Like almost everybody else, I was shocked when I heard the news that Nicola Sturgeon was standing down as First Minister. I had been late to the information as I was working and when I switched on my phone later in the day, I was presented with a series of incredulous texts from my children before eventually working out what had happened. Over the remainder of the day as the news filtered through to people, there seemed to be a genuine sense of shock at the news even from people who made no secret of their dislike and distrust of the SNP and the only question I was hearing was who would replace her, not why had she left.
Online it was different with rumours and conjecture everywhere, varied and sometimes fanciful, but all querying the suddenness of the announcement. Nobody had seemed to see this coming and the overwhelming emotion from all appeared to be shock. My immediate thoughts of who would replace her only suggested one name and I assumed it would be a straightforward replacement. It wasn’t particularly who I would have liked to see but they had the experience and the gravitas to carry the role although it would be very different under their watch. I was very surprised to see them rule themselves out of the race a few days later however and their reasons also surprised me. Who I considered the natural successor was no longer in the Party and I struggled to think of anyone else who would be able to carry all the different views of the Party cohesively and unite them together.
As the names began to come forward, I was surprised to see how quickly our two most local Constituency MSPs gave their backing to one of the candidates and naively expected them to support their fellow regional MSP when they declared the following day. I was then shocked how vociferously they then buckled down under their original choice and it became clear that their was a definite agenda in place. They were far from the only people to do the same. Everywhere you looked there seemed to be a concerted campaign to push one candidate to the forefront of everybody’s minds and to do so, they had to attack the others. As they say though, all publicity is publicity and it did not result in the desired effect.
To me, the attacks on Kate Forbes that were shouting about tolerance and inclusivity did not practise what they preached. Do as I say not what I do seemed to be the order of the day and, as time went on, it seemed to be no longer about Kate’s views as such but an attack on Highlanders in general and the gulf between what is important to north and south of the country is opening up again.
Tolerance is one word that keeps being repeated but for me, I’ve always thought of the Highlands as being accepting. You hear about people having to leave the area because of how they wish to live but many, many more have moved into the area and have lived as part of the community happily in same sex relationships, accepted for who they are not what they are. One of Scotlands first same sex marriage happened up here but you would never have known. The decree that this leadership campaign must be lost or won on this particular flag is false as there is so much more that matters to people. Up here especially, it is the cost of living that is the crisis with the highest levels of fuel poverty because of the highest tariffs in the country yet the lowest temperatures. Food poverty is huge – already with less choice because of smaller and less shops than the central belt, the prices are higher because there is less footfall and higher transportation costs. We travel hundreds of miles to access medical care on a road that we were promised would be dualled within the next couple of years but will no longer be whereas the central belt have many facilities that can be reached quickly by motorway.
It is not a single issue campaign and there is a real danger that this is being ignored. A series of hustings were arranged for members which were then fully booked within a few hours. Our nearest one was over 100 miles away but the online one was full; another thing that could be seen as not allowing the Highlands full access – members here had many questions they wanted to ask and are being denied the chance to do so. Like it or not, the Church still has a large influence up here and even though many do not attend and don’t even think of themselves as Christians, it is still part of their community and dare I say, psyche. People are multi faceted, all have their beliefs whether Christian or not but this nastiness and refusal to accept that not everyone thinks the same has to stop. What is being thrown against one candidate can easily be turned round to those who are throwing it and once this is over, we all have to unite behind the winner and this is going to be much harder to do unless we focus on remembering the main reason that we all joined the Party – Independence.