With the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament on March 23 2016 came the retiral of our constituency MSP, Rob Gibson. Rob had been constituency MSP for Caithness, Sutherland & Ross since 2011 when he took the title from LibDem Jamie Stone and had been list MSP for the Highlands and Islands for eight years before that. For a constituency, indeed a region, that had been forever Liberal in all their guises, this was no mean feat and was the beginning of the changes that we would see throughout the country several years later. A long time SNP activist, he has devoted much of his life campaigning for Scottish independence.
Rob had a special interest in rural affairs, championing the needs of many of the residents from the most northerly mainland constituency and the regard that he was held in was shown when he took the constituency seat. Basing his constituency ofﬁce in Wick was a statement that those in the Far North were as important as those in the more southerly aspects of the Highlands and from the reception that his valedictory speech prompted and the warm words spoken by the then First Minister, there can be no doubt about the esteem in which he was held and the experience and wisdom that he enriched Holyrood with.
His anticipated successor, Gail Ross, has been busy traversing the vast expanse of the Caithness, Sutherland & Ross constituency during the election campaign. The constituency, which is the same size as Northern Ireland, takes many hours to cross and weeks to cover fully. The isolation of its western and northern coasts is at contrast with the population centres that adorn the east coast and similarly, the issues which affect those down the mid section of the constituency do not necessarily reﬂect the concerns of those at its southern border. It is becoming increasingly apparent that you cannot represent the wishes of the entire constituency due simply to its geographical size and differing demographics. Issues are raised in one area of the constituency only to have discordant voices resonating elsewhere but there does not seem to be any logistical way of solving this representational connundrum.
Dounreay, the nuclear reactor sited on the northernmost coast of Caithness, is currently in the news because of the proposed transportation of enriched uranium to the United States of America. Originally bunkered at Dounreay from Georgia for a ﬁxed period of time, it was to be transported to Sellaﬁeld in Cumbria but will now be transported to America for processing before being shipped to France. There is much discussion over how this waste will be moved with many voices in the southern part of the constituency understandably opposed to its movement close to them. The alternative however does not sit well with the residents of Caithness who also understandably do not wish to have this nuclear waste stored forever more on their doorstep. Nuclear waste transportation quietly takes place on a regular basis and it is not unknown to be delayed at the railway station between Wick and Thurso whilst the “Dounreay train” passes; it is not people that these wagons carry on their journey. Much has been made of the potential terrorist target that moving this waste might create but surely Dounreay itself is a permanent terrorist target within that argument? At a time when Highlands Against Nuclear Transport is active, it may be time to reconvene Caithness Against Nuclear Dumping to represent the alternative opinion. As long as Westminster retains control of what is placed where, it will never be with the interests of the Scottish people in mind.
Another conﬂict of interest that has arisen is to do with the North Coast 500. This initiative which follows the coastal road around the constituency and a small part of neighbouring constituencies, has provided welcome beneﬁts to the local economy and is a showcase for all the wonderful things that those who live here know exist. It is a route to be incredibly proud of and encouraged but stories are beginning to appear of locals in the more rural sections being frustrated in their daily travels due to convoys of large numbers of vehicles travelling together. Due to the nature of these roads, many of them single track and others with blind corners, it is impossible to overtake in all but a few small sections of the route and people who need to use these roads as a lifeline are being delayed on their daily commute. Others appear to be using this route as a competition to see who can complete it in the fastest possible time, again leading to unsafe conditions on these roads. The North Coast 500 initiative themselves do not advise doing the route in less than 5 days so as we enter tourist season, there is a sense of trepidation from those who live here as to whether they will again be stuck behind convoys of 40 or more vehicles attempting to complete the route within a weekend. There is frequently a refrain from those completing it that it doesn’t matter how they do it as long as they are bringing money into the local economy but unless they are spending time in different corners of the route, there will be little beneﬁt seen. The more people who undertake the NC500 and see the vibrancy and beauty of our constituency the better but with that comes the duty to undertake the route in a responsible and educated manner.
As Rob enters his ‘free” time, I would like to say to the best boss in the world; I am honoured to have been an employee and proud to call you a friend – more power to your pen, Moss Boss.