EDITORIAL: Slim chance of success for Highlands and Islands party

There have been calls for a new political movement to advance Highland and island interests Pic Willie Urquhart

Amid recent anger over Highly Protected Marine Areas and west coast ferry services, came a familiar cry for help.

“Who speaks for me?” is the understandable question being asked by some of those who stand to lose most, from ideas over which they’ve had such little control.

In the West Highlands and Islands the sense of frustration extends from ferries and environmental designations to housing, health and support for business.

It should be no surprise that in their dissatisfaction people are searching for fresh ideas, and alternative outlets to champion them.

One suggestion now being floated around is that the islands – and potentially extending to the rural Highlands – should have its own political party. The new organisation, so it is reported, would have its own policy stances on things like housing, renewable energy and HPMAs.

These are issues that undoubtedly need to be addressed –  but it is highly sceptical that a new political party is the best vehicle to act to resolve them.

Parliamentary elections are about everyone – no matter where they live – having the chance to influence the national picture while they select representatives to work within it to be a voice on local concerns.

Recent history suggests little chance of success for anyone advancing a purely local agenda.

In the 1990s the Highlands and Islands Alliance was formed to contest the inaugural Scottish parliamentary elections. It tapped into plenty of issues important to people in the region, like removal of Skye bridge tolls and devolving control of local fishing grounds.

Yet the new party bombed at the ballot box, polling just 1.3 per cent of the vote and was never heard of again.

Much further back the Crofters Party enjoyed great success in the 1880s, but support waned quickly after the 1886 crofters act was passed and members soon returned to the Liberals.

Today’s circumstances are also a lot different.

It should not need a historic act of parliament to deliver a workable ferry service, build a few houses and protect a fisherman’s right to work. Yet even if it did, an independent political party contesting one or two seats would not be in a position to deliver it.

Inevitably, constitutional debate still looms large, with much of the current criticism aimed at the SNP and Greens.

Yet it seems the new party is being mooted by disillusioned supporters of Scottish independence who are appalled at the ferry crisis and HPMAs but can’t bring themselves to vote Labour or LibDem.

If that’s the case the new party supporters would be adopting a paradoxical stance from the outset – forming an organisation to advocate local concerns, while using a national issue as justification for their refusal to pursue them through existing, alternative channels. 

There is essentially little reason for a single seat independent party in our system, especially when its values and beliefs can be effectively addressed and promoted by an MP of a governing party. 

Rather than questioning if they’ve had the wrong system in recent years, people may be better served asking if they have had the wrong representatives.

Fress Press editorial, 16th June 2023