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Who should you vote for at the Highland Council elections? On the eve of the election the main political groups in the local authority outline their manifestos for action over the next five years giving voters an idea of what to expect

By Scott Maclennan

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Councillor Margaret Davidson, Leader of the Independent Groups at Highland Council
Councillor Margaret Davidson, Leader of the Independent Groups at Highland Council

Councillor Margaret Davidson, Leader of the Independent Groups at Highland Council

Highland has a long and honourable tradition of electing Independent councillors. There is a strong bond between communities and their councillors, and many people vote for the individual and their ability to support their local community not a party.

It is essential to continue that tradition. It keeps local government alive and relevant and focused on Highland and local issues. There are many good Independent candidates out there and I would urge you use your vote on May 5th and to think thoughtfully as you do, supporting those that will have a knowledge of and unwavering support for local issues.

What is an Independent Councillor? An Independent Councillor is one who does not stand under the banner of a political party.

Independent Councillors very much come from their communities and the needs of their communities come first. They wish to ensure that their community gets the right services.

They advocate the views of local people. They often have skills derived from their background or job and show leadership and support on difficult local issues.

For an Independent candidate you are more likely to see a local manifesto for a village or area. They know and champion their ward. However, having led the group for some years I am clear that we all share similar views on several issues.


We all want to see more money invested in our roads. Money that can be spent on more people to do the work, more drainage, white lining and a responsive service for potholes and improved surfaces..


Supporting of local schools and their improvement programmes as they come out of Covid, and a continuance of the ambitious programme to build and refurbish schools.

Climate Change:

You will find your local Independent councillor a great advocate for decent local bus services and investment in alternative transport. Investment in insulating our homes and businesses and using our landscapes for peat restoration and tree planting.

Local jobs:

Ensuring we make the most of the next wave of jobs coming to Highland and dispersing jobs across Highland.

Cost of Living:

We have supported the exceptional welfare services the Council has and have led on giving all the extra help we can to help at this grim time. Your Independent Councillor will be your champion.

The Independents have worked together for some years. We support each other and see how we can champion through the chamber the issues we all share.

Remember we are not a party. We do not have a constraint of external rules; instead, we collaborate and do not take politically motivated stances. Independent Councillors have one focus, the people and communities they represent.

Chris Ballance, Co-convenor of the Highlands and Islands branch of the Scottish Greens
Chris Ballance, Co-convenor of the Highlands and Islands branch of the Scottish Greens

Chris Ballance, Co-convenor of the Highlands and Islands branch of the Scottish Greens

Local Is Our Future

Scottish Greens have a vision for strong local communities, with the power to take local decisions, economically self sufficient, resilient and resourceful. Strong healthy communities create healthier, stronger people.

Imagine having all your ordinary daily needs met within twenty minutes of your home.

There is a postcode lottery in the Highlands. One village of 1000 people has a health centre, pharmacy, food shop, primary school, library, sports pitches and pavilion, and a post office. Twelve miles away, another village of the same size has just a primary school and post office.

Creating local services doesn’t have to cost a lot. It requires a local hub where essential services can be provided , not all the time, but regularly. Bringing services to people, not people to services requires creative, new, green thinking.

The green vision is to strengthen local communities so as to avoid the need for travel. New developments in towns need to include the provision for providing basic services.

What you need, where you want it.

The circular economy can provide local jobs. For example, the wool price crashed last year. But it has so many other uses which could be developed locally – such as home insulation– creating work and helping hill farmers and crofters.

Village hubs could house small and micro businesses as well as travelling services, enabling local employment. A mobile repair workshop could create jobs as well as helping people repair items to save money and save waste.

Our communities need more warm, green, affordable homes to ensure our young people can live in the communities they come from. Investment in more homes for rent is an urgent need in many localities where holiday houses, and second homes are pricing many out of the housing market.

Green Councillor Pippa Hadley has been promoting a scheme to regulate short-term lets in Badenoch and Strathspey.

Networks of paths will ensure that active travel is the easiest choice for short journeys. For longer travel, we need a publicly-owned bus service, integrated and efficient. Public services should be for public benefit, not private profit.

Thanks to Greens in government under 22s can now travel free of charge on buses – but we need to provide a decent bus service for them to use it.

Greens support the promotion of local cultures, histories, Gaelic, and a celebration of the contribution that refugees can make to a community.

Climate change, pandemic and war are all signs that we must build local resilience in all walks of life. It is surely time, for example, to rely on our own locally-owned renewable energy. Scottish wind, not Russian gas.

Think Global, act Local. Greens are delivering for our communities. Vote Green 1 for a Green Win.

Councillor Andrew Jarvie, Conservative Group Leader at Highland Council
Councillor Andrew Jarvie, Conservative Group Leader at Highland Council

Councillor Andrew Jarvie, Conservative Group Leader at Highland Council

This Council is only continuing to fail to meet the needs of all of the Highlands equally and needs radical reform if there is any hope for all of us to get what we deserve. It doesn’t just need a change in structure, it first needs a change in outlook, attitude and leadership.

