Molly Nolan: We need to take power from Edinburgh to create a fair and liberal Scotland

This weekend we are publishing all the speeches from the rally Alex Cole-Hamilton held to mark his election as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Here, Molly Nolan, who stood for us in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, talks about the effect of the SNP’s centralising agenda on rural, highland communities.

A family of four moving away can be a cataclysmic event in a small community. Last week, I spoke to a teacher in the North Highlands, and we got to talking about depopulation in the area.

“When the MacLeod family left with their children, that was a very dark time for the community,” she recalled. “Overnight, the school roll dropped by a fifth.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the spectre of depopulation was a nineteenth century trauma, but this is the reality for parts of our country in 2021.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have long stood up for Scotland’s most remote and rural communities. And in many ways, as our local teacher can attest, our work has never been more important.

The SNP has been in power in this country since I was 9 years old, and in my lifetime, my generation has seen the gap between urban and rural Scotland grow ever wider.

The pervasive centralisation of the current Scottish Government has hollowed out our local authorities, weakened our regional development capabilities, and moved vital healthcare services further away from the communities that need them. It has decayed our transport network and centralised jobs.

Such short-sighted decisions have serious consequences for the entire country. In our rural areas they are felt through communities themselves melting away. Over the next decade, the population of Caithness, Scotland’s most northernly mainland county, is projected to shrink by over 9%. In Sutherland, over 7%, in the Outer Hebrides, over 6%.

In my own area, we are set to see depopulation of 4.4% in under 10 years.

These are devastating figures, and they are not confined to the Highlands and Islands. From Inverclyde to Aberdeenshire, working age people are moving away in droves.

This should concern all of us. Scotland will only reach its full potential if the sum of its parts, urban and rural, can work together in harmony and benefit equally. Inequality between regions affects us all – we will only meet our climate change targets, for example, if every part of the country is empowered to do so.

That cannot happen while our government allows crippling depopulation to take hold across rural Scotland, with young people forced to leave just to find work or semi-affordable housing.

To fix this imbalance, we need to get radical.

We must reject the inflexible, top-down governance that has given Scotland the dubious claim to being ‘one of the most centralised countries in Europe’.

We must decentralise power and rethink our local government structures, reforming our oversized local authorities to bring decision making closer to the people it affects.

And we must reverse the poor economic decisions of the past decade by reintroducing local enterprise boards and stimulating regional development.

Devolution is a process, not an event, and if the past 14 years have shown us anything, is that our collective journey is far from over.

Scottish Liberal Democrats know that we have a fight on our hands. These changes, as crucial as they are, will require a fundamental shift in our national mindset, one that the current Scottish Government seems unwilling or unable to engage with.

But taking power away from Edinburgh and dispersing it throughout Scotland is the right thing to do if we are to achieve a just, fair and liberal Scotland – for every person, in every region.

We owe it to the fragile communities with only a handful of children left in the local primary school, but we also owe it to Scotland at large.

We are the sum of our parts, and if rural Scotland succeeds, we all succeed.

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  • Molly speaks so much sense. The centralising power-grab by the SNP government has been massively damaging for Scotland, but especially rural communities.

    We must do all we can to draw attention to this and give a constructive alternative.

  • John Marriott 22nd Aug '21 - 9:11am

    It’s interesting how many capital cities around the world end up on one of the extremes of countries they represent. Washington DC is on the northeastern corner of the USA, while London is in the southeastern corner of the U.K. Then there’s Paris in the north of France, and as for capitals like Moscow, Ottawa or Canberra. Do you get the idea.

    Well, let’s look at little old Scotland and there’s Edinburgh well in the south I would say. So, is there any wonder that people object to all that power gravitating away to one extreme or another. There don’t appear to be that many Madrid’s around the world and even when your capital is relatively central, geographically speaking, that seems hardly a recipe for harmony. Better get used it it! Or, how about starting a campaign to move the capital to somewhere like Inverness? Best of luck!

  • Brad Barrows 22nd Aug '21 - 2:12pm

    @John Marriott
    Yes, the earliest major cities grew to their size and power due to their access to the sea which either meant on the coast or on a navigable stretch of a major river. These features are seldom at the centre of a country and often at the extremities.

  • Sandy Dunsmore 24th Aug '21 - 10:57pm

    Why does Molly Nolan choose to ignore the fact that the country is governed by the people the Scottish voters elected to do so, the same electors who chose to ignore the undemocratic Lib Dem’s?

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