Minister for the Highlands and Islands needed to overcome ‘democratic deficit’

Jamie Stone, Liberal Democrat MP

Jamie Stone, Liberal Democrat MP HANDOUTS FROM LIB DEMS

Theresa May’s successor in Downing Street should appoint a “minister for the Highlands and Islands” to give greater voice to northern Scotland, MPs have been told.

Far North MP Jamie Stone made the demand as he took a swipe at the centralised “dictatorship” in Edinburgh – much to the anger of SNP MPs in the Commons.

The Lib Dem, speaking during a debate on 20 years of devolution, said Holyrood did not “heed the Highlands’ needs and pleas”.

He said: “Power is being dragged out of the Highlands to Edinburgh. This does not suit Highland people and you get elected members blaming the Highland council despite the money coming from the Scottish Government.

“I believe there should be a minister for the Highlands and Islands in whatever government of whatever colour who would speak up for, and exercise some power for the good of the Highlands and Islands.”

Mr Stone was later heckled by SNP MPs after suggesting that Scotland had “almost a dictatorship” with the SNP majority government in Holyrood.

Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid agreed with Mr Stone’s assessment, saying: “It is a source of endless disappointment to me and to my constituents in the north-east that the spirit of devolution, of decisions being taken closer to home, has not taken root entirely within the Scottish Government.

“Successive Labour and SNP Scottish Governments have hoarded power in Holyrood and, it has been suggested, governed primarily for the central belt.

“While English city regions are getting more control of their own affairs, to accompany growth deals, Nicola Sturgeon is ensuring that Scotland remains rigidly centralised.”

The Commons debate came on the back of a report by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee which concluded that the relationships between the governments in London and Edinburgh were “under pressure like never before”.

SNP MP Pete Wishart, who chairs the committee, told MPs at the outset of the debate that “things have to change dramatically” and urged “parity of esteem” between the governments of Scotland, Wales and the Northern Ireland Executive with Westminster.

He said: “What we have found is that inter-governmental relations are under pressure like never before. They have been challenged within an inch of their lives by Brexit.”

Mr Wishart also warned that any calls for a second Scottish independence referendum from the Scottish Parliament must be adhered to.

He said: “This is a matter for the Scottish people. The Scottish people should always get what the Scottish people want.”