Break up the Highland Council

The Highland Council covers an area the size of Belgium, with diverse communities with different needs. Just how can one Council serve a rapidly growing city like Inverness and communities across the North which are facing steep population decline? It’s clear the Highland Council needs to be broken up into smaller, real local Councils.

It’s not just the structure which is the issue, the Council sees nothing wrong with the fact it focuses on one area over the others. To the extent that when the first bids were made for the Levelling Up Fun, no applications were even submitted for Lochaber because the Council was so focussed on one area.

In December, we brought a formal vote to council to break it up. But lost narrowly by just four votes. In this election, every extra Scottish Conservative and Unionist Council elected closes the gap and means we can win next time.

Fix our roads:

It’s official, the Highlands have some of the worst roads in the Country. A national survey ranked Highland 26th in Scotland and puts the total repair bill at £195m.

As an Opposition Party, it’s easy to carp from the sidelines. But at every opportunity we have worked to find new ways to increase the roads budget but the current Council Leadership is too blinkered to accept our fresh way of thinking. The loans repayment cost to fix the roads is just 1.5 per cent of the Council budget, it is our absolute priority to prioritise spending for the roads.

Cutting waste:

The number of senior managers in the Council has nearly doubled in three years and there is always money kicking about for the latest art project. We say enough. This is taxpayers money and it isn’t being spent on what we want or need. Good roads, schools, regular bin collections and low council tax should always come before the latest vanity project.

Deliver the best quality education:

This Council has failed an entire generation of children, schools are under resourced to give pupils the best possible chance. Now, the Highland Council has the lowest literacy and numeracy rates of anywhere in Scotland, it is a disgrace. All meanwhile, subject choice is restricted, class sizes only get bigger and the Lib Dem/Independent run Council cut Head Teacher’s budgets where the Council hoarded £40m in the bank.

Common-sense planning and development:

There must be joined up thinking to all development. Hundreds of houses are built where there is no capacity on the roads or in the schools, whilst large energy developments are foisted on communities with little regard for the impacts. Communities must come first, you and your family shouldn’t have to pay the price.

Councillor Andrew Jarvie, Conservative Group Leader at Highland Council
Councillor Andrew Jarvie, Conservative Group Leader at Highland Council

Councillor Jimmy Gray, Scottish Labour Party Group Leader at Highland Council

Scottish Labour would address the cost of living crisis in the Highlands. Highland Labour’s two biggest priorities are to address the cost of living crisis and to support our local people, families and communities.

Across Highland, SNP and the Conservatives don’t understand, or care, just how bad things are and have no plans to make real, meaningful change. Too many people face the impossible choice between heating and eating.

What can Highland Council do about this? Scottish Labour have an immediate plan to tackle this crisis, by working together at Highland, Holyrood and Westminster:

  • A windfall tax on oil and gas giants making £44,000 a minute, instead of tax rebates - so we can reduce household bills by up to £600
  • The UK government must give people a £200 payment grant, not a loan, to help with bills
  • We need a £400 payment for those families struggling the most
  • A £100 rebate on water rates for every household
  • A freeze on rail fares and water rates

Highland Labour Councillors will work together to push for action on these. Our plan would deliver over £1000 of support to those who need it.

The SNP are offering families just £4 a week while the Conservatives hike up taxes on working people.

Long-term, Labour will abolish the unfair council tax, upgrade the energy efficiency of people's homes and create a publicly-owned energy company to bring down bills.

Right now, one of the biggest opportunities for Highland Council is for our communities and public services to get a fair share of income from development of our natural resources on wind, wave, tidal and hydro.

Following the successful model in the Western Isles, which puts £2m into the local community every year, Highland Labour proposes a Communities Wealth Building Fund, which would invest in each of our 21 council wards, making our communities much more resilient, self-reliant, and sustainable.

On May 5, people in Highland have a chance to choose Labour candidates dedicated to building better communities who will do everything in their power to tackle the cost of living crisis - and make politicians in Edinburgh and London wake up to the harsh reality of rising bills.

Labour Councillors will demand an end to the brutal SNP and Tory cuts to our local services - and push power out of Holyrood and into communities.

They will develop a new Highland Council model for green local public transport, that gets you where you need to go, when you need it and doesn’t cost the earth.

Highland Labour will use this election as a chance to go to the people across Highland, hear their hopes, concerns and aspirations. Labour Councillors will then work on behalf of their communities to bring about real change.

On May 5, vote Scottish Labour to elect local Highland champions who will bring about real, meaningful and sustainable change, putting you, your family and your community first.

