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Dualling A9 as far north as Nigg among election promises as battlegrounds drawn

By Scott Maclennan

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SNP supporters joined candidates to launch a Highland manifesto in Inverness on Monday.
SNP supporters joined candidates to launch a Highland manifesto in Inverness on Monday.

Issues impacting the Highlands are set to become a battlefield in the last few days of the general election with the SNP, Labour and Conservatives setting out plans deeply related to the region.

The potential for renewable energy to help combat fuel poverty in the north while improving the local economy are central, as are promises to deliver proper road infrastructure and digital connectivity.

To varying degrees those issues featured in the SNP’s Highland Manifesto which made no bones about taking the fight to Labour over what it sees as regional injustices and if necessary force Sir Keir Starmer’s party “to have that conscience” when it comes to matters of fairness for Highlanders.

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves had a major announcement of her own during a visit to Scotland - she confirmed that the publicly-owned power company GB Energy would be based north of the border and said investments would create 69,000 jobs.

And the Scottish Conservatives launched their manifesto with current leader Douglas Ross, a Highland MSP, appearing alongside Rishi Sunak promising investment in key trunk roads like the A9 and A96 as well as more police and GPs.

The SNP’s policy document was focused on the region and follows in the footsteps of Alba’s manifesto which was launched at the start of June with Alex Salmond saying his former party failed the Highlands.

Now Drew Hendry (Inverness, Skye, West Ross-Shire candidate), Dr Lucy Beattie (Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross candidate), and Graham Leadbitter (Moray West, Nairn & Strathspey candidate) want to redraw that balance.

Their keynote policies include dualling the A9 from the Tore roundabout to the Nigg roundabout to service the freeport – something previously called for by Liberal Democrat candidate Jamie Stone.

Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes argued that though many areas are devolved the involvement of Westminster in funding was unavoidable: “The UK government ultimately determines the majority of our funding available.

“So when it comes to big infrastructure investment, the more money that the Scottish Government gets from the UK government, as a result of consequentials, the more that we can invest.The second thing is that Wes Streeting, Labour’s health spokesperson, has been very clear that when it comes to devolved governments, in his words, this is a direct quote, ‘all roads lead back to Westminster’.

“So, if we have a Labour government, which is highly likely, you need SNP MPs to hold Labour to account and to ensure that they deliver the best deal possible for the entirety of the UK, including Scotland.”

The SNP also hope to tackle more squarely reserved Westminster issues including a Highland Energy Rebate – to offset above average fuel costs, and introduce a ‘Social Tariff’ – discounted energy rates for low-income households and to scrap unfair standing charges and boost energy efficiency measures.

Asked if they would get anywhere with Labour on those issues, Mr Hendry said: “It beggars belief that we generate more than four times the electricity that we use in terms of renewables here, export the rest around the rest of the UK and yet, we have the highest levels of fuel and extreme fuel poverty here in the Highlands.

“And we're paying the highest electricity standing charges, have a colder climate and all of the things that add to that is really an unfair situation. I think that it is incumbent on all of those politicians who've heard that argument to actually deliver. They've all acknowledged the fact that this is unfair. They need to have SNP MPs forcing them to have that conscience and we've seen that with other issues.”

Labour appears, for now at least, to be listening as earlier on Monday the shadow chancellor announced clean energy plans she says will “turbocharge Scotland’s economy” with up to 69,000 new green jobs in Scotland.

Ms Reeves set out the economic benefits of Labour’s “transformative green investment plans” to lower bills for good by investing an extra £6.6 billion over the next UK parliament in “cheaper, clean power”.

Labour has also pledged to set-up a publicly-owned GB Energy company based in Scotland, that alone will be capitalised with £8.3 billion in the first parliament and will partner with industry and trade unions to drive forward clean power.

Ms Reeves said: “A Labour government elected on 4 July will turbocharge Scotland’s economy. Labour will bring back economic stability, unlock investment and deliver the reforms needed to boost growth, create jobs and make working people better off."

Scottish Conservative leader Mr Ross appeared next to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to launch the manifesto as the party vowed that upgrading Scotland’s rural trunk road network is one of their key pledges.

Those improvements will target the A9, A96, A90, A75, A83 and A1 and are listed as one of five “top priorities for Scotland” in the party document. Mr Ross said: “Campaigning to fix these essential roads will be one of the central pledges of the Scottish Conservative manifesto.

“We know how important these roads are to communities in rural Scotland, so pushing for improvements to them will be one of the top five priorities of Scottish Conservative MPs elected on July 4.

“The SNP have badly let down local people by breaking promise after promise to fix these dangerous roads – including Scotland’s most deadly road: the A9.”

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