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Inverness Courier ones to watch in 2024: Politics

By Scott Maclennan

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With a new year, always comes new hope but who are likely to be among the individuals to keep tabs on in 2024? Here are our ones to watch in politics.

Humza Yousaf

First Minister Humza Yousaf. Picture: Callum Mackay
First Minister Humza Yousaf. Picture: Callum Mackay

Humza Yousaf came to power in March. In July, he was in the Highlands where he told The Inverness Courier that it would be “unforgivable” not to make progress on the A9. I think it is telling that he describes policy progress in moral terms. A9 campaigners do exactly the same.

He promised to deliver a new date for the A9 dualling programme. On December 20, his transport secretary issued a new date and a detailed timeline for each section of the road running up to 2035 “at the earliest”.

There will be more political battles in the near future, including a major one with local authorities and their funding settlements.

But if the First Minister gets the space to breathe politically, from the troubles engulfing the SNP, he might actually get somewhere.

Taking the A9 as a point in fact, he has made more planning progress in nine months than his predecessor managed in nine years.

Kate Forbes

Kate Forbes. Picture: Callum Mackay
Kate Forbes. Picture: Callum Mackay

One of the reasons that First Minister Humza Yousaf must make that progress mentioned above can be put in two words – Kate Forbes, whose name continues to ring in the ears of many as his successor.

It is the rumour that just will not go away. Ms Forbes refuses even to countenance the suggestion which only adds fuel to the fire.

Regarding two key issues in purely political terms – whether Mr Yousaf or Ms Forbes can get the job done for dualling or gender recognition – Ms Forbes has always appeared to be on more solid ground.

But then she had a bruising leadership election campaign but such is her appeal that those who attacked or criticised her paid for it by lowering the credit rating on their own reputations – including some locals.

She worries about public discourse and the interaction of private principle with public service, unafraid to address big problems like poverty, the economy, and social care and she is blessedly free of special advisers writing her lines for her.

She now also appears to have taken a leaf out of fellow north SNP MSP Fergus Ewing’s book and is considerably more direct in her assertions.

Fergus Ewing

Fergus Ewing. Picture: Callum Mackay
Fergus Ewing. Picture: Callum Mackay

Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing has been in the Scottish Parliament since the beginning, he has been in the SNP almost since before he was born, and he has served in cabinet – yet he may just have the most successful year of his political life.

Since his departure from the cabinet, he has come roaring out of the traps as a fierce critic of any party that proposes anything that could in any way harm his constituents – sometimes too, the wider Highlands.

To name failed legislation or policy this year is to name the issues that he stood against: Highly Protected Marine Areas (ditched), Deposit Return Scheme (delayed), Gender Recognition Reform (in limbo).

Not one MSP has been more ferocious of the failure on the A9 than Mr Ewing because he understands one life lost on the road is one too many.

He should perhaps be satisfied and perhaps he is, but is he satiated? Even having achieved, along with others, forcing a new dualling timeline out of the Scottish Government he still had questions, demands, scepticism.

Whatever the Scottish Government produces next term – with or without the Greens – it is certain that Mr Ewing, as a backbencher, is in his element fighting his constituency’s corner and he is definitely on their radar. That makes him influential.

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