THE recovery of the economy and helping to boost education and the health service are key aims for East Lothian’s new MSP.

Paul McLennan won the county seat for the SNP as he defeated Labour’s Martin Whitfield, the Conservatives’ Craig Hoy – both of whom are now South Scotland MSPs – and Euan Davidson of the Liberal Democrats.

MSPs are sworn in at the Scottish Parliament today (Thursday), with Mr McLennan – who has risen through the ranks from community councillor in Dunbar to former East Lothian Council leader to MSP – keen to look to the future.

Speaking on Tuesday morning, Mr McLennan, who is also a ward councillor for Dunbar and East Linton, said: “I think for me, the whole focus for the next wee while is going to be Covid recovery.

“There are three main areas for me, including economic recovery.

“That has been good so far and I have got a real feel for where businesses are.

“I chaired the town centre group on the council and we have a meeting where we talk about tourism, the town centre and the general economic position. We do that every week and that is the key thing now: getting businesses open.

“Tourism is a major part of that and there will be another announcement hopefully to see more reopening.

“We have just got to try to support tourism, leisure, hospitality, town centres and the broader economic recovery.”

Mr McLennan, who is exploring how to donate his councillor salary to a local charity while an MSP, has already been in discussions with Lesley Brown, executive director of education and children’s services at East Lothian Council, about the educational recovery in the wake of the pandemic.

He stressed that it was not just about the next six months or even a year but looking beyond that.

Similarly, Mr McLennan, who lives in Dunbar with wife Sharron, was keen to work with the NHS in its recovery.

Labour had held the East Lothian seat since the Scottish Parliament was formed in 1999, with John Home Robertson and then Iain Gray representing the county for more than 20 years.

However, 17,968 people voted for Mr McLennan last Thursday, with Mr Whitfield finishing in second spot on 16,789.

The victor told the Courier his phone had “never stopped ringing” with people congratulating him ahead of his first trip to Holyrood as a newly elected MSP.

He said: “It felt a bit surreal but the overriding thing is it is incredibly humbling just thinking about the amount of support.

“I am really determined now with people putting faith in myself and the SNP; it is up to me now to go and repay that faith.

“I am very proud of what we achieved and really looking forward to getting into the business of parliament.”

The election count was held on Friday at Meadowmill Sports Centre, near Tranent, with coronavirus restrictions in place.

Mr McLennan, who plans to have a constituency office set up this summer, said he and the party were “cautiously optimistic” as the day wore on but it was too close to call as to who would come out on top.

The four candidates were then invited into a room and told the result before it was made public.

Mr McLennan, who has lived in Dunbar all his life and previously worked with the Bank of Scotland on the town’s High Street, took time to thank those who had helped him during the campaign but also singled out someone who could not be there, his dad Jim, who died two years ago.

He said: “I could not drive until I was about 40 for various reasons.

“My dad used to drive me to surgeries and to meetings sometimes.

“He died from dementia two years ago and in his last few years he could hardly talk but I remember he said: ‘That’s my son, he is a councillor.’

“When I was elected to East Lothian Council in 2007, it meant so much to him and he was one of the first thoughts I had on Friday.

“I was thinking about my dad and if he had been there.”

Mr McLennan, who previously served on Dunbar Community Council, became a councillor in 2007 when he was elected as one of three members of the Dunbar and East Linton ward.

The father-of-two, whose son Scott is a coach at Heart of Midlothian FC and daughter Kirsty works with Musselburgh catering and events firm Hickory, is now looking forward to working alongside both Mr Whitfield, who was previously East Lothian MP from 2017 to 2019, and Craig Hoy, who is a councillor, representing the Haddington and Lammermuir ward.

Mr McLennan, who has vowed to stay on as a councillor until next year’s local authority elections, said: “I think voters had a really good choice of experienced candidates – Martin is an ex-MP and Craig being a councillor – which made winning even more rewarding for myself.

“There are guidelines for constituency and list MSPs and what they can do but we can work together in delivering for East Lothian.

“I congratulate both of them and look forward to working with them.”