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Boundary Commission accused of launching an attack on democracy in the Highlands

By Scott Maclennan

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Boundary Commission proposals to redraw the ward maps of Highland Council.
Boundary Commission proposals to redraw the ward maps of Highland Council.

Boundary Commission proposals to redraw Highland Council ward maps have been described as an "attack on democracy" in the region.

The local authority has rejected the plans which would lead to the loss of just two councillors overall but give rise to concerns that large areas of the region could be left badly under-represented.

Under the plans Caithness would become one large ward with Thurso and Wick also separated out, at the expense of one councillor.

Sutherland would also become a single ward, this time at the expense of two councillors – leaving just four members for the whole area.

Inverness would be divided into four wards but get two extra councillors while the Loch Ness area would become two wards divided by the Great Glen.

Skye would lose one councillor despite the review being launched as a result of the Islands Act, meant to secure greater representation for the islands.

Justifying the council's utter rejection of the commission's proposals council leader Margaret Davidson said: “This is a really strong political move. It tells the Boundary Commission that their proposals are absolutely outrageous and we cannot accept them in their entirety because they establish inequality in democratic representation across the Highlands.

“It is simply outrageous, we need to go to the ministers concerned here – Aileen Campbell and Kevin Stewart, who are both good listeners.

"We need to ask them to go back to the Boundary Commission and ask them to, one, bring up new proposals and, two, examine the way they deal with remote and rural areas, ecause we don’t want this again.

"Wwe have had this before and it just gets worse every time – less councillors, more geography.”

Sutherland councillor Deirdre Mackay said: “The combined island authorities have a landmass that would almost fit inside Sutherland – they have 73 councillors and we have six, so I think it sets things in context.

“Like the islands, Sutherland faces exactly the same challenges that underpin the Islands Act, those of remoteness, peripherality and low population.”

The feelings on Skye were just as strong with Cllr John Finlayson, saying: “Another kick in the teeth has come in terms of the recommendations in this report even though it was raised with the Boundary Commission early on just how the Highlands is treated in comparison to the island authorities.

“When working out wards and boundaries in the islands they use a ratio of 800 electors to each member as opposed to the 2400 electors per member in Highland.

“Given Skye is the second largest island in Scotland if we were getting treated like Lewis and Harris we would have 10 members and not four, which the Boundary Commission now want to reduce to three.”

Inverness councillor Ron MacWilliam called for the Commission on Highland Democracy to reconvene in order to work out why so little progress on its recommendations have been achieved.

“This boundary review proposes to further erode Highland democracy from an already unacceptable position," he said. "It is regrettable that the work of the Commission on Highland Democracy which took evidence in 2016 and 2017 has not been progressed by the current council administration.

“I suggested today that the Commission on Highland Democracy reconvene to examine what impediments have led to such little progress in this area. There is a growing clamour for root and branch reform of local government across the country and that is rightly a national debate.”

In Caithness Cllr Nicola Sinclair said the council mist fight "tooth and nail" against the changes.

“The proposals represent an astonishing attack on rural democracy which, ironically is the very issue it sought to address by the Islands’ Bill," she said.

"Where is the parity when the islands have one member to 800 and the Highlands has one to 2400 under these new proposals?

“We should certainly fight tooth and nail for any further marginalising of the Highland democratic voice.”

Related: Strathpeffer could be brought in with Dingwall and Seaforth

'Money with paintbrush' jibe over proposed boundary changes

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