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First Minister Humza Yousaf's priorities for Moray ahead of first General Election for new Moray West, Nairn and Strathspey constituency

By Lewis McBlane

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THE cost of living, energy prices and including oil and gas in eco-transition plans were the First Minister's talking points while campaigning in Moray at the weekend.

First Minister Humza Yousaf and Councillor Graham Leadbitter at the East Beach in Lossiemouth...Picture: Beth Taylor
First Minister Humza Yousaf and Councillor Graham Leadbitter at the East Beach in Lossiemouth...Picture: Beth Taylor

Humza Yousaf visited Lossiemouth and AES Solar in Forres on Saturday.

Launching the battle for the new Moray West, Nairn and Strathspey constituency ahead of this year's General Election, Mr Yousaf was joined by SNP candidate Councillor Graham Leadbitter (Elgin City South).

During the visit, party activists were handed signs which urged to public to: "Give the Tories the red card".

Mr Yousaf said the UK Government's "14 years of economic incompetence" had caused the cost of living crisis and that this year's General Election could be a chance to "make Scotland Tory-free".

However, Moray MP and Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross reacted to the visit by launching a barb against the First Minister's record in the local area.

He said Mr Yousaf and the Scottish Government had "rowed back on their commitments to fully dual the A96" and failed to restore maternity services in Moray in the six years since maternity services at Dr Gray's Hospital were downgraded.

Mr Ross also encouraged the First Minister to meet with campaigners from the Save Our Surgeries group, fighting to bring health services back to Burghead and Hopeman.

The visit

In the fight for Moray West, Nairn and Strathspey, Cllr Leadbitter is taking on current Moray Council leader Councillor Kathleen Robertson (Conservative, Forres).

Mr Yousaf and Cllr Leadbitter met a number of local SNP councillors and party activists during their visit, shaking hands with the public including a baby draped in a Saltire.

“We've been talking to people right across the constituency and the clear message coming through from everybody is that the cost of living crisis has caused untold suffering and damage," the First Minister said.

“Not just to individual households, but also to businesses here in Lossiemouth and right across the country.

“And that's the message, very simply.

"After 14 years of economic incompetence and suffering the Conservative Party have caused, we need to make sure that not only do we get rid of the Conservative government but we have a massive opportunity to make Scotland free of Conservative MPs."

He added: “I've known Graham for many, many years – delighted he's the candidate.

“He knows the constituency exceptionally well.

“I think he can point to a very strong track record."

The First Minister also highlighted Lossiemouth's East Beach Bridge, funded by the Scottish Government, as evidence of his party's investment in the north east.

First Minister Humza Yousaf visits Lossiemouth ahead of the 2024 General Election...Picture: Beth Taylor.
First Minister Humza Yousaf visits Lossiemouth ahead of the 2024 General Election...Picture: Beth Taylor.

He also said that, particularly in the north east, oil and gas will feature in Scotland's transition to a "renewable future".

The UK Government, he added, has failed to invest in grid infrastructure to support renewable energy.

“For me in particular, Scotland's economy is going to be powered by the energy industry," Mr Yousaf said.

“Of course the oil and gas industry is crucial to that, but that just transition from oil and gas to renewables is also going to be important for that economic success of the country.

“What we can offer from the Scottish Government, and from the SNP in particular, is that continued investment in the just transition."

Cllr Leadbitter said: “I'm delighted to welcome the First Minister here today.

“What people are talking about on the doors is essentially the cost of living, and how that feeds into the wider economy, and how that separates people from achieving their aspirations for themselves and their families.

“It's really challenging for folk, but in particular the biggest part of the cost of living is the energy prices.

“Especially in more rural parts of Moray West, Nairn and Strathspey, we're talking about some of the coldest parts of the country.

First Minister of Scotland Humza Yousaf at the East Beach Bridge in Lossiemouth...Picture: Beth Taylor
First Minister of Scotland Humza Yousaf at the East Beach Bridge in Lossiemouth...Picture: Beth Taylor

“And we're right in the middle of winter, you know?

“It's chilly today with the wind, but certainly when I've been campaigning up in, you know, in the likes of Grantown and Nethy Bridge, or Aviemore and Newtonmore as well, you know, it's minus temperatures most days through the winter. It's very cold.

“And they're often spending a fortune in older houses.

“It's ridiculous that they're paying more for the distribution of that energy from an area that's producing some of the largest amounts of onshore wind in the country.

“And that's all to do with the UK government's energy policy and their approach to distribution costs and how they regulate that.

“So these are key issues that, with the support of the people in the constituency to go down to Westminster and represent those issues, these are the issues that will be taken up.

“And I think that's what we've got to do with the UK government on a day-to-day basis down there.”

Scottish Government's record criticised

Ahead of the First Minister's visit, Mr Ross urged him to acknowledge the funding that Moray has received from Westminster in recent years.

Moray MP Douglas Ross criticised the First Minister's record...Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Moray MP Douglas Ross criticised the First Minister's record...Picture: Daniel Forsyth

“While he visits this area, it would be encouraging if the SNP leader welcomed the significant investment from the UK Government in Moray," Mr Ross said.

"From the millions invest at the RAF base, crucial funding for local organisations in Forres including plans which will support the upgrading of the town hall, the £20 million towns fund for Elgin, support from the Treasury to re-open Cloddach bridge and of course the levelling-up funding we secured in the area.

"I'm sure the First Minister will welcome all of this support from the UK Conservative government.

“As we approach the General Election, I am delighted to be supporting our excellent candidate Kathleen Robertson and it is only a vote for her which will beat the SNP and ensure the focus will be on the real priorities of Moray."

The Moray MP also took aim at the recent record of Mr Yousaf's government.

He said: “People across Moray will hope Humza Yousaf’s visit to the area is not a fruitless one.

"The SNP-Green government he heads has repeatedly failed to deliver for our communities like so many others outside the central belt.

“Since bringing the anti-car Greens into government with them, the SNP have rowed back on their commitments to fully dual the A96, which is vital for improving motorists safety and boosting the local economy.

"Over the last few days we have seen some awful accidents on this road, claiming more lives, so the need to fully dual the route is vital.

“Successive SNP health secretaries – including Humza Yousaf himself – have failed to restore consultant-led maternity services at Dr Gray’s, almost six years on from when they were temporarily downgraded.

"And as he travels from Forres to Lossie he will pass Burghead and Hopeman, two villages which continue to fight so hard for local GP services.

"He has promised in the past to meet campaigners about this and I hope he takes the chance while in Moray."

Candidate Cllr Robertson added: “I hope Humza Yousaf is prepared to hear some strong opinions as he campaigns in Moray.

“When I have been knocking on doors and speaking to local people, I have gained the overwhelming feeling that local people are sick and tired of this out-of-touch SNP Government that has ignored their priorities for far too long.

“As Council leader I have seen first-hand the impact of damaging SNP cuts to local frontline services across Moray and that is only going to get worse.

“People have a chance to send a message to the SNP in the new Moray West, Nairn and Strathspey Seat at the General Election and the best way of doing that is by voting for me to be your next MP."

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