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Lib Dem candidate Molly Nolan in call to back laws to support rural communities in far north

By Scott Maclennan

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Liberal Democrat candidate Molly Nolan.
Liberal Democrat candidate Molly Nolan.

The Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross seat has called on all her fellow candidates to back legislation that would give extra support to rural communities.

Molly Nolan says it is time to put “rural communities to the top of the agenda" by backing plans for a new law to empower remote regions.

It would pick up from the work already started by outgoing SNP MSP Gail Ross, who launched a consultation on delivering similar legislation for the Highlands.

The Liberal Democrats say they want to see a number of protections extended to rural communities, including ensuring legislation is given a rural communities impact assessment.

They also want commitments to meet rural transport, connectivity and fuel poverty needs as well as local government in rural areas to be able to apply for more powers and responsibilities.

Ms Nolan said: “With the coronavirus crisis disproportionately damaging rural communities, we must address ingrained inequalities, reverse centralisation and ensure no one is left behind.

“Those of us in the Highlands know that the SNP’s one-size-fits-all approach to legislation and policy-making, that takes no account of rural needs, simply doesn't work.

“That is why my first act as an MSP would be introducing new legislation to end the plight of our communities being treated as an after-thought in Edinburgh.

“Gail Ross was right to fight for this law in the last Parliament, but it remains so disappointing that the SNP chose not to prioritise her Bill.

“I therefore challenge all candidates to join me in putting rural communities to the top of the agenda by committing to a new law to empower rural communities.”

But her fellow candidates hit back at the call, with the SNP MSP Maree Todd saying the government did support Ms Ross’s plan.

She said: “We are well aware of the need to rural-proof policy and laws, particularly to support remote rural and island areas to recover from the pandemic and the impacts of Brexit.

"We will be looking at what more can be done in government to achieve this.”

Labour candidate for the far north constituency Marion Donaldson said: “Gail Ross’s previous statements on the matter came after the Islands Bill gave benefits in response to rural deprivation which is mirrored in many Highland communities. This didn’t gain any traction.

"Highland Council has also called for similar favourable treatment from the Scottish Government without success.

"If elected, I will do everything in my power to ensure equity of treatment for our rural communities."

The Conservative’s Struan Mackie said: “As constituents will know, I was a vocal supporter of the Rural Communities Bill and although it was deeply disappointing to see it not progress in this parliamentary term, it is vital that parity with our island neighbours to the north and west is delivered.

“Whilst I welcome the Liberal Democrats' position on this matter, it is unfortunate that they are very late to the party, in fact, years behind the Highland Conservatives who have been calling for protections since the Islands Bill was introduced.”

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