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Nicky Marr: Where have our politicians gone?

By Nicky Marr

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Drew Hendry has been criticised for ‘his lack of backbone’
Drew Hendry has been criticised for ‘his lack of backbone’

I’m curious. What actually is the role of our elected representatives in Holyrood and Westminster? I thought I had a fair idea, but the actions of one or two threw me last week. So I Googled it, just to be sure.

Under ‘What do MPs do?’ on the UK Parliament website, the very first sentence reads: “The UK public elects Members of Parliament (MPs) to represent their interests and concerns in the House of Commons.” There’s something similar on the Scottish Parliament website.

Having checked their purpose, I am deeply disappointed in the recent actions of two of our local representatives, and in an SNP minister who was, quite simply, missing, presumed ambivalent.

Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of hosting a brilliant conference in Thurso. Following many months of planning, the former Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership formally relaunched as Focus North.

Bringing together what one of the speakers described as the “triple helix” of public sector, private sector and academic organisations, the day focused on the tremendous opportunities that are, will, and could soon be available to the region, should everyone pull together.

The room was beyond capacity, with all the “big hitters” from Highland Council, HIE, Dounreay, Caithness Chamber of Commerce, UHI and more. There were speakers from all of the above, as well as from renewable energy firms, Sutherland Space Port, NatureScot and the local tourism body Venture North.

But while the day had been billed to begin with a 15-minute keynote speech from the minister for net zero, energy, and transport – three of the main topics of discussion on the day – Michael Matheson was nowhere to be seen. And in place of his “keynote”, the assembled delegates were treated to two minutes and 47 seconds of pre-recorded good wishes. Mere platitudes.

Maree Todd, SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, the very geography under discussion, also failed to show, but delivered marginally more. In nearly six minutes of a speech, she at least seemed to know what the day was about.

They should both have been there. What was the problem? Too remote from the central belt? Give me strength.

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Of course, there will be a full conference report, and the main players in Focus North will be travelling to both Holyrood and Westminster to present it, but that’s second best. Actual best would have been if they’d been in the room, heard the passion of the speakers, felt the energy rise, and heard the commitments made by their constituents. Perhaps they’d have felt moved to join in with pledges to support in order to achieve sustainable economic growth.

I wish they’d been there to hear that the top risks to the region were perceived, by delegates, to be a decline in working population, transport underfunding, lack of connectivity, and a dearth of affordable housing.

I wish they’d heard of the amazing potential for the development of sustainable projects across many, many sectors, if, instead of focusing on the south, we can “get them to focus north”.

Geography counts. For rocket science and renewable energy in particular, the opportunities are in Caithness and Sutherland, not the M8 corridor.

But neither Michael Matheson nor Maree Todd were there. Were they taking part in the Holyrood debate about the demise of the A9 dualling project? Maybe, knowing what was to come that afternoon, they didn’t want to risk being caught at the other end of that deadly road, in a room full of people who know it better than most.

Drew Hendry, on the other hand, apparently supported Jenny Gilruth on the A9, and, as has been widely reported, was roundly criticised for his lack of backbone.

Hendry should be a voice for the interests and concerns of his Highland constituents in Westminster. But on the third anniversary of Brexit, which has caused untold trouble for his constituents, Hendry was in Washington DC, in his new role as the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesperson.

There’s an old saying that charity begins at home. I’d suggest that applies to representation too. Who is looking after Hendry’s constituents while he’s travelling the globe playing statesman?

Come home, Drew. Talk to us. Politics shouldn’t be about furthering your career. It should be about representing those who gave you the job.

And Michael Matheson? Maree Todd? Please remember your remits too. Focus North has a brilliant masterplan, but it needs your backing if it is to deliver on net zero and energy for Scotland and for the north.

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