Tag Archives: rural affairs

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.

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Escape to the country ideals don’t give a real view of rural life and don’t help us tackle rural England’s problems

Am I the only one who find programmes like Escape to the Country unsettling? The clue is in the word “escape”. That idea of rural life being idyllic compared to the nightmare of living in cities. Before anyone gets worked up, I don’t think cities are a nightmare. A buzz of life 24 hours seven days a week. Almost everything available whenever you need it. Walkable neighbourhoods.

But cities and large towns are too busy for me. All those people you don’t know rushing past not saying hello. I don’t think rural areas are a nightmare. Far from it. But people seem who escape to the country sometimes have unrealistic expectations of rural life. That could increase pressure on services and we are already seeing in rural counties like mine which has soaring adult social care costs driven by an ageing population. We will not get to grip with the gritty reality of rural life if it is portrayed is an idyll where everyone with a stash of money in the bank should live.

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The Lib Dem pitch to the rural left

Those of us who are left of centre in rural areas are often completely missed from political discourse, despite our long history of distinctive political belief.  Rural people are, obviously, spread out both geographically and economically. We live in smaller communities and have much smaller workplaces. The result of this is a more individualistic yet supportive community where people rely on themselves first and their neighbours second. Liberal philosophy is ideally placed to appeal to these rural values, giving a hand up when needed while getting out the way when not.

How can our liberal message best appeal to the many areas of the country that are represented by the Conservatives yet badly let down by their safe seat apathy?

Our economic message must fit both rural reality and rural values. We must build a framework that allows small and micro businesses to thrive by busting monopolies that are especially damaging in rural areas. Across the country, monopoly power is costing ordinary people billions. The uncompetitiveness of the energy market costs the country £1.7bn but the renewable revolution allows us to rebuild the energy market around communities and their needs, returning the profits of relatively small-scale renewables to the areas in which they are based. A new model of distributive rather than concentrative markets must be built, in which ownership and control are shared widely through mutuals, cooperatives and small enterprise.

We must also build the infrastructure rural areas need to succeed. Our support for universal high-speed broadband as well as better public transport is vital to helping fledgeling businesses to survive, while we also need to be building affordable and social housing to ensure we can halt the rural brain drain. I, myself, am an example of that drain, moving from the village I grew up in to the nearby city of Lincoln for work and to study.

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The Liberal Democrats are the party of rural communities

For as long as I can remember, the mantra has been that the Conservative Party is the party of the countryside. My question is, why? Have they done anything for rural areas or have they simply taken them for granted?

It is time that we who live and work here in our communities and understand far more about rural issues than our opposition, took on that role. This year, on 2 May 2019, the public in many areas gave us their confidence and elected around 704 new councillors, many of them in rural and coastal areas. We are now in control in 49 councils either alone or in partnership. A clear majority of these are rural or coastal or both.

Now is the time to share best practice and strengthen our policy for rural delivery.

Rural and coastal communities are individual and have characters of their own. How do the Liberal Democrats work with that and make it work?

Campaigning needs to be the same but different to that in urban areas. Liberal Democrats are far better at working on the ground than other parties but in rural areas it’s remembered and valued by constituents.

Knocking on doors across a rural area will pay dividends if you do it year in and year out. Meeting people in the back of beyond where the opposition rarely go, stays with those residents and many repay the work. Knocking on the doors of new residents on the electoral roll is also a winning step.

Regular newsletters touching the whole of the electoral area keep residents abreast of local issues. Your work is of course important in both rural and urban areas, but in many rural areas, residents frequently cannot get that local information easily and you are providing a real service in doing that.

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Rennie calls for new rural affairs secretary after SNP CAP payments disaster

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said there is no way that the First Minister can keep Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead in his post following repeated delays to vital EU payments.

Farmers and crofters have been hit by extended delays to Common Agricultural Policy payments as a result of the failure of a Scottish Government IT system. Mr Lochhead was informed of potential problems with the £178m IT system before the referendum but waited for months before warning farmers that payments could be delayed.

It also emerged during the election campaign that farmers receiving support from an emergency Scottish Government scheme could face punitive interest charges.

Willie said:

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Opinion: Cash in your pocket or green fields on your doorstep?

Cash in your pocket or green fields on your doorstep?

Does anyone think the planning system is working? I don’t and neither do many communities and local councils. Ministers certainly don’t think so. Buried in the National Infrastructure Plan published on Tuesday are proposals for more planning reform (pdf). They are bad proposals.

One plan is to set up a specialist court to deal with planning disputes. That’s a good idea, but as with so much legislation under this government, the detail undermines the principle (for example, the Lobbying and Antisocial Behaviour bills). What the government is really aiming for here …

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