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Profile: Raymond Bremner is expected to be confirmed as the new leader of Highland Council next week. So who is the man widely expected to become one of the most powerful politicians in the region?


By Scott Maclennan

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Raymond Bremner became SNP group leader just three years after he first became a councillor.
Raymond Bremner became SNP group leader just three years after he first became a councillor.

What can the Highlands expect from the Caithness councillor? To answer that question here is some background information about Raymond Bremner as a politician and as a man

Caithness councillor Raymond Bremner as leader of the SNP group has been strongly backed as to become the next leader of the local authority – one of the top political jobs in the region.

But it is also one of the hardest jobs as he tries to reconcile the massive demands on services and almost universal calls for more funding to repair potholes and that is before the politics in the chamber get going.

So what do we know about the politics of the man who, it looks certain, is about to assume the leading local government role in the north with power over a £600 million budget?

Biography

Though Cllr Bremner was born in Penicuik he has spent almost his entire life in Caithness where his family also lives and works, mostly in the NHS and Dounreay.

He ended up studying to become a piano technician at college in Edinburgh, having played the instrument since the age of six. He is also an accomplished singer and musician and is also a choir master with the Melvich Gaelic Choir.

He then went on to work at Caithness Glass becoming a manager which led to him qualifying Business Management before moving into politics just before the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum.

Perhaps the darkest revelation about Cllr Bremner’s past that has come to light is that he supports a football team from beyond the Highlands. That is because the member for Wick and East Caithness was born in Penicuik he has eschewed supporting the local team – Wick Academy FC – in favour of Heart of Midlothian.

Wick and East Caithness councillor Raymond Bremner.
Wick and East Caithness councillor Raymond Bremner.

Group leader

Cllr Bremner was first elected in 2017 having been involved in the local branch for about five years before that but he has since enjoyed a pretty steep rise since then to the leadership of the SNP group.

He succeeded joint leaders Cllr Maxine Smith – who left the group – and Cllr Ian Cockburn in 2020 – just three years after first being elected, his deputy was fellow Caithness Councillor Karl Rosie.

Cllr Bremner steadied what was considered a very rocky and divided ship and will be wary of allowing the same divisions creeping in as a whole new generation of SNP members are about to take their seats for the first time.

As leader of the opposition he chose to cooperate with the Independent-led administration rather than attack it openly in chamber, a position he was criticised for but which undoubtedly aided the recent coalition talks.

Certainly he has marked himself out as someone who is willing to cooperate with other groups and it appears his instinct is to be diplomatic when resolving disputes though he is equally unafraid of confrontation.

Egg timer

The former convener and current coalition partner Bill Lobban once joked as Cllr Bremner was about to speak in the council chamber that he had an egg timer on the go to make sure he didn’t go over the allotted time of five minutes.

It is fair to say that the SNP group leader is comfortable with the sound of his own voice, but he did win the Gold Medal for singing at the National Mod back in 1999 so it is fair to say that he has a good one, he is certainly loquacious.

That indicates a little bit about his personality – he has a voice and is comfortable hearing it – but also that he not only picked up on the joke but ran with it and occasionally since has said: “Don’t worry folks, I have my egg timer running.”

Someone with a self-deprecating sense humour is not the worst trait in a political leader but there are things that he does not joke about – chiefly local issues that affect constituents.

Cllr Raymond Bremner at the Riverside car park.
Cllr Raymond Bremner at the Riverside car park.

Issues

Among the issues Cllr Bremner is most frequently attached to either locally or regionally are pretty much where the public sit though there have been times when he has diverged from.

Regionally, he led his group to work with the increasingly unpopular administration on crucial issues such as the budget setting process and managing to secure significant changes to the extent that the SNP group were able to second the move to approve the spending and cuts plans.

One area of divergence from the previous administration was the plan to cut the number of public toilets to save money – triggering the most disgusting consequences along the NC500 route and eventually leading to a u-turn by political bosses.

Cllr Bremner instead fought along with others like the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council to reopen the Whitechapel Road toilets in the town.

And after a huge outpouring from the public on roads he has also dedicated a significant proportion of his time to seeing that the cash available is spent and targets some of the worst areas.

That is not likely to placate other parts of the Highlands as perhaps the most common complaint is that the road repairs situation has now gone beyond a level anyone finds tolerable.

Finally, he has long been a champion of Gaelic, no surprise given his background as involved in the Mod, but he has also sought ways the language can be developed and progressed through the Gaelic Committee.

For all the latest on the Highland Council as it assembles an political leadership click here


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