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Election 2021: Former MSP Andy Wightman aims to shake-up both Holyrood and Highland Council with a bold programme to improve representation in the north by redistributing power


By Scott Maclennan

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Andy Wightman on his swing through the north at Tain.
Andy Wightman on his swing through the north at Tain.

The political uproar that followed Andy Wightman’s high profile exit from the Greens in part sparked his bid to represent the Highlands in Holyrood – a parliament he says that has grown “overbearing.”

A dedicated Greens MSP until he resigned from the party accusing it of being “censorious” over his views on trans rights – something he feels impinged on his ability to represent his constituents.

Well known for his independence of mind, his candidacy is being seen by a range of political insiders as one of the most compelling in the Highlands.

A move to the Highlands was on the cards whether he was to remain in frontline politics or not, with family in Lochaber while his mother lives on Skye.

Now he is here he plans to earn a seat through some of the most striking policy ideas voiced in the election in the north so far.

They include a redistribution of power and the creation of a cross-party forum for Highland MSPs to work together for the region.

Some of his other plans are:

  • Being an Independent voice to represent you in the Scottish Parliament
  • Ending the centralisation of power in Inverness and Edinburgh
  • Building genuine local democracy
  • A Land for the People Bill to democratise the ownership and use of land
  • Affordable land and housing for local people
  • Restoring the environment of the land and sea for the benefit of communities and nature

Remaining in what he said is “a fascinating but an exhausting job” was not an automatic choice but he was persuaded, saying: “I made the decision to run because I feel that parliament needs more independent voices and lots of people were asking me to run.

“In many ways the party system has become overbearing and many of the political parties have become quite centralising and controlling in their behaviour, from the selection of candidates to the extent that they permit or enable members to speak their minds on various matters. And I think the electorate deserves a bit better.

“When the Scottish Parliament opened there was a sense it would become more open, inclusive, transparent and democratic but that is all contingent on the party machine that allows its members to be open and free and increasingly they don’t.”

The problem, as he sees it, is that the political parties are limiting to sophisticated debate and their constituents deserve better.

“I think Scotland would benefit from less party politics, I feel that quite strongly at local government level as well,” he said.

“So I think the messages and priorities of political parties have come to dominate politics in a way that is not healthy and does not allow for engaged, nuanced, intelligent debate with the people that we seek to represent.

“Indeed, my leaving the Greens was over a fairly small point of language in a forensic medical services Bill and I regretted the way I voted and left the party because I was responding to a very strong feeling from my constituents. And it is your constituents you are elected to represent.”

The only way to deal with that is to see more local involvement on the ground at all levels of government.

“Politics is about our home, our kitchen table, it is the decisions we make everyday about how we relate to each other – how you negotiate power – but it is something we are involved in every single day.

“My fundamental belief is that power should be redistributed, it is far, far too centralised not just in Edinburgh but also for Highland Council in Inverness – that stands in stark contrast to virtually every other European country.

“I think a lot of the problems we face whether it is transport, or education or health, are being tackled at an inappropriate level and if they were tackled more locally then we would see better outcomes.”

Inaccessible rarely met politicians is part of the problem, something that contrasts with some of Scotland’s near neighbours like Norway where people frequently come upon their local representatives.

He said: “I was really struck when I visited Norway a number of years ago that you would meet politicians when you go shopping, when you pick up your children from school, or when you go to the local football match, you meet them.

“That level of engagement and access and trust builds for a more trusting relationship whereas in the Highlands we are sending politicians all the way to Inverness and in Scotland all the way to Holyrood.

“They are remote, susceptible to influences that are not necessarily those in the best interests of our community – so an important part of my campaign is to say that decisions should be made at the most local level that is appropriate.

“I think if one has campaign priorities around health and transport, part of fixing that is not to be a voice in Holyrood championing that but to shift the power on those decisions to the Highlands and Islands.”

Also by having all Highland MSPs – including all three constituency members and regional members too – work together across party lines, Mr Wightman feels more could be done for the north.

“I will also be floating the idea that we need to start what the Americans would call a caucus in parliament," he said.

"So everyone who represents an area should be getting together to discuss on a cross-party, non-partisan basis how they will work together to improve the lot of the people and place they represent.

“A lot of that goes on but it is ad hoc, for example the threat to maternity services in Caithness, which of course every politician will gather around but it needs to be more systematic and strategic than that.”

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