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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Golspie is The Beating Heart of British Democracy

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Local entrepreneur and social activist John Murray arranged this General Election Hustings. 

The repurposed church was abuzz as five candidates and two substitutes addressed the sizeable crowd. 

Latecomers had to stand.

The clumsily named constituency “Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross” is one of the largest in the UK. 

It has been a Liberal Democrat stronghold since Lord MacLennan of Rogart won the seat in 1966 for Labour. 

He helped found the SDP in 1981. 

For two years, 2015 to 2017, the SNP held the seat. 

Jamie Stone has been MP since 2017 and is standing again for the Liberal Democrats.

Alongside Stone, seated to his right were the Green’s Anne Thomas from the Black Isle and the Conservative substitute Struan Mackie from Caithness. 

To Tain’s Stone’s left were Reform’s Sandra Skinner from the Eastern Seaboard and Alba’s substitute Jimmy Duncan from Tomatin. 

Alongside were the SNP’s Lucy Beattie from Ullapool and Labour’s Eva Kestner from London.

After some interesting autobiographical introductions, the Hustings was dominated by three main themes. 

The loss of the village of Golspie to coastal erosion was top of the agenda. 

Exploitation of the Highlands by corporate energy companies closely followed. 

And more generally, lack of quality jobs, especially for young Highlanders. 

A recurrent theme from the audience was that the political elites simply do not care about the rural Highlands and that Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is ignored as a matter of policy.

Alba suggested Golspie needs to invest £5m to protect itself from North Sea flooding. 

The Greens wondered if this was wise given that sea levels will rise by over a metre by the end of the century. 

Reform suggested that “slashing government waste would free up billions.” 

However, Reform did not have a manifesto policy that would see any of these savings finding their way to Golspie.   

Jamie Stone had written to Cabinet Minister Michael Gove asking for Levelling-Up cash to be rediverted. 

With Gove unlikely to be in power come July, uncertainty remains over this route to cash. 

There was a general consensus among all candidates that the constituency was being badly let down by the renewables revolution. 

Debates between the audience and the candidates grew somewhat frenzied when John Swinney’s promise of 26,000 jobs was ridiculed. 

Fingers were pointed and estimates of only six per-cent of that figure, viz., 1,500 jobs, were claimed by some in the audience. 

Lucy Beattie for the SNP claimed:

“I am not John Swinney. 

“I am a new broom that will sweep clean in the SNP.” 

This was most interesting given her earlier citations from Aristotle. 

One can only imagine her inspiration was taken from The Nicomachean Ethics.

An audience participant suggested that politics was setting up a battle between tourism and power as the debate moved on to super-pylons. 

Anne Thomas for the Greens explained that “the ugliness of pylons is nothing compared to the ugliness of manmade climate change.”

The Alba substitute made some interesting statements about community engagement with corporate energy companies. 

However, on subsequent cross-examination, it was found that these statements were not official Alba policy. 

The statements had to be withdrawn. 

Such is the lot of a proxy.

Other notable policy positions included the Tory substitute suggesting that “the amalgamation of Health Boards had been a disaster”. 

Labour’s Eva Kestner’s announcement that “we need to stop centralising things” was intriguing given Sir Starmer’s recent confirmation that “I am a socialist”. 

The debate reached its zenith when an ex-serviceman asked if an independent Scotland would have to introduce conscription to defend the country since existing military personnel pledge their allegiance to the Crown. 

This proposition took the independence supporting candidates by surprise. 

Nonetheless, in the heated exchanges, the SNP confirmed that “it was committed to spending 2.5% of GDP on defence and committed to NATO.”

Jamie Stone issued a chilling warning to those who sought to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons. 

“This is no time to disarm. 

“Putin is not kidding.”

Closing remarks included Reform’s claim that “Britain is broken”.

Alba and the SNP argued that an independent Scotland would not be. 

The final word was left to incumbent Jamie Stone. 

He thanked the audience for its robust challenges noting that most of his colleagues down south were only being asked to attend one, maybe two, hustings during this campaign. 

This Hustings was one of at least eight. 

This just goes to prove that in UK terms, in midsummer 2024, Golspie is the beating heart of British democracy.

The Candidates for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross are:

Alba – Steve Chisholm
Greens – Anne Taylor
Labour – Eva Kestner
SNP – Lucy Beattie
Lib Dems – Jamie Stone
Reform UK – Sandra Skinner
Scottish Conservative and Unionist – Fiona Fawcett

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