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Double Highlands win leaves Liberal Democrats ‘elated’ and determined to make north heard

By Scott Maclennan

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Winning candidates Jamie Stone and Angus MacDonald of the Liberal Democrats. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Winning candidates Jamie Stone and Angus MacDonald of the Liberal Democrats. Picture: Callum Mackay.

A double Highlands win leaves the Liberal Democrats ‘elated’ but determined to make the north heard as party leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the strategy was to talk about the issues that matter and not mention independence.

The new Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire MP Angus MacDonald has said he is “elated” to have won back what is essentially Charles Kennedy’s former seat as he sets out how he will try to operate in Westminster.

While Jamie Stone took the far north seat with a majority of over 10,000 saying he intends to “get the health service right, let's get education right – these things matter and people were telling me that in the doorsteps”.

It was a bad election for the SNP who returned just nine MPs, which is an almost 77 per cent drop that represents a proportionally worse loss than even the Conservatives who lost 251 MPs equating to a 67 per cent drop.

It has been a long campaign for Mr MacDonald who perhaps benefitted from a major boundary change that saw the SNP’s Drew Hendry have to go and try to win over people in West Ross-shire and Skye.

The SNP man had previously represented Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey which he held with a majority of 10,440 or 19.1 per cent but Mr MacDonald wiped that out and won with a majority of 2160.

Asked how he feels, Mr MacDonald said: “I feel elated. It's been a long time coming. I was, 18 months ago, trying to come up with a business plan, raise the funding, get all ready for it.

“Then yesterday [Friday] morning, around half past three we were expecting to be standing on the podium and one or other of us has to win and of course that's gone on and on and on.

“So thank goodness it has all happened and that, of course, I'm absolutely elated to have won.”

He said the first thing on your to-do list when he arrives in Westminster is to seek a meeting with the Secretary of State for Scotland Ian Murray in a bid to address funding and centralisation.

“I think I'd go and see the Secretary of State for Scotland if I can,” he said. “Ultimately, if you're going to get budgets and powers up here then that person is a person who will give it.

“I think what the Lib Dems got right in the Highlands was to demonstrate that they were there for the people of the Highlands of Scotland and that was to overrule everything else.

“So we've seen centralisation down to Holyrood and Westminster all across the UK and I think people are basically fed-up, they feel they are getting left behind. That's definitely being fed to me by the population.

The depopulation of the west coast is remarkable and we're struggling to keep young people here and we really need to make it a more attractive place for people to stay and to live.”

Mr MacDonald is not daunted that the Liberal Democrats will be an opposition party in a parliament where Labour enjoys a majority of 172 seats.

He said: “I've got a very good track record in business and I think that the Labour party will be having to have conversations with me about what can make it a better place for the young to live and to build the economy of the more rural areas.

“So I'll be going in and chatting to them and I'm a very affable, concentric, cohesive guy and I'm not going to be fighting against them, I'll be working with them.”

Jamie Stone also won Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross so the Highlands have returned to the Liberal Democrats in what many in the party feel is special to claim back what is essentially Charles Kennedy's former seat.

Mr MacDonald said: “I am incredibly proud and indeed the first thing I'm going to do now is to ring his son Donald and break the news to him if he doesn't know already. I think it matters a great deal to say he was beloved in the Highlands would not be an overstatement.”

That was a sentiment shared with the new Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone who cruised to victory with a 10,000 majority leaving him feeling “astonishment, and a sense of feeling pretty humble.”

He continued: In that I've got over a 10,000 majority – I had a majority of 204 in the previous election. So an awful lot of people have put a whole heap of trust in me and you think wow, that is really something.

“And it actually kind of invigorates me to follow the same arguments I've been having, things like get the health service right, let's get education right – these things matter and people were telling me that in the doorsteps.

“So I now have the voice in Westminster to really try and make a difference on these things and I shall use it. I am more determined than ever and, you know, I've never had such a shot in the army in my life. I never won a prize at school for anything at all and then this happens.

“You think, wow! Yes, I am quite moved. I honestly drove from Tain to Dingwall in the wee small hours thinking well I might or I might just not make it but for this to happen… I mean I haven’t told my wife yet – she's not going to believe it.

“It's incredible. I'm sorry, words fail me for once.”

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