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SNP leader says coalition ‘will leave national picture to national politicians’ and focus on delivering for the Highlands

Raymond Bremner leads the Highland SNP group.
Raymond Bremner leads the Highland SNP group.

The likely next leader of Highland Council has said he is disappointed with Conservative jabs and says Highland voters aren’t interested in a political slanging match.

SNP group leader Raymond Bremner said the new coalition is a meeting of equal partners who will collaborate to put Highland first.

And he says that’s exactly what voters want to see.

Mr Bremner’s remarks come one day after Highland Conservative leaders Struan Mackie and Helen Crawford warned the SNP could take the council down a nationalist path.

“I’m hugely disappointed with the comments of the Conservative group,” says Mr Bremner. “They are the ones who have brought politics to the table, not us.

“I have already spoken with Mr Mackie about taking a less adversarial approach.

“Politics apart, we have both represented Caithness to the best of our ability in the past.”

Long-term stability

Mr Bremner is widely expected to be named leader of Highland Council next week.

If he is, two of the most senior members in the chamber will both come from Caithness.

“There’s a perception in some areas that the rural areas are not well provided-for in Highland Council,” says Mr Bremner. “Going forward, if two leading roles are both in Caithness that would surely benefit the council’s focus beyond Inverness. But we have to be careful to get the balance right.”

older people's champions
The SNP-Independent coalition will be a joint partnership, says Raymond Bremner. Picture by Sandy McCook

One allegation Mr Bremner is quick to put to bed is the suggestion that this is an SNP-led coalition. “This is a proposal between two groups who will work in full collaboration as a joint administration,” he says.

While the Conservatives had hoped to strike a deal with the Liberal Democrats and Independents, Mr Bremner says his larger coalition delivers stability.

“It’s a numbers game,” he says. “A strong administration will be able to get policy through and make a difference to the people of Highland. A minority administration is clunky – it takes pain and anguish to get things done.”

‘We need to understand what our communities need’

So what does he hope to get done?

“Speaking as leader of the SNP here, I think there’s a lot of good stuff in our manifesto,” he says.

The SNP manifesto promised to protect the Highland economy, strengthen local infrastructure and provide more homes. It also emphasised climate change, education and health.

The official administration programme is still all up for grabs, but collaboration will be key.

Mr Bremner hopes rural communities will have a stronger voice in the next council term. Photo: Shutterstock

“There are lots of ideas and opportunities,” says Mr Bremner. “We will focus on delivering for the Highlands and will leave the national picture to the national politicians.

“Our job is to provide the best services we possibly can at the level of local government. That’s roads and infrastructure, housing, social care, education. There’s lots of variables in what communities say their needs are.

“We have to ensure that we understand those needs and the services we can realistically provide.”

A listening ear in Edinburgh?

And when it comes to local government, Mr Bremner is keen to grasp the nettle of centralisation. Empowering local communities is a subject on which he has spoken many times in the chamber.

“Every councillor I know wants to see better local representation,” he says. “There’s a feeling that too much is centralised – even at a local level – away from villages towards towns. We need to look at how to better serve our communities, how to provide financial support and for that to be deliverable.

“We also need to make council more flexible. It takes a very long time to get things done – far longer than the public will wait. We need to be more responsive.”

The Conservative group warned that Edinburgh could “call the council to heel” but Mr Bremner has other ideas.

He says an SNP-Independent coalition is more likely to be able to influence change.

“I hope the council would find a listening ear at Scottish Government level,” he says.

“We know that rural areas face bigger challenges in service delivery – and we can help deliver focused solutions.”

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