Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
The three candidates vying for the top job in Scottish politics all said they wanted to see more decisions being made closer to the communities they affect.
Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf were responding to a question from Trudy Morris, the chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, who pointed out that rural communities in the north Highlands are too often left behind.
Putting a question to the trio at the leadership debate on Friday, Ms Morris said: “Rural communities such as our own in the north Highlands are marginalised, rank low in investment decisions, and are repeatedly sidelined at the expense of big-ticket items which seek to entice votes. Stark inequalities are blatantly obvious, with government minister sightings in the north as rare as the capercaillie!
“How will you ensure this is a government for the whole of Scotland?”
Kate Forbes responded by pointing out there were two government ministers from the Highlands in the room – herself and Maree Todd, the minister for public health, women’s health and sport, who is based in Ullapool.
She said: “My vision for Scotland is focused on all areas of Scotland prospering economically, so rejecting the old-fashioned model where we’re basically relying on two cylinders, London and the south-east, and instead ensuring that no area of Scotland is left behind. And where all areas of Scotland are able to contribute, so we’re not caring about national GDP outcomes, we’re actually caring about how Caithness and Sutherland are doing, how Skye and Lochalsh is doing, and that requires three things.
“One – investment in infrastructure, two – reducing the regulatory burden so that you can thrive and prosper, and three – focusing on how we support you to create jobs and to grow and invest.
“There has been significant investment made in the Highlands but we need to make sure that it’s getting out of the urban centres like Inverness and actually getting into our key communities.
“That’s how you create jobs, that’s how you reverse depopulation, and that’s how you ensure that all of Scotland thrives.”
Ash Regan suggested that devolution has seen a slight improvement in investment in infrastructure, but argued that has not gone far enough.
“So if we’re talking about local funding decisions and capital spending, there’s an argument for that decision-making to be devolved further down,” she said. “So it’s not necessarily a decision that’s going to be made in Edinburgh about Caithness – it would be made closer to Caithness and the funding would go with it.”
Humza Yousaf agreed that decentralisation was part of the answer to making the government work for the whole of Scotland, and said he would want ministers to do more to travel to every corner of the country.
“I’d be quite keen to take the government to as far reaches as we can, so we can get to the people in rooms like this and understand their priorities, and they can quiz and question us,” he said.
“The ethos of the government since we came in in 2007 was to be a listening government, to make accessibility to government ministers as easy as possible. Now your question clearly demonstrates to me that you don’t think we’ve done that enough.
” I would want, if I was first minister, to make sure that every single one of my government ministers was getting around Scotland, was not just sitting in Edinburgh, in Holyrood. Of course, we’d still have to go to Glasgow and Edinburgh, but getting right across Scotland to the far reaches.”