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ELECTION: Highland Council candidates await the voters' verdict after weeks of campaigning

By Nicola Sinclair, Local Democracy Reporter

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People across Ross-shire and the wider Highlands will tomorrow learn who will represent them on the local authority for the next five years. And candidates will find out how successful they were at getting their message across.
People across Ross-shire and the wider Highlands will tomorrow learn who will represent them on the local authority for the next five years. And candidates will find out how successful they were at getting their message across.

After weeks of pavement pounding, door knocking and public debating, it all comes down to today.

Millions across the UK take to the polling stations to vote for the people they believe will deliver for their local communities.

Speaking to a range of Highland election candidates, the mood is varied.

Black Isle hopeful Bev Smith is upbeat: “I went to the polling stations this morning and there was a steady stream of happy people,” she says. “I feel excited.”

Conservative group leader Andrew Jarvie is conflicted. “At this point in time every candidate should feel nothing but fear, and I’m worried I don’t feel fear.”

For Ms Smith, campaigning has been an eye-opening time. As an independent candidate, she wishes there was “a more level playing field” to help independents compete with political parties.

But she is confident that she understands what her community needs – and that is what could put her over the line.

“You want people who actually live, work and understand how it ticks,” she says. “I’m a podiatrist in Fortrose and I have been for 30 years. People come in on a daily basis and give me all the information. They tell me what they like and don’t like, and they grumble and moan.

“I’ve got a really good finger on the pulse.”

Ms Smith says local issues like the need for a new swimming pool, improved public transport and elderly care come up often. At a Highland level, roads come up all the time in the election debate.

In fact, roads look set to be the dominant issue across the patch.

Mr Jarvie says it’s the part of the Conservative campaign that’s “resonated most strongly” on the doorsteps.

That, and their desire to do away what he calls the “apathy and disdain” of the current administration.

Liberal Democrat leader Alasdair Christie agrees on one thing: roads are a hot topic.

However, he says voters are also looking at the national stage. The Highlands feel neglected by the central belt, he says, and are concerned by the cost of living crisis and events in Ukraine.

Mr Christie says the party has done “extremely well” with its Highland election campaign, and expects to make the biggest percentage gain in seats.

If elected, he intends to push forward tackling climate change and poverty, as well as investing in roads and education.

Do people want fresh blood and new ideas? Maybe, he says, but experience counts too.

“A councillor’s first job is to represent their ward, and new councillors will need time to adjust,” he observes.

“This is where the campaign stops and the real work begins, but it’s a rewarding challenge.”

Green candidate Anne Thomas hopes to get that chance. Ms Thomas has stood for election in other Highland wards, but this is her first time campaigning in the Black Isle. It has its own unique challenges.

“It’s different running in a rural area, because you have the village centres and the crofts. I’ve spent a lot of time taking my electric bike on and off buses, trying to cover the patch in a green way.”

Ms Thomas says it’s been a very positive experience and she will have “a massive to do list” if she gets in.

One Green was today elected unopposed in Caol and Mallaig, so the party has already equalled its seats in the previous political term. With 11 Greens in the running, this is the party’s strongest ever haul of candidates.

The SNP group leader Raymond Bremner is also feeling optimistic – though cautiously so.

“My grandmother always taught me to never count the chickens until they’ve hatched,” he says. “That said, I’m optimistic.

“Many of the things that our communities are telling us about are reflected in the manifesto. That gives me an indication that we would at least be on the right track if we find ourselves in a position to deliver on our commitments.”

Mr Bremner says about 30% of postal votes in his own ward (Wick and East Caithness) were returned, so he hopes to see a good voter turnout today.

“It’s important that Highland communities use their vote and voice to let candidates know that they are passionate about and want to see them deliver,” he says.

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