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SNP leadership candidate, Kate Forbes, in touch with Highland sentiment over Coul Links

THE HERALD, 29th April 2024

Kate Forbes: How is she perceived in Highland constituency?

Her intervention was considered key to breaking the stalemate in long-delayed plans to build a new hospital in Lochaber. Described as hard-working, cool-headed and honest, the Dingwall-born SNP politician who represents the UK’s largest constituency area has a reputation for putting the miles in.

An opponent of hugely controversial plans to designate 10% of Scottish waters as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) which was later scrapped, she is seen as an ally by those in the industries that are the lifeblood of the Highlands and Islands.

The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch backed calls for a controversial new 18-hole golf course on Coul Links, near Dornoch, saying the economic benefits could help avert further depopulation in the Sutherland area. The former finance secretary said it was a “necessity” and that the Highlands did not have the “luxury of ignoring major economic opportunities.”

‘She is very much in tune with what people in the Highlands think’ Her views on issues such as gay marriage, abortion, trans rights and having children outside of marriage were savaged by former Deputy First Minister John Swinney during the last leadership election and may not endear her to the younger demographic.

However, they “would not be seen as an impediment” to the large swathes of “Conservative with a small c” voters in the Highlands, says retired academic and think-tank director John MacDonald, who lives in Lochaber.

“Highlanders recognise that we have a distinctive culture and requirements and there is a long tradition going back to (Liberal Democrats) Russell Johnston and Charles Kennedy of Highland parliamentarians that are respected across parties in no small part because they are recognised for championing the Highlands,” says Mr Macdonald.

“Drilling down into it a bit more I think she is seen to be a very good parliamentarian and she covers the largest constituency in the UK, which is no mean feat.

“Broadly speaking she seen to be out and about covering the miles, which is what you have to do. “I think she’s also seen to have a lot of honesty and integrity and that really struck me the last time she was being considered [for the leadership] “I think there are lots of ‘Conservative with a small c’ voters in the Highlands, particularly in the rural areas, where it’s not an impediment to have a faith and speak about it.

“I know lots of people who don’t have faith who admired her for being upfront and honest because how often do you see honest statements from politicians which might have a negative impact? “How wide her support is, is a different thing entirely really. “With younger voters, in issues like gender identity, she is going to be regarded as a dinosaur by many people. “But I think much comes down to how you articulate things and I’m quite sure she wouldn’t stand in the way of legislation.”

He is clear that having a Highlander in the top job in Scottish politics “would not mean all the area’s problems would be solved.”

David Sedgwick, former head surgeon at Belford Hospital in Fort William, said that plans delayed by 20 years to build a replacement “would not have progressed” without the Dingwall-based MSP’s intervention. “Kate intervened in the planning process for the new hospital by negotiating changes in the leadership of the project team in NHS Highland which has produced positive results.

“She is extremely bright and very hardworking, and people appreciate that.”

“I’ve had many dealings with Kate in different topics and reckon she is of exceptional ability, even-handed and trustworthy,” added John Hutchison, who is also on the steering group for the new hospital.

Michael Foxley, former leader of Highland Council, said: “Her Free Church Christian views were the norm here 50 years ago and would be personally supported still by many. “She has made it very clear that her personal views would not affect her political decisions. She is strongly supported by my two sons in their twenties.

“The description of her as right wing, which I heard  during discussions on Eigg yesterday, are absurd. She is pro-business, which most of the SNP cabinet is hopeless at.”

She has vowed to “fight tooth and nail” for the rebuild to progress despite the Scottish Government pulling funding for this and other capital projects earlier this year.

North Uist-born John Morrison, managing director of Morrison Media, says the 34-year-old politician  is viewed as someone who “upholds traditional Highland values”.

“People in the Highlands see Kate as intelligent but in touch with the grassroots on issues like the Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA) and issues like Coul Links.

“She is very much in tune with what people in the Highlands think.”

Highland Alliance councillor Jim McGillivary described the Cambridge graduate as “one of the few shining stars in the Holyrood universe of dark matter”.

He said: “She knows that a thriving economy is what funds public sector expenditure, andsupports our more vulnerable people.”

Another Highland constituent said: “She appeals to the more socially conservative people up here and that’s probably the majority.

“People here  are turned off by the fanatical green agenda and the transgender debate which has hijacked the independence movement. “She is more in line with their traditional values.

“She is smart and capable and not afraid to speak the truth, but would leadership change her?”



“For The Highlands to thrive, government needs to back off” – Magnus Linklater

If you don’t have a subscription here’s the article.


For The Highlands to thrive, government needs to back off – Magnus Linklater

Too much meddling and bureaucracy is preventing Scottish companies from growing

I think enough time has gone by for me to tell the story of how my mother saved the very best cheese company in the Highlands. Back in the 1960s, Reggie and Susannah Stone, who lived in Tain, had started making Crowdie cheese — in their bathtub, I think. It was delicious stuff but it broke pretty well every hygiene rule in the book, and when the health inspector came he ordered it to be closed down immediately.

