you and you have to go about constituency in your day-to-day business and there is nowhere to hide, really.

“After I lost the seat, I had community events to go to in my diary. I made a point of still going to them. That was difficult to do but it was the best thing I could have done. It meant I was facing the public I had supported and represented for the last two years.”

Margaret Ferrier is not a politician you will often see on your TV or making glib remarks on social media.

But there is a very high chance, if you live in Rutherglen or Cambuslang or Hamilton, that she has chapped your door, or turned up at a church or community event. SNP activists, moreover, describe her as a leafleting champion.

Whenever there is an by-election or a campaign, she is the kind of stalwart who runs a street stand. “I am a hard worker,” she said. “I like to talk to as many constituents as I can. And try to convince them to vote for me. That is my politics: putting in the graft.”

Ferrier admits she is not a big fighter in the national political air war – she sees that as less of a priority.

“It is the people in your constituency who vote for you and they want to see you," she said. "They want to see you are investing yourself, to make sure you do your case work diligently. For me, the bit at the end is the publicity. Someone else may say the publicity side is more important.”

Political insiders believe this kind of electioneering, especially against a local opponent, takes some of the nastiness out of politics.

Ferrier agreed. She said debate with Killen was “civil”. But she stressed activists still faced abuse. “We had to report incidents to the local police. It is about how you handle that. I have been on so many doors now I reckon I can handle most situations. However, you have got to consider your activists as well. It is really important to train them properly. It is all about safety.”

As a Labour councillor and MP who expressed the working-class backlash against his party after the independence referendum, Killen is no stranger to doorstep anger either. It is, he said, now getting better for his party as memories fade of its 2014 Better Together alliance with the Conservatives.

So Killen recognises the abuse Ferrier cites. But he also thinks disagreements on fundamental issues – such as whether Scotland should remain in the UK – can be better curated by local politicians arguing in good faith.

“Politics is becoming more heated,” he said. “All of us, I think need to tackle that and keep things respectful and cordial.”

However, he believes it is just that bit harder to go negative on somebody you could end up running into again and again.

He said: “I don’t go in that style of campaigning but I think it would be far easier to attack somebody who was being parachuted in from elsewhere.

“I just bumped into Clare Haughey, who is a local SNP MSP – these are people you do see out and about on the streets.

“It doesn’t mean you don’t criticise, of course, you do, but we all understand it is not personal. You criticise the policies.

“I would not pass Margaret without saying hello to her and she would be the same. We would see each other at different community events. When I was the MP, she was at a lot of things.

“No-one likes anyone to be bitter or partisan when it is a community-minded issue. If you are both local, that certainly has an impact.”

The SNP now occupies space – both actual communities and centre-left policies – once firmly held by Labour. Nationally, this can look like a brutal conflict over small differences, and the constitution. Locally, it can mean working together.

In two-way Labour-SNP marginals such as Rutherglen, it is hard to compete with somebody with whom you basically agree on many things.

“In a seat like mine the competition was between Labour and the SNP,” Killen said. “You do try and find your voice in there.

“I am not one for negative campaigning and I never have been. I just go for what message I’m trying to put across rather pick out any flaws in the SNP.

“Apart from the big constitutional issue – which is important and obviously does divide people – I don’t have any worries about how the SNP would go on most other issues.

“Because policy-wise, Labour and the SNP are very aligned on most things.”

Killen contrasted this with neighbouring Lanark and Hamilton-East, a three-way marginal where Tories were seen as viable contenders.

“There,” he said, “if it wasn’t going to be Labour I would prefer it to be SNP so it wasn’t a Tory and I think a lot of people would feel the same.”

There is something odd about voter attitudes to politicians, Killen reckoned. The public tend to despise MPs in general but to respect their own local ones. Yet most MPs are local to somewhere.

Killed explained. “There is a disconnect between what the overall view of politicians is – that they are in it for themselves – and the view of local ones. People will often say the person who represents our area is OK but the rest of them are not.

“Nine times out of 10 people stand because they live in the area, they care about it and they want to represent it. One of the other reasons that such a high proportion of MPs are local is because of the way that parties run their selections.

“Party members much prefer to select candidates who live in the area. Because they believe that person has a better understanding of what the issues re and would do a better job of representing the area.”

But does this work? Do local parties get better results because they select local candidates? Killen is not so sure.

“I do think although the local thing is important,” he said. “I would only want to stand somewhere with which I’m familiar, somewhere I live.

“But I do think more and more politics, or at least electoral results, are becoming about the air war. You only have to look at how uniform the swings are.

“Being a good local candidate does have an impact. However, unless you are very, very well know it is not going to decide the result.

“I have heard people put the local personal factor at about five percent, which seems to me probably about right.

“As long as I have been in politics it has steadily got more presidential, more about the air war. Yet people still like their MP to be local and to live in the area.”