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Holyrood Notebook: Transparency key to building trust in our politicians

By Rhoda Grant

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Caithness General Hospital.
Caithness General Hospital.

This month has been a stormy one on the weather front but also in the world of politics.

While debates continue regarding WhatsApps and whether they were or were not deleted, all politicians need to remember we work on behalf of the people and they have the right to know what we are doing on their behalf. We need transparency, because when trust is lost it is hard to regain and every politician faces the same level of mistrust because of it. Not only do we need to do our best in the interests of our constituents we need to try and demonstrate that.

This past month I have been focusing on the storms that have cut off Caithness from the remainder of the mainland and from vital healthcare services.

The A9 north has been closed several times since the end of December because of bad weather – and more is yet to come. This year is unique as, normally, Caithness will experience closures later in winter due to snow or rain. This has understandably caused anxiety, disruption and anger, as it brings home the implications of having so few services provided locally.

To rub salt to the wound, also this month NHS Highland have paused the Caithness re-design. They claim it has been paused by order of our SNP-Green government.

I thought by raising these issues at First Minister’s Questions it would bring some answers from those in power. Instead, the First Minister highlighted the Raigmore maternity extension and then, surprisingly, started to talk about Moray maternity provision.

This response was not only confusing but also justifies a view I have held for a long time: Caithness – and all the issues associated with rural areas – are not really understood by this government, and neither is our geography.

One of these issues is depopulation and The Herald newspaper last week had a series of articles on this topic. It is a good read and also great to see a national newspaper pick this up. Our local papers highlight it week in and week out but hopefully the Herald joining will help educate distant decision makers. I hope they understand the sense of anger felt. Fundamentally, depopulation impacts on our health and housing problems, causing a spiral of decline.

There is good news. For example, it is great to see north businesses continue to invest in apprenticeships and commit to hiring our young workforce. This fights depopulation however, more needs to be done .

Late last year, I was told by Highland Council that their current bill for road repairs stands at £233 million. Last year the bill stood at £200 million.

Highland Council has the longest road network in Scotland, thus it stands to reason they require proportionate resources.

I asked the Minister for Transport, Fiona Hyslop, to give the matter consideration and provide Highland Council with the resources to carry out the required repairs before someone gets seriously hurt.

The response I received was a brush off. I feel as ignored as every driver and cyclist dodging potholes in the region. It’s simply not good enough. Vehicles are being damaged by the potholes and it will only be a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt, or worse, driving on our crumbling roads.

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