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DAVID STEWART: Is it time for Inverness to have an elected mayor?

By David Stewart

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Inverness currently has Provost Glynis Campbell-Sinclair (centre) and deputies Jackie Hendry (left) and Morven Reid, who were elected to the roles by fellow Highland councillors.
Inverness currently has Provost Glynis Campbell-Sinclair (centre) and deputies Jackie Hendry (left) and Morven Reid, who were elected to the roles by fellow Highland councillors.

Donald Dewar famously said that devolution was a process, not an event. Why not give more clout to our local authorities?

There is a growing sense in the north that the Scottish Government gets a nose-bleed when it crosses the Highland line. Bypass for Nairn, dualling of the A96, islands ferry services – all kicked into the long grass.

Is this not the time to super-charge the Highlands and Islands? Harold Wilson set up the Highlands and Islands Development Board as a response to the chronic depopulation of the north in 1964. This pre-devolution initiative was the blueprint for Highlands and Islands Enterprise with its economic and social development powers.

Is it not an opportune time to look at what has worked well elsewhere – for example, the difference that city mayors have made in their communities? Should Inverness have an elected city mayor? The concept of city mayors has strong cross-party support historically, from Michael Heseltine in the early 1990s to Tony Blair and David Cameron.

Why a city mayor? It is about devolution in practice – making decisions at the most local level; to increase engagement in civic affairs; and to use their profile for the good of the area.

In 2012, Bristol set up a directly-elected mayor based on the city area. The Bristol Civic Leadership project analysed the new system by talking to members of the public before and after the mayor was elected. The project asked the question: “Does the city of Bristol have visible leadership?” The positive response rose from around a quarter prior to 2012, before the mayoral system was introduced, to near 70 per cent in 2014.

There is a sting in the tail though. While there is strong evidence that city mayors will produce positive relationships with business, public and charitable sectors, they sometimes fail to convince local councillors of their effectiveness. Perhaps councillors in England, where we have city mayors, feel their influence and status is diminished where a strong and effective city mayor is in place.

Surely the time has come to investigate an alternative option, such as setting up a strong system of city mayors in Scotland – not least in Inverness – to counteract the overbearing control and influence of the current Scottish Government? Or a tailored system which meets our local needs?

We’ve done it before with Highlands and Islands Development Board and Highlands and Islands Enterprise – surely we can create an innovative system that suits us again?

n I’ve had a rollercoaster last few weeks. My daughter, Kirsty, was married at the fab Farr Estate. Walking Kirsty down the aisle with the team of seven bridesmaids, led by a splendid piper, was an out-of-body experience – exhilarating and nerve-racking at the same time.

The light summer rain and mist (did I imagine it…?) by the loch-side wedding ceremony added an Outlander sense to the whole occasion. The whole day went tremendously.

n Who will be the next Prime Minister? Tory MPs have kindly limited the choice to two contenders already: Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. However, Westminster insiders have claimed that Boris Johnson wants to stand again and is encouraging Tory members to “write him in”.

A survey by YouGov of Tory members has Liz Truss on 62 per cent to 38 per cent for Rishi Sunak. However, around 20 per cent of Tory members are undecided, so all to play for yet. Am I alone in thinking that the new Prime Minister in September should call a General Election so we can all have a vote in the future of the country?

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