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Spat erupts between Highland politicians as SNP MP accuses Conservative MSP of making 'cheap political points'

By Scott Maclennan

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MP Drew Hendry at Westminster,
MP Drew Hendry at Westminster,

A furious spat has erupted between two Highland politicians after Conservative MSP Edward Mountain hit out at the SNP’s programme for government, particularly the failure to deliver superfast broadband to the Highlands.

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey MP Drew Hendry struck back saying the Scottish Government had to intervene in the scheme amid inaction by Westminster and accused Mr Mountain of making “cheap political points.”

Following First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement yesterday on the main policy objectives of the upcoming parliamentary session Mr Mountain claimed that it did not deliver for the north.

Chief among his concerns was the late delivery of the superfast broadband scheme dubbed R100 by the Scottish Government. The scheme suffered delays and became bogged down in a court case, it will not now be ready by the 2021 deadline.

Mr Mountain said: “The First Minister is also making promises on widening the use of NHS Near Me despite many Highlanders being unable to use this service because they lack reliable internet.

“That’s down to the failure of this SNP Government which broke their promise to deliver superfast broadband to all Highlanders by 2021.”

Mr Hendry took exception to that and said the Scottish Government only stepped-in to run the scheme when Westminster was getting nowhere.

He said: “Mr Mountain would do well to remember that digital infrastructure is reserved to Westminster. The Scottish Government has had to step in to bring Superfast broadband to all parts of Scotland, unlocking previously blocked potential because we can simply not wait around for the UK government to do its job.

“The UK government didn’t care to make the investment needed and hasn’t matched what the Scottish Government has spent, without which, we’d be years and many, many jobs behind where we are now.

“I sat on the Digital Economy Bill Committee in the UK parliament and I don’t remember him joining my calls for measures to secure investment in the Highlands digital infrastructure then.

“But I do remember all his Tory colleagues in Westminster voting down every single amendment that would have put rural communities in the driving seat of digital infrastructure.

“Over the past four years I have been working with our local business community, public sector and colleagues in the Scottish Government, to secure private digital investment to the Highlands – work that has resulted in over £20m of investment across the region.

“I also worked closely with the UK government minister responsible for digital at the time, to make the case for additional Highland investment through the Local Full Fibre Network Fund – investment that was very welcome but is absolutely dwarfed in comparison to the investment the Scottish Government are making.

“I suggest rather than trying making cheap political points, Mr Mountain put his time to working with others to find practical solutions that will work for Highland families and perhaps he might even find time to contact his colleagues in Westminster to ask how they intend to replace the £320 million the North of Scotland is set to lose over the coming years because of Brexit.”

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