Councillor Alasdair Christie, Scottish Liberal Democrat Group Leader at Highland Council
Councillor Alasdair Christie, Scottish Liberal Democrat Group Leader at Highland Council

Councillor Alasdair Christie, Scottish Liberal Democrat Group Leader at Highland Council

The Highland Council Region is unique. We live in an area different to every other part of Scotland and therefore requiring different solutions and services. What may well work in Thurso, Tain, Alness and Grantown may not be the right solution for Fort William, Portree, Nairn or Inverness. In summary one size does not fit all and we need to be flexible.

After everything we have been through, the Highlands needs new hope right now. At the coming council elections, you will find that hope and passion with your Liberal Democrat Councillors and Candidates.

We have led the Recovery process for the Highlands for two years and it is clear just how resilient and resourceful our communities are and how committed Highland folk are to helping others. However we do still face many challenges:

  • Two years of disruption in our schools and the need to continually improve the educational attainment levels
  • Increasing investment in our roads ensuring they are brought back up to standard
  • The longest ever waits for medical appointments
  • The climate emergency
  • The need for additional social housing
  • Easily accessible care at home for our elderly
  • Reliable and effective public transport
  • The inevitable rises in energy fuel costs and inflation leading folk into poverty

Liberal Democrat Councillors will:

  • Increase year on year the amount allocated to the revenue roads budget. Whilst in the last 3 years and next year the Council has spent £60m on improving our roads we know that more funding is required
  • Continue to provide new education facilities like the new schools planned for Tain, Nairn, Broadford, Ness Castle as well as address the severe overcrowding problems in Culloden and improve the condition of our rural schools
  • Lobby the Scottish Government to improve the National Guidelines in secondary schools and fund more teachers, allowing smaller class sizes leading to raised attainment by our young folk
  • Ensure that every elderly person in need has access to care at home maintaining their independence
  • Build more council houses across the region enabling our young folk to continue to live in their villages and towns and not have to leave
  • Work with businesses and agencies to provide well paid jobs across the Highlands
  • Arrange for urgent discussions with community transport organisations and national providers like Stagecoach to ensure that nobody feels disconnected or disadvantaged through lack of reliable access to public transport
  • Recognise that our people are facing the biggest hit to household budgets in a generation. We will increase the investment in welfare services and work with communities so folk are not left stranded and at serious risk of poverty
  • Find a sustainable way of managing and improving the waste recycling levels to ensure that Highland plays its part in addressing climate change challenges
  • Liberal Democrat Councillors will always listen, raise your issues and keep you informed

Back us this May and I promise you that Liberal Democrats in the villages and towns of Highland will show you the meaning of hope, health and prosperity once again.

Councillor Raymond Bremner SNP Group Leader at Highland Council
Councillor Raymond Bremner SNP Group Leader at Highland Council

Councillor Raymond Bremner SNP Group Leader at Highland Council

We want to mitigate the impacts of COVID19 and Brexit. We want to make Highland Council YOUR Council with a greater focus on local communities and their priorities including strengthening their own local economy. We want to see equality throughout the Highlands ensuring that no area is disadvantaged in favour of another.

We aim to provide jobs, career opportunities, apprenticeships and maintain and grow our own skill levels within Highland Council.

In respect of the Highland economy we are committed to the regeneration of our town centres, supporting our urban and rural economies including agriculture, crofting, farming, forestry and community land management. Energy, renewable energy and local investment with a focus on hydrogen power are also key for us. We want to attract inward investment to produce green energy and create and invest in a Highland based electricity-generation company. We want to create the ability for Highland communities to share in the wealth produced by energy generation.

We want to see Council involved in providing rural transport solutions and will continue to focus on investing in tourism infrastructure including passing places, public conveniences, waste disposal and increased amenity services. We are committed to renewable forms of fuel including electric and hydrogen based vehicles and make sure that we provide and invest in the infrastructure to facilitate the process of transformation required.

We want to tackle fuel poverty and the effects that crippling energy charges are having on our communities and their most vulnerable residents. We want to see meaningful and effective anti-poverty strategies put in place to support and protect those most affected, especially in rural areas. We will support and empower stakeholder organisations with Highland at their heart to provide sustainable harm reduction services for those in need.

We want to tackle short terms lets and provide homes that local people who want to live and work here can afford. We also want to ensure that housing development is matched by investment in infrastructure.

We aim to improve pupil attainment and the staff to pupil ratios in Highland Schools. We support continual review of Additional Support Needs and will ensure that the resource follows the young person. We will invest in a virtual academy and maximise its potential by attracting income from our home-grown teaching resources.

After years of underinvestment and underspend, we are committed to a recovery of our roads’ infrastructure with a phased programme for implementation by the end of this year and a review of footpaths identifying clear priorities reflecting the needs of each area of the Highlands.

We will consult with local communities with a view to reduce speed limits in order to improve the safety of residents.

We will work with partners and organisations to implement a Mobile Multiple Service-Point that could include the provision of banking, Post-Office, health and other community services especially in rural areas.

There are many other ideas and initiatives that we aim to put in place and look forward to presenting our full manifesto in the next few days.

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