SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: The Scottish Government is trying to airbrush out the different identities of Scotland’s communities in its drive for independence and increasing centralisation to Holyrood, according to Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.
The rollout of armed police in Highland communities, the sidelining of the Highlands’ economic development board, the abolition of local emergency control rooms and a reduction in council autonomy are evidence of the SNP’s “massive centralisation” drive, the Highland Liberal Democrat MP will say in a speech in Inverness tonight.
Mr Alexander wants average speed cameras removed from the A9 - one of Scotland’s deadliest roads - and has urged the Scottish Government to accelerate plans to upgrade the whole route to dual carriageway.
He pledged that a No vote in the independence referendum would lead to a federal UK, with power devolved directly to local communities rather than handed to “the Holyrood elite”.
“No thanks does not mean no change - far from it,” he will say.
“But our philosophy of federalism does not stop at further empowering Holyrood, important thought that is. A federal approach means distributing power to the most appropriate level - Europe, UK, Scotland, and local. Federalism means devolution from Edinburgh, not just devolution to Edinburgh.
“I believe a fundamental part of a new settlement in Scotland after a No vote must be more powers held and used here in the Highlands and Islands, and in other local communities in Scotland.
“The nationalist philosophy means deliberately trying to airbrush out the different identities and communities that exist within Scotland and instead centralising as much power as possible to themselves and the Holyrood elite.
“Of all the regions in Scotland, the Highlands and Islands has the most distinct needs, challenges, ideas, and indeed culture and identity. So it no surprise that the massive centralisation of power that the SNP have presided over the last seven years has generated the greatest anger and frustration here.
“In that time, we have seen Northern Constabulary abolished - and their distinctive community policing approach replaced with a one size fits all model designed for the central belt. There is simply no need or support for armed police officers on the streets of communities in the Highlands. If other parts of Scotland want that - and I doubt they do - then fine, but we should be able to do that differently here if that’s what our communities feel.
“You could also look at the centralisation of fire services, the removal of local control rooms, and the reduction in autonomy of local government. And especially here, the emasculation of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
“When Russell Johnston first proposed the creation of a board to foster the economic and social development of the Highlands, the idea was precisely to be able to meet and respond to the very different economic development needs of the Highlands and Islands. That’s what the HIDB (Highlands and Islands Development Board) was able to do, and HIE was too in its early days.
“But increasingly HIE is simply an arm of Scottish Enterprise, implementing strategies dreamed up in Edinburgh. It has excellent people, who do a great job, but the shift in power is palpable from an SNP Government that wanted to abolish HIE back in 2007.”
He added: “I believe nothing would boost the economy of the whole of Scotland more than the rapid dualling of the A9. Yet instead we have the imposition of average speed cameras that no-one locally wants and which will not make the road more safe. We need to keep up the campaign to remove them, and to accelerate the dualling instead.”