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HOLYROOD NOTEBOOK: Commission investigating human rights concerns in rural areas including Caithness

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The Human Rights Commission has visited Caithness as part of an investigation into human rights issues in rural areas.
The Human Rights Commission has visited Caithness as part of an investigation into human rights issues in rural areas.

At this time of year, it is normal to expect the weather to turn a bit harsher and a bit colder.

However, over the past few weeks, we have seen two “danger to life” weather events occur across the country.

This caused train cancellations, road closures, landslides and flooding.

What is apparent to me, and always is when extreme weather strikes, is how easily Caithness can be cut off from the rest of the mainland.

Yet services continue to be centralised to Inverness.

During Storm Babet for example, the A9 was closed in both directions for some time due to flooding at Tomich.

If a pregnant woman was needing to drive to Raigmore Hospital from Caithness an air ambulance would be required, which would have been unlikely given the winds.

Local campaign groups have raised this over the past couple of weeks and I have raised similar situations over the years.

Global warming is only going to make these occurrences more frequent and thus these types of avoidable situations are going to be more likely.

With this in mind, I believe that as many services as possible should be delivered as close to home as possible.

Recruitment and retention will only wash for so long. Resilience is needed and it is needed now.

This month, The Human Rights Commission are investigating human rights concerns in rural areas.

This includes limited access to nutritious food, inaccessible heath care services, fuel poverty and poor internet connectivity plus more.

They have visited Caithness and are currently visiting other rural areas in Scotland.

I would encourage everyone to work with them when they get the opportunity.

Following this work, the Human Rights Commission are expected to create a report and present it to the Scottish Parliament in 2024.

Now I think we all know what to expect from this report, however what I am eager to see is the recommendations that will come out of it and how this will relate to Caithness.

For too long this SNP-Green government have had an out of sight, out of mind approach to rural areas and it cannot continue.

Advocating for rural areas in opposition allows the government to argue, debate and refute.

There will be no debating the Human Rights Commissions findings and I for one will be reading it the second it drops on my desk.

Lastly, to end my column, I wish to highlight that last week in FMQs, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar raised disastrous cuts to our fire service and how their budget – set by our SNP-Green government – has fallen by 22 per cent in real terms.

This was raised to me at the beginning of the year by Caithness residents and it was raised nationally in the press, but we were all assured that nothing was wrong – which obviously is not the case.

When the single fire service was created the SNP said that it would, and I quote, "not result in cutting front line services". It’s clear now that was either SNP spin or SNP incompetence.

The Scottish Government must listen to firefighters on the ground and give them the resources that they need to ensure people’s safety.

Rhoda Grants is a Labour list MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

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