My mother, Marjorie, then a county councillor, heard about it and suggested that the Stones be given a chance to put things right. This they did, and Marjorie was invited to open the very first production line. Today, Highland Fine Cheese is a thriving business, employing 16 local people. It is a good example of the most effective way to bolster a rural economy — back small and medium companies, give local enterprises the facilities they need to operate, help them through the regulations, offer them start-up advice. And then stand back.

The history of government intervention in the Highlands tends to be the reverse. It is littered with grand and spectacular examples of failure — the pulp mill at Fort William, the massive smelter at Invergordon, the Dounreay nuclear power plant and now, just possibly, the Lochaber aluminium operation, owned by Sanjeev Gupta as part of a £330 million deal with the Scottish government, whose future is uncertain.

At one level, ministers seem to understand the problem. A Scottish government report published last week on repopulating rural areas in the west and north of Scotland, emphasised leaving decisions to local authorities rather than imposing them from on high. But it could not quite bring itself to talk the language of business. It was full of jargon such as “taking on local co-ordination and leadership in putting their ‘place’ under the magnifying glass, working out what is required, and collaborating with partners to develop and deliver the tailored solutions required”.

That is not just gobbledegook, it is the wrong way round — it should be the small companies themselves coming up with ideas and making the running, rather than having “tailored solutions” imposed upon them.

And when it comes to government interference — well, it just cannot help itself. Take the example of the Coul Links golf course near Dornoch, the Sutherland town whose own course regularly features amongst the best-loved in the world. The plans for a new 18-hole course have been worked on for more than four years now, and it would offer substantial employment. Turned down by the government on the ground that it threatened “one of the last remaining undeveloped dune systems” in Scotland, the proposal was reduced in size, with special measures taken to protect and restore the dunes, involving an investment of £500,000 over the next five years. This time, the plan has been called in with cross-party backing, and the local council approved it but is still at risk of being rejected by ministers.

We can detect the hand of the SNP’s Green Party partners in the seeking to turn down the plan, as every conservationist group is against it. But environmental groups will always oppose any development that threatens nature. I grew up on the north side of the Cromarty Firth, where the sand dunes were also described as irreplaceable, though they are the most common feature of the northeast coastline. It became the place where the oil rigs were built for the North Sea, and today it manufactures wind towers. Last time I was there, the oyster catchers had moved a bit further up the bay, but seemed otherwise untroubled. I doubt if they would mind much about a golf course. What seems intractable is the way central government seems always to bend to the wind of group think, rather than listen to the voices of the individuals who actually live in the Highlands, and know only too well what is needed to make it work.

One thing local businesses, and small enterprises, all need is the infrastructure that makes remote operations possible. Working from home (WFH in the current jargon) is probably the single reason the population of the Highland counties has risen faster in recent years than in any other part of Britain.

Artists in Orkney, computer specialists in Lochaber, nail varnish manufacturers in Invergordon, social enterprises in Inverness, all thrive, courtesy of the internet; last weekend I met a computational geneticist who had just moved into our area, and was happily working from home for a German company — no government could dream up such a thing.

Most, when asked, will talk about the need to extend superfast broadband connection to remote areas so that they can run their businesses efficiently. The government has promised, via its much-vaunted R100 scheme, to ensure all Scotland’s rural areas are connected, but has yet to deliver (conflict-of-interest alert — our part of Highland Perthshire has so far been excluded).

One voice ministers might just listen to is that of Professor Jim Hunter, historian, academic, business promoter and SNP member, who has chronicled the Highlands’ history of oppression through the 19th century clearances, the crofters’ rebellions, the potato famine, and the emigrations to America, in many brilliantly researched books. As chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) for six years, he brought this background of knowledge to bear on the area’s modern-day economy, and his conclusion was clear — keep government at arms’ length.

He said that when he was at HIE, the government saw it more as a “delivery agency” than an independent body, and argued that instead of dictating policy, it should encourage the individual self-esteem and self-confidence of the Highland population.

When Hunter handed over, in 2004, he wrote: “The Highlands and Islands are best served, developmentally and otherwise, if and when government … seeks to devolve, rather than take to itself, decision-making.” Hands off, in short. Twenty years on, that still seems to be true.

Cross-party group of MSP’s urges Scottish Ministers to “save Coul Links” and support Highland communities

Cross-party group of MSP’s urges Scottish Ministers to “save Coul Links” and support Highland communities…-enemies-of-the-people

Hear a fantastic interview with Fergus Ewing talking about cross-party support for Coul Links (scroll to 2hrs, 42 mins, 59 seconds).

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